The Effects and Cleanup of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans
When Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, the devastating effects were felt all along the U.S. southern coastline, but the greatest impact was felt in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Times-Picayune called Hurricane Katrina the “greatest disaster in our nation’s history” (Swenson). As the storm hit New Orleans early in the morning on August 29, 2005, the city quickly realized it was not prepared for a natural disaster of this magnitude. The city’s levees, though designed to withstand horrendous storms and flooding, was incapable of containing the water that later covered 80% of the city. Tens of thousands of victims clung to rooftops and “hundreds of thousands scattered to shelters around the country” (Swenson). Just when it seemed that the next steps to take were rescue and recovery and cleanup and restoration, just three short weeks later, Hurricane Rita reflooded much of the area (Swenson). When the waters subsided, Servpro was ready to step in and assist with cleanup and recovery effort as it had done countless times before, including at the Pentagon and in New York following 9/11. While the efforts to restore New Orleans to its former historical glory was a joint effort among numerous organizations and individuals, Servpro’s expertise and experience in environmentally safe cleanup was a major contributing factor to the improvements seen in New Orleans today.
Servpro was founded in 1967 in Sacramento, California as a painting business. Having a background in cleaning and restoration, owners Ted and Doris Isaccson realized their business would be an excellent candidate for franchising independent cleaning and restoration specialty offices. The first franchise was sold in 1969. In 1979, Servpro acquired the “Bristol-Myers Domesticare Division and its 175 Franchises” (“Servpro Story”). The company has a long history of meeting the needs of all states and for this reason, Servpro “relocated the corporate headquarters from Sacramento to Gallatin, Tennessee, in 1988” placing itself “within 600 miles of 50% of the U.S. population” (“Servpro Story”). Servepro’s services focus on restoration and cleaning methods using techniques and equipment that meets or exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. General restoration and cleaning services include:
|Fire, Smoke & Soot||Air Ducts & HVAC|
|Water Removal & Dehumidification||Biohazard, Crime Scene & Vandalism|
|Mold Mitigation & Remediation||Carpet & Upholstery|
|Catastrophic Storm Response||Drapes & Blinds|
|Move Outs & Contents Restoration||Ceilings, Walls & Hard Floors|
|Contents Claim Inventory Service|
Today, Servpro’s corporate headquarters is house in a 140,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility and boasts more than 1,500 franchises nationwide. From 1991 to the present, Servpro has received more than 50 awards for its expertise and care in providing disaster cleanup and restoration services.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) describes Hurricane Katrina as “one of the most devastating hurricanes in the history of the United States” and the deadliest since the Palm Beach-Lake Okeechobee hurricane of September 1928 (“Hurricane History”). The total damage of Katrina is “estimated at $75 billion in the New Orleans area and along the Mississippi coast - and is the costliest U. S. hurricane on record” (“Hurricane History”). While Mississippi and Florida experienced their share of devastation, the brunt of the impact was felt in Louisiana.
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina impacted New Orleans in a number of ways including leaving many people homeless, the destruction of businesses resulting in increased unemployment and escalating financial distress, physical impact to people and structures linked to water and fire damage and subsequent mold infestations, and emotional and psychological disturbances. However, these are only a few of the ways Katrina impacted New Orleans. The city itself was nearly gone and the traditional way of life was on a memory. Worse, 1,000 lives were lost in Louisiana because of Katrina.
Katrina’s economic impact was created as it tore through New Orleans obliterating structures, homes, and buildings. Long time businesses no longer existed and the homes some grew up in was a memory. The monetary cost to rebuild was initially estimated reach well into the millions. Many students in New Orleans could not attend school and were sent to other schools outside the area which meant long bus rides, spending hours of each day with people they have never met. The costs of rebuilding an academic facility, including the contents and resource materials needed to teach, often total in the billions. For schools that were damaged or destructed by Katrina, facing an inadequate budget was only one problem. The other problem lay in the budgetary ability of temporary schools to take in these displaced students, not to mention the added costs of counseling services the Katrina survivors needed.
Economics and politics are often seen side by side and this was true during the aftermath of Katrina. Many criticized the government’s reaction to the disaster, particularly in regard to the efforts of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. refusal to accept aid from foreign allies. The victims were left feeling abandoned, especially when media reports berated FEMA for selecting a leader, Michael Brown, with no previous disaster control experience. The economic and political implications only intensified the emotional and psychological implications. Victims faced a completely different life than what they knew before Katrina. Thousands of homes were destroyed and workplaces were demolished or damaged to such an extent that jobs were nonexistent. The job a person had on August 28, 2005 did not exist on August 29, 2005. Facing devastating changes was hard enough but for many victims the future looked hopeless as they were also grieving over loved ones who did not survive Katrina or were missing or presumed dead (Picou 513).
Katrina also took a great environmental and ecological toll on New Orleans. The flood waters caused major problems with the areas ecological system, particularly in regard to forest regions and the loss of wildlife. The natural components of the ecological system were in danger. Worse, thousands of people were thrust into the flood waters, which became their only path out of New Orleans. Swimming was the only survival technique available for many. And, as if that were not enough, recent studies of environmental impact of Katrina reveal there remains a significant “ecological impact and human health risks from exposure to chemical contaminants” (“Arsenic” 705).
According to study findings, published in a special issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, “demonstrate how Hurricane Katrina caused significant ecological damage by altering coastal chemistry and habitat” (705). The area most affected and facing the greatest risk is New Orleans. The findings reveal that New Orleans contains “elevated concentrations of lead, arsenic and other chemicals…particularly in the most disadvantaged areas of the city” (705). Further findings include air borne risks believed to have been “released through demolition projects during the city-wide cleanup operation” (705).
