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November 1, 2012

Six storms that changed the course of history

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

KATRINA

The category-five monster that slammed into New Orleans Aug. 29, 2005, holds an infamous place on record as causing the most extensive damage ($108 billion worth) and as one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. Some 1,833 people died as a result of the storm, as flood waters from the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Pontchartrain overflowed the antiquated U.S. Army Corps of Engineer-designed levees that protected the city's inhabitants.

And yet, it's not as if they didn't see the devastation coming. Experts had long warned about the cataclysmic effects of a major hurricane's direct impact on low-lying New Orleans and, alert to the danger, President George W. Bush declared a state of emergency two days before Katrina made landfall. But no one, it turns out, was really quite ready for the chaos that ensued. With inadequate preparations made for evacuation, looting and rioting broke out across the city, while residents drowned in the attics of their homes or were left to die in hospital beds.

The president's unqualified FEMA appointee, Michael Brown, was shown to be just that, while Bush was lambasted for a belated and inadequate National Guard response — and for appearing distant. (In Bush's memoirs, he called the scathing comments from Kanye West — "George Bush doesn't care about black people" — the worst moment of his presidency.)

Worse, the perception that America couldn't handle its affairs at home though it had committed heavily to wars overseas seemed to change the national tenor to the effort in Iraq. And it certainly didn't help Bush's cause that Cuba and Venezuela, two nations he vilified, were the first to offer to come to America's aid with pledges of donations and aid.

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