Effects of Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina originally formed in the Bahamas during one of the most memorable hurricane seasons in recent history. In late August 2005, as a Category 1 hurricane, Katrina would inflict monetary damages of approximately two billion dollars and claim 14 lives. The storm then proceeded to the Gulf of Mexico, where it gathered strength and nearly doubled in overall size. Just three days after subsuming the coast of Florida, Hurricane Katrina had intensified into a Category 5 hurricane.

Impact with the Gulf

With little over a day before the hurricane hit, government officials began to order voluntary and mandatory evacuations to the 1.2 million residents located on the Gulf Coast. Despite these warnings, thousands of citizens decided to stay home and wait out the storm. Others chose to remain in Louisiana but fled their residences, gathering at the Superdome for refuge. The intensity of the storm slightly reduced as it approached the coast, resulting in the first waves striking land with the force of a Category 4 hurricane. Nevertheless, buoyed by 140 mph gales, the hurricane induced a 20-foot storm surge that annihilated the Gulf Coast. As the eye of the tempest settled over Louisiana, Katrina was still measured as a Category 3 hurricane.

A city built on land below sea level, New Orleans is particularly susceptible to flooding. While engineers had constructed a system of levees to mitigate flood damage, Katrina’s storm surge overwhelmed the federal flood protection infrastructure. In total, 53 separate levees were breached during the storm, leading to a mass flooding of the city. The influx of toxic materials, sewage, and garbage ushered in by the hurricane left the flood water rancid for weeks after the disaster. While concern was given to those wading in contaminated water, little attention was given to toxins dispersed into the air, as residents, volunteers, and workers aiding in the cleanup effort were exposed to a variety of lethal materials, including asbestos.

Asbestos in New Orleans

Because the material was commonly used in older structures, it is likely that most of the damaged buildings in New Orleans contained considerable amounts of asbestos. However, given the nature of asbestos, first responders exposed to the harmful fiber will likely not be aware of the risks until decades after exposure. Asbestos exposure is a common cause of diseases like lung cancer and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma has a long latency period, and it is often asbestos exposure from decades ago that is the cause of disease. Even today many parts of New Orleans remain unrepaired, and the risk of asbestos exposure remains a danger for individuals assisting with the relief effort. Therefore, the full effects of Hurricane Katrina still remain to be determined.


  • Knabb, Richard D., Rhome, Jamie R. & Daniel P. Brown. (December 20, 2005) “Tropical Cyclone Report Hurricane Katrina 23-30 August 2005.” Retrieved on March 16, 2011 from the National Hurricane Center.