Implications to Workers
Environmental and safety concerns mounted. The safety of rescue and relief workers was initially a major concern, but as the waters began to subside other concerns surfaced. The impact of the storm caused horrendous fires and the water set the stage for subsequent mold damage. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cleanup activities following a storm and flood can be hazardous. The CDC warns:
“Workers and volunteers involved with flood cleanup should be aware of the potential dangers involved, and the proper safety precautions. Work-related hazards that could be encountered include: electrical hazards, Carbon Monoxide, musculoskeletal hazards, heat stress, motor vehicles, hazardous materials, fire, confined spaces and falls.” (“Emergency”)
Understanding the risks and potential safety precautions is a vital aspect of cleanup and restoration processes. Professional services, such as Servpro, are comprised of specialists trained in safe cleanup and restoration services. The team at Servpro understands there is more involved in cleanup and restoration and the most common factors include air quality dangers, physical dangers, and the stresses associated with what is witnessed following such types of catastrophic storms.
Flooding and the potential for mold contamination are common concerns among cleanup workers. Flooding causes damage to systems for heating, air ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC), and geothermal systems requiring special handling and expertise in the cleanup effort. Otherwise, ignored areas or inadequate cleanup leaves room for contamination and risks to healthy indoor environments. Workers are at risk of coming in contact with deadly mold spores. Mold contamination is a frequent occurrence in situations where water has infiltrated areas for long periods of time. Extensive water damage, such as that witnessed after Katrina, increases the risks of mold contamination in homes and buildings. Worker should limit exposure to mold by taking safety precautions and wearing protective clothing at all times.
The CDC also warns cleanup workers on the risks involved in identifying and handling human remains. Recovery workers faced daily health and safety risks as they braved the waters covering 80% of New Orleans. While Servpro does not provide this specific type of recovery services, the aftermath of Katrina thrust many workers in positions that would otherwise be left to the CDC or other agencies. When entering a residence or building during the cleanup process, workers are subject to encounter any type of event, including finding human remains. Human remains “may contain blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis viruses and HIV, and bacteria that cause diarrheal diseases, such as shigella and salmonella” (“Interim Health”). While dangerous to those in direct contact, the CDC explains that “these viruses and bacteria do not pose a risk to someone walking nearby, nor do they cause significant environmental contamination” (“Interim Health”). It is important to note, however, that after the recovery process is complete the flood water remains a breeding source for bacteria and viruses from human remains.
News reports of Servpro’s involvement in the cleanup and restoration process following Hurricane Katrina are few, but the company does not let that change its level of commitment to public safety. Its main focus is on providing safe, quality services to its customers and to keeping the public informed on the safety precautions one should take when disaster strikes. On September 5, 2008, a Servpro press release urged the public to “remember the importance of disaster preparedness” (“Servpro”). The company has been a coalition member with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Ready Campaign for five years. All franchises are committed to “spreading the message about the benefits of being prepared for natural disasters” (“Servpro”). While the 2008 release referred to the impending Hurricane Ike, the company learned what a serious, disastrous hurricane can do when it served as part of the cleanup process following Katrina.
While some of Servpro’s preparedness and response advice may seem commonplace or trivial, even the minutest detail can make a difference when facing a catastrophic event. Servpro reminds the public to stay informed through local and state authorities and news and radio reports. Changing a storm is not possible but being prepared the first step to surviving a natural disaster. General recommended items for readiness include having “[sic] a three-day supply of water for each member of the family --including pets- along with non-perishable food, a battery-powered radio, extra batteries and a flashlight…necessary medications and insurance documents” (“Servpro”).
Precautionary methods are reinforced prior to any possible natural disaster. The most urgent warnings include the dangers of flooded structures and electricity. Many individuals may not focus on the potential dangers of their home’s electrical system being active when they attempt to enter a flooded residence. The residence may also be hazardous due to contaminated flood water. The company also recommends removing wet upholstery, furniture, and other water retainable items top avoid mold growth. The list of precautions and warnings are extensive but the objective is to keep Americans safe.
Some have said that it takes a village to raise a child; well, it takes people working together to recover from disasters such Hurricane Katrina. August 29, 2005 is a date in New Orleans’ rich history that will never be forgotten, nor will the city and its residents ever be the same. People from all over the Southern states and beyond joined together to cleanup and restore New Orleans to its former glory. City residents faced struggles unlike anything they could have imagined, yet the survivors emerged and persevered through Katrina’s aftermath. However, they were not left without emotional scars. In fact, the emotional impact was intensified when FEMA and the U.S. government left New Orleans feeling abandoned. There were those who pushed through, giving their support and professional services. Servpro is one organization that was committed to seeing New Orleans recover. The city continues restoration efforts, even today, but the light at the end of the tunnel is finally in sight.
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“Awards and Recognitions.” Servpro. Online.
“Emergency Response Resources.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Online.
“Hurricane History.” National Hurricane Center. n.d. Online.
“Interim Health Recommendations for Workers who Handle Human Remains After a Disaster.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Online.
Picou, J. S. and Hudson, K. “Hurricane Katrina and Mental Health: A Research Note on Mississippi Gulf Coast Residents.” Sociological Inquiry 80.3: 513. ProQuest.
“SERVPRO Encourages Citizens to Prepare for Hurricane Ike: Taking a Few Simple Steps Can Go a Long Way toward Protecting Your Family.” Official Press Releases from Servpro Industries, Inc.
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Swenson, D. and Marshall, B. “Katrina: The Storm We Always Feared.” Times-Picayune.