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Public Health Response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita --- Louisiana, 2005

On August 24, 2005, Tropical Depression 12 became Tropical Storm Katrina, the 11th named storm of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season (1). Late on August 25, Katrina made initial landfall in south Florida as a category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale (1). Katrina strengthened rapidly upon reaching the Gulf of Mexico, attaining category 5 intensity. On August 29, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast near the Louisiana-Mississippi border as a category 3 hurricane (1). The effect of earlier category 5 wind speeds on Gulf waters and the massive size of the storm combined to create devastating storm-surge conditions for coastal Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama and damage as far east as the Florida panhandle (1). Storm-induced breeches in the New Orleans levee system resulted in the catastrophic flooding of approximately 80% of that city (Figure) (1). Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest hurricane to strike the United States since 1928 (2). Preliminary mortality reports indicate approximately 1,000 Katrina-related deaths in Louisiana, 200 in Mississippi, and 20 in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia (1).

When hurricanes move onto land, the resulting storm surges, violent winds, heavy rains, and flooding can cause extensive damage. Before 1990, the majority of hurricane-related deaths in the United States resulted from drowning caused by sudden storm surges (2). Advances in warning technology and timely evacuation have decreased hurricane-related mortality (3). Since 1990, indirect causes of death and injury from hurricanes, such as electrocutions, clean-up injuries, and carbon monoxide poisonings, have become more prominent (2,4--6). During and after Hurricane Katrina, the majority of deaths resulted from storm surges along the Mississippi and Louisiana coastlines and flooding in the New Orleans area (1). The destructive force of the hurricane was magnified by the particular vulnerability of New Orleans, a city largely located below the surface of surrounding bodies of water. The resultant flooding closed New Orleans, the major population and commercial center of Louisiana and the hub of the state's public health infrastructure.

Hurricane Katrina disrupted basic utilities, food-distribution systems, health-care services, and communications in large portions of Louisiana and Mississippi. In the days after the hurricane struck, displacement of persons living in these areas resulted in the congregation of more than 200,000 persons in evacuation centers in at least 18 states (7). Massive local, state, and federal responses ensued. The situation was compounded on September 24 when a second category 3 hurricane, Rita, forced the cessation of response activities in New Orleans and the evacuation of Louisiana and Texas cities near the Gulf. As the region moves into the reconstruction phase of this disaster, heavily affected states will need continued support to rebuild the public health infrastructure.

MMWR is highlighting the public health response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita with two special issues. This issue focuses on public health activities in Louisiana 1--2 months after Hurricane Katrina, during which time local authorities reopened portions of New Orleans and the pre-disaster population began to return. Reports in this issue describe a range of public health disaster-response activities, including morbidity surveillance, shelter-based surveillance, community health and needs assessment, environmental assessment, and infectious-disease case investigation. A second special issue, scheduled for March, will focus on the broader impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, including public health activities in Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, and Florida.

Reported by: WR Daley, DVM, Career Development Div, Office of Workforce and Career Development, CDC.

References

  1. Knabb RD, Rhome JR, Brown DP; National Hurricane Center. Tropical cyclone report: Hurricane Katrina, 23--30 August 2005; Miami, FL: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service, National Hurricane Center; December 20, 2005. Available at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/pdf/TCR-AL122005_Katrina.pdf.
  2. Shultz JM, Russell J, Espinel Z. Epidemiology of tropical cyclones: the dynamics of disaster, disease, and development. Epidemiol Rev 2005;27:21--35.
  3. Malilay J. Tropical cyclones. In: Noji EK, ed. The public health consequences of disasters. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 1997:207--27.
  4. CDC. Morbidity and mortality associated with Hurricane Floyd---North Carolina, September--October 1999. MMWR 2000;49:369--700.
  5. CDC. Carbon monoxide poisoning from hurricane-associated use of portable generators---Florida, 2004. MMWR 2005;54:697--700.
  6. CDC. Carbon monoxide poisoning after Hurricane Katrina---Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, August--September 2005. MMWR 2005;54:996--8.
  7. CDC. Infectious disease and dermatologic conditions in evacuees and response workers after Hurricane Katrina---multiple states, August--September, 2005. MMWR 2005;54:961--4.


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Date last reviewed: 1/19/2006

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