Hurricane Katrina: a Story of Response and Destruction

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Updated: Mar 31, 2023
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Landfall At 7:30 p.m. on October 29, 2012, Sandy slammed into New Jersey head-on, seven miles north of Atlantic City, with maximum winds of 80 miles per hour. By any measure, Sandy was an unprecedented event for New York City. Never in its recorded history had the city experienced a storm of this size. Never had a storm caused so much damage. Never had a storm affected so many lives. Its surge and waves battered the city’s coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and Lower New York Bay.

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Even though many response organizations were ready for the impending hurricane, many did not expect such a low-category storm could cause such destruction. The difference between Sandy and other hurricanes is that the storm surge caught everyone by surprise. Many emergency management personnel did not expect the surge to be so strong and hence did not prepare for the eventual outcome. Response efforts during the storm were very hard for first responders and others emergency personnel because the streets were blocked with debris and flood waters.

Response to Sandy Learning from past challenges in preparing for and providing relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, the federal government, led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with support from other federal departments, began to place staff and assets in the predicted impact areas before the storm made landfall and worked with state counterparts to coordinate potential emergency response and relief. (Laidlaw,2018)

This helped in responding swifter to aid victims who needed help during the storm. Many people were trapped in their homes to ride out the storm because they did not expect such a catastrophe. The prepositioning of supplies proved incremental in response efforts because many people did not cater to the disastrous flooding. Stores were closed, and many relied upon aid from FEMA and other organizations to supply basic needs. On October 30, President Obama directed FEMA to create the National Power Restoration Taskforce, which was to minimize red tape, increase coordination among government agencies at all levels and the private sector, and rapidly restore fuel and power.

Such actions show a marked change from the way authorities dealt with Hurricane Katrina; this time, FEMA was proactive rather than reactive. (Ladislaw, 2018) FEMA, along with the National Guard, did an effective job in rescue operations after the storm had subsided. Many people were trapped in their homes because they did not evacuate and needed assistance in finding shelter. The directive by President Obama made it easy for first responders to swiftly do their jobs. They learned a great deal from the dysfunction that happened during hurricane Katrina and corrected their mistakes.

National Guard assistance to local first responders and the Federal Emergency Management Agency included support at evacuation shelters, route clearance, search and rescue, and delivery of essential equipment and supplies. More than 85,000 National Guard members are available to assist civilian authorities in potentially affected states in support of relief efforts. (Greenhill, 2012) The allocation of such manpower proved effective in alleviating the loss of life. The media showed how people were being lifted from the top of their roofs and rescued by boats from the flooded waters.

FEMA showed that they had learned a great lesson from previous disasters by having pre-written authorizations in place to carry out their respective objectives. Available National Guard resources include almost 140 rotary-winged aircraft to perform search and rescue, reconnaissance, and personnel or cargo-carrying missions. Critical equipment available from the National Guard also includes 75 zodiac boats, 3,125 high-water vehicles, 43 Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units, 3,535 generators, and 726 debris-clearance vehicles. (Greenhill, 2012) Sandy Destruction The damage was immense: 44 New Yorkers dead, including eight drowned in their own homes, some whose neighbors heard their screams for help but couldn’t reach them.

Another 800,000 city residents were without power, and 700,000 tons of debris remained in the storm’s wake. Oily waters flooded subway tunnels, paralyzing the nation’s busiest mass transit system. The rain was incessant, driven by deadly 80 mph winds that took down power lines and trees, flooded tunnels on Manhattan’s East and West Sides, and brought the perpetually hectic city to a terrifying standstill. (McShane, 2017) The entire city was in turmoil because of hurricane Sandy and many residents in flood-prone areas had to seek shelter with family who had not been affected. The flooded tunnel made it impossible for trains to run in the majority of low-lying areas.

Busses had to reroute because there was debris all over the streets of the city. Many businesses had to remain closed until the flooded waters receded, which took several days. The streets were no better: 3,500 traffic lights were blown away. The Hugh Carey Tunnel flooded from top to bottom, with 45 million gallons of water pouring in from the inundated Battery. Even the New York Aquarium on Coney Island was flooded. The boardwalk in the Rockaways was torn to pieces. The FDNY scrambled to remove over 2,200 downed trees across the city.

The World Trade Center was in the dark, global commerce slowed as the New York Stock Exchange was shuttered for two days, and Verizon’s major telephone infrastructure centers were inundated by the floodwaters of New York Harbor. (McShane, 2017) Problems with Flood Insurance HiRISE Engineering of Uniondale, N.Y., and Matthew Pappalardo, a former director, were accused of falsifying engineering reports that were used to determine the structural damage to homes caused by the storm.

Those reports were evaluated by flood insurance adjusters and federal officials, and homeowners were reimbursed based on them. As a consequence, numerous flood claims may have been undervalued or denied under the National Flood Insurance Program, a part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. (Chen, 2017) Recovery In December 2012, in response to a request for technical support from their Joint Field Offices in New Jersey and New York, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deployed a Mitigation Assessment Team (MAT) composed of national and regional experts to assess the performance of buildings in New Jersey and New York.

The MAT conducts forensic engineering analyses of buildings and related infrastructure to determine causes of structural failure and success and to recommend actions that Federal, State, and local governments; the construction industry; and building code organizations can take to reduce future damage and protect lives and property in hazard-prone areas. (FEMA P-942, 2013) Recommendations Healthcare facilities should plan for extended complete power loss and associated loss of other utilities by developing emergency plans that include emergency operations, training exercises, and procurement of emergency systems and supplies (FEMA P-942, 2013).

FEMA should review the mapping procedures used to identify flood hazards landward of erosion control structures, such as bulkheads, seawalls, and revetments, and revise the procedures where Hurricane Sandy data and application of new simulation techniques indicate better guidance can be developed. (FEMA P-942, 2013) Conclusion New buildings, repairs to existing buildings, and systems that support critical functions should be designed to be more resistant to disruption by flood events. Owners and operators should provide emergency power systems or temporary connections to reduce outages when utilities are disrupted. (FEMA P-942, 2013)


  1. McShane, Larry. “Five Years after Hurricane Sandy Battered New York City, Signs of the Storm Remain – N.Y. Daily News.”, New York Daily News, October 26, 2017.
  2. Chen, David W. “Guilty Pleas to Falsifying Reports on Hurricane Sandy Damage.” The New York Times, The New York Times, December 22, 2017. Sandy and its impact. NYC.GOV
  3. Ladislaw, Sarah. “Hurricane Sandy: Evaluating the Response One Year Later.” Hurricane Sandy: Evaluating the Response One Year Later | Center for Strategic and International Studies, November 2, 2018,
  4. “FEMA P-942, Mitigation Assessment Team Report: Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York (2013).” FEMA P-942, Mitigation Assessment Team Report: Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York (2013) |,
  5. Greenhill, Jim. “National Guard Aids in Hurricane Sandy Response.” United States Department of Defense, Department of Defense, October 30, 2012,
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Hurricane Katrina: A Story of Response and Destruction. (2023, Mar 28). Retrieved from