The Blob

Friday, September 09, 2005

Forty years ago in New Orleans

It’s happened before. Katrina was not the only hurricane to wreak havoc on New Orleans. Some of you may recall Hurricane Betsy in 1965, which not only hit New Orleans with winds of at least 125 mph, but also flooded large parts of the city.

From an article in USA Today:

All of this happened after Betsy did considerable damage in the Bahamas and southern Florida, including the Keys.

When all of the damage in the USA was totaled, it came to more than $1 billion in 1965 dollars, making Betsy the USA's first billion dollar hurricane. If you factor in inflation and put Betsy's cost into Year 2000 dollars, it cost $8.4 billion, which ties it for third in the list of the nation's most expensive hurricanes. Betsy is tied with Agnes, which caused major flooding in the Northeast in 1972, and behind only Hugo in 1989 and Andrew in 1992 in cost.

Betsy was blamed for 75 deaths in the USA, which ranks it 18th among the deadliest U.S. storms from 1900 through at least September 2003. The only storm to kill more people in the USA since 1965 was Camille, with 256 deaths in 1969.

Camille, by the way, came close to hitting New Orleans, but instead, the city felt the fringes of Camille's weather side when its eye came ashore about 60 miles to the east in Mississippi.

In addition to the people it killed and the damage it did, Betsy is famous for doing a loop the loop when it was about 350 miles east of Daytona Beach, Fla. and seemed to be on its way to hit the Carolinas.

Instead, it turned back to toward the southwest, passing over the Bahamas where winds on Great Abaco Island reached 147 mph. Soon after the eye moved over Nassau, the biggest city in the Bahamas, Betsy stalled for about three hours, allowing its winds to pound the city.

On Sept. 7 Betsy continued moving toward the southwest to pass over Key Largo at the eastern end of the Florida Keys, and then continued west along the Keys.

As Betsy continued across the Gulf of Mexico and turned toward the northwest, it grew into a category 4 storm with winds up to 155 mph.

As the hurricane moved ashore south of New Orleans it destroyed almost every building in Grand Isle, where the Coast Guard station reported gusts up to 160 mph.

Winds up to 125 mph were measured in New Orleans.

Betsy drove storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain, which is just north of the city and is connected to the Gulf of Mexico, pushing water over levees around the lake. Flood water reaches the eves of houses in some places in the city.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Web site notes that "Betsy prompted Congress to authorize a ring of levees 16 feet high around the city — a project the Corps of Engineers is completing today. This level of protection was based on the science of storm prediction as it existed in the 1960s. The question remains, however, whether this level of protection would be sufficient to protect the city from a category 4 or 5 hurricane today — or even a category 3 storm that lingered over the city."

Sound familiar?


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