Hurricane Katrina Facts: Damage and Costs

What Made Katrina So Devastating

woman with dog after Hurricane Katrina
••• Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Hurricane Katrina was a Category 5 monster storm. It did more damage than any other natural disaster in U.S history. It was massive before it even made landfall. Its hurricane force winds reached 75 nautical miles east of the center. Its maximum winds stretched 25 to 30 nautical miles. (Source: "Hurricane Katrina: Facts, Damage & Aftermath," Live Science.)

It forced the evacuation of 75 percent of the 819 manned oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

That reduced oil production by a third. (Source: "Fox Facts: Hurricane Katrina Damage," Fox News, August 29, 2016.)

But it did most of its damage after it hit Louisiana August 29, 2005. That was after the National Hurricane Center reclassified down to a Category 3 hurricane. It impacted 93,000 square miles. Its storm surge crested at 27 feet. (Source: "Katrina Timeline," National Geographic.)

The Facts on Hurricane Katrina's Damage

Hurricane Katrina cost $108 billion. Insurance covered $80 billion of the losses. Flooding in New Orleans caused half the damage. It destroyed or rendered uninhabitable 300,000 homes. It left in its wake 118 million cubic yards of debris. That made clean up efforts a mind-boggling attempt. (Source: "Ten Years After Katrina," Swiss Re, August 25, 2015. "Hurricane Katrina," Swiss Re, January 25, 2007. "Fox Facts.")

University of North Texas Professor Bernard Weinstein estimated that Katrina cost $250 billion.

That includes both the damage and its economic impact. He estimated uninsured losses at $215 billion, and insured losses at $35 billion. That's because the worst flooding occurred in New Orleans' 9th Ward. It was a low-income are that was mostly uninsured. (Source: "UNT Experts Discuss Hurricane Katrina's Third Anniversary," UNT News, August 28, 2008.)

Katrina damaged 19 percent of U.S. oil production. It destroyed 113 offshore oil and gas platforms when combined with Hurricane Rita which followed soon afterward. They damaged 457 oil and gas pipelines and spilled almost as much oil as the Exxon Valdez disaster. That caused oil prices to increase by $3 a barrel. Gas prices almost reached $5 a gallon. In response, the U.S. government released oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves. Compare Katrina's impact to historical oil prices.

The U.S. economy grew 3.8 percent in the quarter before Katrina hit. Afterward, it plummeted to 1.3 percent in the fourth quarter (October-December.) That's when production losses, such as gas pipe disruptions, showed up. The economy was healthy enough to shake it off. By the first quarter in 2006,  it returned to a robust 4.8 percent growth rate in gross domestic product. (Source: "National Accounts, Bureau of Economic Analysis.)

Of more importance was the impact on people and animals. Katrina displaced 770,000 residents. That's more than the Dust Bowl migration during the Great Depression. Seventy-five thousand returned only to find out their homes were destroyed.

Katrina's death toll was 1,836 people.

Old age was a contributing factor. Of those who died, 71 percent were 60 years or older. Half of them were 75 or more. There were 68 in nursing homes, possibly abandoned by their caretakers. Two hundred bodies went unclaimed. Over 700 people were unaccounted for. The storm killed or made homeless 600,000 pets. (Source: "Fox Facts: Hurricane Katrina Damage," Fox News, August 29, 2016. "Hurricane Katrina")

Why Did Katrina Damage the Economy So Much?

Katrina was devastating because of its path. Its 28-foot storm surge exposed engineering mistakes in New Orleans' levees. It destroyed 169 miles of the 350-mile system. That flooded 80 percent of the city. Floodwaters did not recede for weeks. Some neighborhoods were eradicated and never recovered. If the levees had held, flooding would have been reduced by two-thirds.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not update all the levees with concrete support pilings. Some levees were not high enough. Others were built on soil that crumbled under the flooding. (Source: "Corps Levees' Design Caused Deadly Failure," USA Today, June 1, 2006. "USGS Scientists Investigate New Orleans Levees Broken by Hurricane Katrina," USGS, January 20016. )

The hurricane caused $260 million in damage to New Orleans' port, although it was open to ships a week later. The city's tourism industry generated $9.6 billion a year before Katrina. It attracted 7.1 million visitors each year. It only received 2.6 million tourists in 2006. 

Katrina struck the heart of Louisiana's sugar industry and destroyed 40 percent of the crop. The American Sugar Cane League estimated the annual crop value at $500 million. This area of Louisiana had 50 chemical plants, producing 25 percent of the nation's chemicals. The nearby Mississippi coast was home to 12 casinos, which took in $1.3 billion each year. The storm also damaged oyster beds and the local shrimping industry. 

How Does Katrina's Damage Compare to Other Natural Disasters?

Katrina's extensive damage was unusual. Typically, hurricanes that hit the densely populated East Coast cause the most damage. That's because there is a concentration of expensive highrises.

Global warming could create more hurricanes the size of Katrina. That's because warmer temperatures allow the atmosphere to hold more moisture. Rising sea levels make flooding more likely near Gulf Coast cities. Global warming has stalled weather patterns in the Gulf region.

Hurricane Harvey hovered over Houston for three days. It dropped 51 inches of rain, the most for a single storm in the continental United States. (Source: "How Global Warming Likely Made Harvey Much Worse, Explained by a Climatologist," Vox, August 28, 2017.)

Hurricane Irma is a Category 5 storm headed to Miami. It's the largest Atlantic storm ever. Its 185 mph winds lasted for 37 hours, a new record. It's being fed by 86 degree water, unusually warm for the Atlantic. If Irma hits Miami, the damage could reach $300 billion, according to insurance firm Swiss Re. (Source: "Hurricane Andrew: The 20 Miles That Saved Miami," Swiss Re Insurance Company, 2017.)

Find out how Katrina compares to the 20 most destructive hurricanes to hit the United States.