JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Seventeen years ago, lives were changed overnight as a tropical depression near the Bahamas turned into a hurricane that would forever affect many Southeasterners. On Monday, August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane over Buras, Louisiana. What followed was weeks, and in some places months, of devastation and cleanup across multiple Gulf Coast states.
The National Weather Service (NWS) reports that not only was Katrina one of the five deadliest hurricanes in United States history, it was the single most costly hurricane on record. In total, it claimed the lives of 1,833 people and caused approximately $108 billion in damage. Considering the scope of its impacts, Katrina was one of the most devastating natural disasters in United States history.
On August 23, a tropical depression formed over the southeastern Bahamas. It became Tropical Storm Katrina on August 24 as it moved into the central Bahamas. The storm continued west, eventually making its first landfall on August 25 along the southeast Florida coast as a Category 1 hurricane. As it moved west across Florida and into the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katrina rapidly intensified and was classified as a Category 5. Katrina had weakened to a Category 3 when it made another landfall in Louisiana on August 29. Final landfall was made in Hancock County before it turned toward Meridian and fizzled below hurricane status the same day.
The highest surge of Hurricane Katrina was found in a zone just east of the eye near Bay St. Louis east to the northern reaches of Mobile Bay in Alabama. Storm surge was likely as high as 20 feet near the Mississippi-Alabama border.
Downed Trees and Powerlines
Wind from the hurricane caused significant damage to trees across Stone and George counties. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service reported the hurricane damaged or destroyed about 19 billion board feet of timber across five million acres in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. Forest inventories showed one-third of the timber damaged was found in eight counties of southern Mississippi.
According to the NWS in Jackson, the most significant damage occurred across Southeast and East Central Mississippi. For other areas, especially those west of Natchez, to Yazoo City and to the Grenada line, damage to trees and power lines was significant. Toward Central Mississippi and along Interstate 55, the damage and impacts increased. Millions of trees were uprooted, snapped or severely damaged. It was the fallen trees that caused just about all of the structural damage and downed power lines across the region. Hundreds of trees fell onto homes. The downed trees caused two deaths in Hinds and Warren counties. In each case, a tree fell on a house.
Thousands of power poles and miles of power lines were taken down by fallen trees and wind. The power outages across the region were widespread and lasted for a few days to as long as four weeks. The night the hurricane hit, 97% of the Jackson metro area was out of power. The most extensive outages were across the southeast and in rural areas. In those areas, power took two to four weeks to be restored because of the massive amount of damage.
There were 13 tornadoes associated with the outer bands of Hurricane Katrina. Most of them happened in Lauderdale, Kemper, Newton and Neshoba counties. Of those 13 tornadoes, five happened Neshoba County. The longest tornado path was also in Neshoba County and was on the ground for 13 miles. No one was injured or killed by any of the tornadoes.
The NWS in Jackson reports Mississippi’s forestry and agricultural industries were hit the hardest. The timber industry saw $1.3 billion in damage. The poultry industry also took a blow. In the region where the hurricane passed, about 300 chicken houses were destroyed and nearly 2,400 more were damaged. The state’s cotton, rice, corn, soybean, catfish, dairy, cattle and nursery plant industries were also affected. The Mississippi Insurance Department reports 36 counties were impacted by the hurricane.
Hurricane Katrina caused 15 direct deaths in Mississippi and 19 indirect deaths. All the direct deaths, in some way, were because of fallen trees. Trees either fell on homes, vehicles or on the actual person. Fallen trees caused deaths in Jones, Hinds, Warren, Simpson, Lauderdale and Leake counties. The indirect deaths ranged from heart attacks to heat stress during the days after without power.
View a collection of photographs that show Hurricane Katrina’s damage in Mississippi on the Mississippi Department of Archives and History website.