Hurricane Katrina's Impact on America Term Paper

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¶ … Hurricane Katrina's impact on America. Specifically it will discuss the Hurricane's impact on the environment. Hurricane Katrina's impact on New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and the nation is still being assessed. One of the nation's worst natural disasters, many survivors of Katrina have left the New Orleans area forever, and the environmental impact of the storm will be felt for decades throughout the Gulf Coast.

As the images of Hurricane Katrina continues to come from New Orleans, it was clear the disaster was greater than anything in recent history, and certainly much worse than could be imagined. The tragic loss of life and homes was just part of the overall damage to the Gulf Coast. As reports continued to flow from the area, it became increasingly clear this was not a disaster that would be easy to clean up, and that the effects would be long lasting. The effects to the environment were even more devastating on many levels.

First, when the storm hit the coastline, it destroyed many barrier islands and wetlands at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Traditionally, these islands and wetlands have adsorbed much of the impact of high-level storms like Katrina, minimizing their impact on inland areas such as New Orleans. It has long been known that because of the changes to the flow of the Mississippi River through New Orleans, the natural wetlands at the mouth of the river and the Gulf of Mexico have been decreasing at a rapid rate.

The river used to dump a large amount of silt at its mouth, forming these important wetlands, but when diverted by levees and canals, the river instead dumped the silt into the Gulf of Mexico, helping lead to the gradual disappearance of these vital wetlands. In fact, they have been losing up to 24 square miles of coastline, including these wetlands, a year (Spotts). These wetlands, that contain a wide variety of plant life, including grasses, mango groves, and other types of environments that act as a buffer against storms and storm surges like the one that flooded New Orleans. Today, the Army Corps of Engineers is looking at not only rebuilding levees in the city, but in recreating barrier islands and wetlands that have disappeared, in an effort to help protect the low-lying areas of the Gulf Coast. Restoring the wetlands would provide more habitats for native species, as well, which have been displaced due to the loss of these wetlands. Several bird habitats were destroyed during the storm, and they have not been reestablished.

Immediately after the hurricane hit and flooding had reached its highest point, New Orleans was a system of giant lakes, filled with incredible amounts of debris, chemicals, raw sewage, and oil spills. There were at least 44 petroleum spills recorded, along with numerous chemicals from chemical plants, sewage from damaged sewage treatment plants, and the chemicals leaking from thousands of cars, homes, and businesses, all leaching into the floodwaters and contaminating anything they touched (Spotts). These contaminated waters were pumped into Lake Pontchartrain, where the water harmed the fish population. Tests show that the Gulf Coast waters have just about returned to normal, except for marshes and wetlands that were damaged by the salt-water influx from the Gulf, or were damaged by the chemical-laden waters of the river and Lake Pontchartrain as they make their way out to sea. The long-term ramifications of this chemical dump into the waters surrounding New Orleans has not been established, although there is ongoing testing going on. The EPA cleared the entire area for people to return by 2006, but there are still massive areas of the city that have not been rebuilt, (such as the Ninth Ward), and may never be, and the long-term affects of the storm waters here are still under survey.

One aspect of this chemical nightmare really did not get that much attention, but the oil spills from Katrina rivaled the oil spills of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, but they were not contained or cleaned up nearly as easily. Studies show there were at least 44 oil spills around the area, with two major spills, totally several million gallons each. After the Exxon Valdez disaster, it seems just about everyone knows the incredible damage an oil spill can do. Pictures of birds, fish, and other animals killed by spills are vivid reminders of how pervasive an oil spill can be. In this case, spills took place in neighborhoods, too, and that includes oil and other chemicals leaking from all the submerged cars. There was a sheen of oil all over the floodwaters of New Orleans, and most of it ended up in Lake Pontchartrain or the Gulf Coast. There were many wetlands devastated by the oil spills, and no one was allowed back into their communities until it had all been cleaned up, a process that sometimes took months or even years.

One of the largest oil spills was the Murphy Oil Spill in Chalmette, Louisiana, where it damaged thousands of homes. The Murphy Oil Company's plant leaked over 1 million gallons of oil mostly into the residential area of the small town. Thirty-two thousand people lived there once, but they all had to evacuate because of the oil, and they could not return until it was cleaned up. Obviously, numerous homes were so contaminated they could not be recovered, and cleanup literally took years to complete. Murphy Oil offered to help residents with expenses, but only if they did not join in a class action suit later on and many residents did not take them up on the offer ("Katrina: The Aftermath"). Therefore, the oil spills and other environmental damage are changing the population of the Gulf Coast region, as well.

People who can afford to leave New Orleans are leaving, and many who have nothing to return to are not coming back. This means the entire character of the city will change. The Ninth War is especially vulnerable to this, because so many people who lived there were poor, did not own the homes they lived in, and do not have the resources to return. Perhaps the Ninth Ward should not be redeveloped, because it is so vulnerable, but instead turned into a natural park or wetland to enhance the area and serve as a memorial to those who died during Katrina. This would bring another, new ecosystem to the area, but it would also serve as a reminder about how powerful Mother Nature can be, to both man and the environment.

Another aspect of the environmental damage that many people may not think about is the massive amount of refuse and materials that had to be disposed of after the storm. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "Assisted in the proper handling and recycling of over 380,000 large appliances (refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioners). If laid end to end, these appliances would stretch from Baton Rouge to Dallas" ("Eighteen-Month Anniversary"). There were also wrecked cars, hundreds of thousands of electronic devices, and the building materials and furnishings of thousands of buildings and businesses. This added an enormous burden on existing landfills, and created one of the largest disposal activities in the nation's history. When people think about Katrina, they think about the destruction and loss of life, but these ongoing problems show why Katrina is such a massive cleanup effort, and why it is taking so long to get the area back to normal. It is hard to imagine just how many trucks, bulldozers, and other machinery it would take to clean up the area, and just the logistics of getting the machinery there and up and running is a massive task. New Orleans suffered in just about every area after the storm, but the environment, in just about every aspect of it, suffered immensely, and it will take even longer for the environment to recover.

Finally, 2007 studies indicate that those floodwaters laced with chemicals are having long-term effects on the city and its residents. Researchers found that many areas of the city, including numerous schoolyards, parks, and residential areas, included high levels of arsenic in the soils. The problem is especially frightening because "Arsenic is a substance that can cause cancer, neurological damage and other chronic health problems, and is particularly harmful to children" ("Katrina's Wake"). Obviously, people are living, working, and playing in areas that may still contain many toxic chemicals and these could cause long-term health effects in the people of the Gulf Coast. Studies also showed that prior to Katrina, there were only four small areas of the city that showed elevated arsenic levels, while after Katrina there are 63 or more, indicating the levels rose after the storm.

In addition, there has not been a lot of discussion about what these chemicals have done to the groundwater systems in the area, but it seems that if chemicals are remaining in the soil, they would remain in the groundwater too, and that would effect… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Hurricane Katrina's Impact on America.  (2008, April 23).  Retrieved December 14, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/hurricane-katrina-impact-america-specifically/542499

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