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St. Bernard Parish - What Happened

Although officially determined to be a Category 3 hurricane, Katrina produced a Category 5 surge and winds in excess of 125 mph when it made landfall in St. Bernard Parish. As the storm surge traveled across Lake Borgne and up the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), it overtopped the levee along the northern edge of the urbanized area of St. Bernard Parish, and broke through the levee on the Industrial Canal in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. Water from both levee breaks flooded most of the parish inside the levees to depths of up to 14 feet. Flood waters remained for approximately three weeks. A flood-related breach of a tank at the Murphy Oil Company refinery released about a million gallons of crude oil, further damaging approximately 1,800 homes and polluting area canals. Fishing communities in the eastern areas of the parish outside of the levee system were destroyed.

On Sept. 24, an eight-foot storm surge from Hurricane Rita breached recently-repaired levees, and combined with between 6 and 12 inches of rain, again caused widespread flooding in the parish.

In all, 127 St. Bernard citizens died, about 68,000 people were displaced, and 100 percent of the parish housing stock (over 25,000 units), were either destroyed or damaged sufficiently to make them uninhabitable. All parish businesses and government buildings, and most utility systems, were similarly damaged or destroyed. Damaged levees, decimated wetlands, and the still-open MRGO have left the parish vulnerable to future storms.

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