Remembering Hurricane Katrina

Many Americans living along the Gulf Coast do not need an anniversary to reflect upon Hurricane Katrina.  The natural disaster caused overwhelming hardship for thousands, irreparably damaging houses, businesses and entire cities.  Katrina left a legacy that they will never forget.

Yet for some, the ten years since the hurricane has blunted Katrina’s gravity.  While we may know that the hurricane was one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, it is hard to put that into perspective.  Memories of the event are largely a blurred hodgepodge of political criticism, stories of survival, and the ever-ongoing recovery effort.

The images of Katrina reflect the power of photography.  A camera, whether manned by a government photographer or casual bystander, captures a moment in time.  At the National Archives, our goal is to preserve these moments.  We preserve photos so generations to come will be able to look back on events like Hurricane Katrina and understand its impact on American lives.

Ten years removed, the photos remind us of two things. First, is the unprecedented impact of the hurricane.  Images of overturned boats, demolished houses, and shattered windows remind us (for those that need reminding) of the magnitude of the storm.  Yet also, and perhaps more importantly, we are reminded of the way our nation came together in the aftermath of Katrina.  In these photos, the bravery of rescue workers, volunteers, fire fighters, and ordinary people shines through.  Faced with crisis, Americans united to help one another.

The photos above come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  In the weeks following the hurricane, FEMA photographers documented the physical and social impact of the storm.  These photos, and others related to Hurricane Katrina, can be found in the National Archives Catalog.

For more historical background on the levee system and flood control along the Gulf of Mexico check out the recent blog post, Taming the Mississippi.

via Remembering Hurricane Katrina (Photos) | The Unwritten Record


The Great Locust Swarms of 1874 - 1875

.“The locusts have no king, Yet all of them go out in ranks.”

Proverbs 30:27

In 1874 and 1875, the skies of the Midwest and Great Plains darkened for days. Seen at the horizon miles away, at first people believed that some much needed rain was on the way.  However, as the cloud approached, to their horror it was realized that the cloud was a massive swarm of billions of locusts. Over the next year multiple swarms would infest the Great Plains in Biblical proportions. The swarms of Rocky Mountain Locusts (Melanoplus spretus) were driven from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains due to drought and migrated through Kansas, Oklahoma, Texa, Missouri, Nebraska, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Iowa, and Minnesota. A resident of Edwards County, Kansas remarked,

“I never saw such a sight before. This morning, as we looked up toward the sun, we could see millions in the air, a moving grey green screen that blotted out the sky. They looked like snowflakes.”

The locusts caused $200 million in crop damage, consumed everything that was green, and were noted to even sheer the wool off sheep and the paint off wood. Midwesterners tried to shut themselves in their houses, but the swarms were so massive that they got in through nooks and crannies regardless. Nothing could stop them. At night people had to shake their sheets clear of the insects, then wake up to find themselves covered with them in the morning. A Kansas woman named Adelheit Viets claimed,

“I was wearing a dress of white with a green stripe. The grasshoppers settled on me and ate up every bit of the green stripe in that dress before anything could be done about it.“

Many poor farming families, stripped of their livelihood and provisions returned east seeking factory work in the cities, forming a massive exodus at a time when most people were headed west. Many other poor souls died.  In that year the population of Kansas decreased by 1/3rd. Some families were so desperate that they had to resort to eating the locusts to avoid starvation. Territorial governments issued bonds to raise money for disaster relief while the Federal Government likewise devoted $30,000.  Across the country citizens donated food, clothing, and other necessary supplies, while the US Army delivered 2 million tons of rations by wagon and train.

In June of 1875 one particularly large swarm traveled through Kansas, Nebraska, then up north towards Minnesota. One witness who recorded the event in detail was a physician and meteorologist named Dr. Albert Childs from Cedar Creek.  Dr. Childs used a telescope to estimate that the swarm covered a front 110 miles wide.  He determined that the swarm was traveling at 15 miles per hour and it took five whole days to pass through the town. Thus he was able to determine that the swarm was 1,800 miles long. In total the insect horde covered an area roughly 198,000 square miles, the size of Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island combined. Dr. Childs then sent messages along several telegraph lines to confirm the accuracy of his measurements. The swarm is estimated to have infested a total area of 2 million square miles by the end of its travels. In his book Paradise Found, entomologist Steven Nicholls calls the incident "The Perfect Swarm”.

Hurricane Katrina - August 29, 2005

[Hurricane Katrina] New Orleans, LA, August 29, 2005 – The breach in the 17th Street canal levee causing flooding in the city following Hurricane Katrina. Photographed at 6:43 PM. Marty Bahamonde/FEMA, 8/29/2005

Series: Photographs Relating to Disasters and Emergency Management Programs, Activities, and Officials, 1998 - 9/28/2012
Record Group 311: Records of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 1956 - 2008 

Hurricane Katrina made its second landfall in the United States on August 29, 2005, striking Louisiana and neighboring states as a Category 3 hurricane.  It devastated the city of New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf Coast region, causing over $100 billion dollars in damages and was responsible for an estimated 1,800 deaths.  It ranks as the costliest natural disaster, and one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States.

More at Remembering Katrina and browse the over 3,400 photos taken by FEMA in the aftermath in Hurricane Katrina in the National Archives Catalog.

With its swirling column of wind, a tornado is one of nature’s most destructive storms. The most powerful tornadoes can rip houses from the ground, throw cars in the air, flip trains, and topple trees.

All tornadoes start from thunderstorms. But not all thunderstorms produce tornadoes. It takes just the right conditions for a tornado to form. 

More than 75% of all tornadoes in the world take place in “Tornado Alley,” an area that spans eight states in the Central U.S. This region has just the right conditions for thunderstorms to form: cool, dry air from the Arctic mixing with warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico, combined with warm, dry air from the southwest.

Learn much more about tornados on the Museum’s website.

Water is discharged over the traditional farm houses at Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage site, on November 9, 2014 in Shirakawa, Japan. This annual drill is held to prevent fires. (Kaz Photography/Getty Images) Via

The village was built in the 11th century. Over the years, it’s been a place for Buddhist prayer, silk worm cultivation, and even gun powder manufacturing. Japan worked with international partners to set up this fire prevention system. They test the system to ensure its function. Very effective way of preserving historic sites from natural hazards.

the signs as natural disasters
  • Aries:Solar Flare
  • Taurus:Earthquake
  • Gemini:Droughts
  • Cancer:Avalanche
  • Leo:Volcanic Eruption
  • Virgo:Tsunami
  • Libra:Blizzard
  • Scorpio:Tornado
  • Sagittarius:Hailstorm
  • Capricorn:Wildfires
  • Aquarius:Hurricane
  • Pisces:Flood