Remembering Katrina: The Watch

This blog is part of a series that reflects upon the tracking, landfall, response and long-term recovery 10 years ago when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Throughout each stage, Coast Guard men and women played an integral part in the immediate rescue and recovery efforts. Follow along this weekend as Coast Guard Compass remembers Katrina.

U.S. Coast Guard image

U.S. Coast Guard image

It all started when a tropical depression formed on Aug. 23, 2005, about 200 miles southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas. It made landfall on August 25 at 6:30 p.m., near Miami as a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds at 80 mph; causing damage and killing 14 people as it moved across land, it weakened to a tropical storm.

Continuing its southwest movement, Katrina intensified as it moved across the Gulf of Mexico into a Category 5 with estimated maximum sustained winds near 175 mph. The National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center predicted the central Gulf Coast, including New Orleans metropolitan area, would be directly affected by Katrina as a major hurricane about 56 hours before landfall.

Hurricane Katrina intensifies to a Category 5 in the Gulf of Mexico before hitting New Orleans. Photo by NASA.

Hurricane Katrina intensifies to a Category 5 in the Gulf of Mexico before hitting New Orleans. Photo by NASA.

Armed with this knowledge provided by NOAA, Coast Guard Sector New Orleans started to prepare for the worst.

The Coast Guard already had in place up-to-date and regularly exercised hurricane plans and began implementing their Continuity of Operations Plan. The sector relocated to Alexandria, Louisiana, while the District 8 command shifted to St. Louis.

“It was apparent to me that this was probably going to be the storm of the century; the ‘Big One’ as they call it, and we basically got the staff together, certainly the night before the storm hit – and the dependents – and pretty much told them I felt we were about to embark upon a new historical era; that this would be unlike anything any of us have ever seen in the past and that this would be huge and could probably change the country or change the City of New Orleans permananetly,” said then-Capt. Frank Paskewich, commander of Sector New Orleans during the storm.

At 11:00 a.m., Saturday, August 27, District 8 stood up its Incident Management Team in the Robert A. Young Federal Building. It was up and running by 8:00 a.m., Sunday.

Aviation assets were set up in Jacksonville, Florida, as well as Air Station Houston. Boats were moved up the Mississippi River while personnel made sure family members were evacuated. Safety zones were formed and 26 Coast Guard cutters made way to the region.

Coast Guard rescue helicopters line the tarmac at Air Station New Orleans in Belle Chasse, La.  Coast Guard search and rescue crews prepare to respond to Hurricane Katrina. The Coast Guard worked with aviation assets from Coast Guard Air Stations New Orleans, Houston, Corpus Christi, Texas, Mobile, Ala., Miami, Elizabeth City, N.C., Clearwater, Fla., and Cape Cod, Mass., as well as Navy, Army National Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary, Air Force and commercial aircraft.  U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kyle Niemi

Coast Guard rescue helicopters line the tarmac at Air Station New Orleans in Belle Chasse, La. Coast Guard search and rescue crews prepare to respond to Hurricane Katrina. The Coast Guard worked with aviation assets from Coast Guard Air Stations New Orleans, Houston, Corpus Christi, Texas, Mobile, Ala., Miami, Elizabeth City, N.C., Clearwater, Fla., and Cape Cod, Mass., as well as Navy, Army National Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary, Air Force and commercial aircraft. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kyle Niemi

Reinforcements were directed from all over the country including aircraft and flight crews from air stations Atlantic City, Cape Cod, Clearwater, Elizabeth City, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Barber’s Point, Astoria and even Kodiak.

Coast Guard Strike Teams were dispatched along with Port Security Units, Marine Safety and Security Teams and Disaster Assist Teams.

Aviation Training Center Mobile transformed from a training center to the largest air station in Coast Guard history. The staff had prepositioned all of the spare parts they would need and stocked up on aviation fuel.

With bated breath, the Coast Guard braced for the worst as Hurricane Katrina neared Louisiana.

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