NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana- Hurricane Katrina, with the devastation it wrought, is considered the worst natural disaster on United States soil. The damage to people and property was catastrophic and New Orleans and the surrounding area still have not fully recovered despite the passage of eight years and billions of dollars in aid. The U.S. government alone has spent over $120 billion that does not include aid received from humanitarian organizations and more than 85 countries, including the Philippines. Taking a look back at the toll such a storm can wreak, helps us better understand the dire situation in the Philippines caused by Typhoon Haiyan.
From a meteorological standpoint, the two storms were similar in power. Looking at the peak intensity of both storms, Katrina measured as a category 5 storm with 173 mph winds while Typhoon Haiyan measured at 196 mph. While Katrina was a considerably wider storm, affecting 93,000 square miles, Haiyan was sure to be more intense spread over only six of 7,000 Philippine islands. Though both storms slowed down as they made landfall, the areas hit experienced winds of at least 150 miles per hour.
Both New Orleans and Tacloban are major population centers. At landfall, New Orleans had a population of over 400,000, while Tacloban is one of the Philippines’ largest cities at 210,000. By July of 2006, the Greater New Orleans Data Center reported a population of just 230,172. This drop represents a population loss of over 50 percent, and one of the main reasons for the exodus was the incredible destruction to homes. Over 300,000 homes were destroyed or made uninhabitable by Hurricane Katrina. Early estimates say 600,000 people have been made homeless from Typhoon Haiyan, but as many as 11 million could be affected.
Louisiana’s Mercedes-Benz Superdome became refuge during and after the storm and a number were injured when parts of the roof caved in. In Tacloban, people took shelter when the storm descended in an indoor basketball stadium, though some died when it was flooded. It has now become a homeless shelter for many of the displaced.
Similarities end when one looks at the human and pure economic cost of the two storms. Katrina was responsible for the direct and indirect deaths of 1,833 people, according to the National Hurricane Center, with 1,300 of those fatalities coming from Louisiana. Haiyan has produced an early direct death count of 3,261 but more bodies are expected to be found and more will die if aid fails to reach them in time. Currently, estimates put the damage to goods and infrastructure at $15 billion. Katrina is said to have caused $96 billion in damages, three times more than any other storm before it in U.S. history.
The large difference in the statistics can be attributed largely to the level of poverty in the Philippines. About 28 percent of the population lives in poverty with an average family income of just $5,362 per year, according to government statistics, and many people in the affected area had wooden roofs and lacked access to clean water before disaster struck. People in the Philippines are facing the same dangers that Katrina survivors endured like contaminated water, lack of shelter and food, and emotional distress, and history tells us how great the aid effort will need to be for recovery to take place.
Is anybody out there?
Stadiums for shelter
Force of nature
The high ground
– Tyson Watkins
Sources: NSCB, Census, Trust.org, New York Times, The Economist, Nation Master, CNN, St. Mary’s University, NHC, Fox News, The Guardian, Washington Post
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