Hurricanes are one of the deadliest weather events, with damaging winds, heavy rain, and severe thunderstorms all at the same time.
There have been over 300 hurricanes off the U.S. Atlantic Coast since 1850, and two of the biggest were Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina.
While Hurricane Rita is known as the most intense tropical cyclone in the Gulf of Mexico, the storm did not cause as much damage as Hurricane Katrina.
Hurricane Rita was responsible for 120 deaths and $18.5 billion in damage, compared to 1,836 deaths and $125 billion in damage from Hurricane Katrina.
Read more to discover the true extent of damage from both Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina.
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Hurricane Katrina formed in the Atlantic on August 23, 2005. The storm originally made landfall at Hallandale Beach, Florida on August 25.
It reached peak intensity three days later on August 28 in the Gulf of Mexico before slamming into Louisiana and Mississippi and causing widespread devastation.
On the morning of August 28, Hurricane Katrina reached Category 5 status with 175 mph winds and 902 mbar minimum central pressure.
This pressure put Katrina in the history books as the fifth most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic.
At the time, Katrina was the strongest Gulf of Mexico hurricane ever, too.
It wasn’t long before Hurricane Rita came around and surpassed the records previously set by Katrina.
Less than a month after Katrina, Rita made landfall and caused even more damage and disruption to the hard-hit southern states.
While Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi were busy cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina, another storm was brewing near The Bahamas.
This system was named Rita on September 18, 2005, after originally developing off the West African coast.
The storm traveled west through the Florida Straits before entering abnormally warm waters and rapidly intensifying.
Hurricane Rita reached 180 mph peak winds on September 21, becoming a Category 5 storm.
However, by the time Rita made landfall, the system had weakened to Category 3. Rita hit Johnson’s Bayou, Louisiana with 115 mph winds before weakening into a large low-pressure system over the lower Mississippi Valley on September 26.
Hurricane Rita took over for Katrina as the most intense tropical cyclone the Gulf of Mexico had ever seen.
It’s also the fourth-most intense hurricane recorded in the Atlantic, joining Wilma and Katrina in the record-breaking 2005 season.
Rita was the fifth major hurricane that year.
Hurricane Katrina brought with it significant rainy weather, damaging winds, and huge floods that wiped out parts of New Orleans and impacted around 90,000 square miles total.
Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama were the hardest-hit states. Sadly, about one million people were displaced by the storm, with hundreds of thousands left out of work throughout the impacted region.
Hurricane Katrina made headlines as an unusually large Category 5 hurricane approaching the Gulf Coast.
While Category 5 storms have sustained winds over 156 mph, Katrina reached 175 mph winds, smashing records and putting the southern U.S. on high alert.
Unfortunately, it was too late to evacuate for thousands of residents left in the eye of the storm.
On August 27, Hurricane Katrina had a vast circulation that covered the Gulf of Mexico, and it soon increased in power, hitting Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana on August 29 as a Category 4 storm.
The storm headed northeast across the Mississippi Sound, making a second landfall and bringing a storm surge of over 26 feet to Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi.
While Hurricane Katrina slammed into Louisiana and Mississippi, Hurricane Rita devastated the Gulf Coast, making landfall on the border of Louisiana and Texas.
At its peak intensity, Rita was a Category 5 storm with 180 mph winds and 895 mbar pressure on the night of September 21, making it the strongest hurricane ever in the Gulf of Mexico and the fourth strongest in the Atlantic.
Hurricane-force winds were recorded along a 120-mile stretch of the Louisiana-Texas from Tigre Point to McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge.
The storm surge was particularly painful for Louisiana, where low-lying coastal communities were trying to clean up from Hurricane Katrina.
New Orleans levees were damaged by Katrina and hastily repaired, which unfortunately meant Rita topped the flood barriers and caused catastrophic flooding.
Flooding and wind damage severely impacted southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, with over 4,500 family homes destroyed in Jefferson and Orange counties alone.
Many apartments and mobile homes were completely wiped out, with electric services disrupted for a few weeks.
Hurricane Katrina struck Central Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama on August 29, 2005, causing $125 billion USD in damages.
Katrina is tied with Hurricane Harvey (2017) as the costliest tropical cyclone ever.
Engineering flaws in the levees of Greater New Orleans resulted in substantial damage and loss of life.
80% of the city and neighboring parishes were underwater, with most of the communication and transportation facilities completely destroyed.
This meant thousands of people who did not evacuate had limited access to necessities and were often left without food, drinking water, or shelter.
More than one million homes and 1.3 million acres of Mississippi forest land were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
The hurricane’s total economic impact is anticipated to eventually surpass $150 billion in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Hurricane Rita resulted in $18.5 billion USD in damages, with most of the damage spread across five Louisiana parishes and nine Texas counties that were declared disaster areas.
More than 4,500 single-family residences were destroyed, with major damage to over 14,000 homes and minor damage to 26,000 more.
Flooding damage was significant with rainfall peaking at 16 inches in central Louisiana.
A 12 to 18 ft. high storm surge across Cameron parish and a 10 to 12 ft. surge in Vermillion devastated much of Louisiana.
Holly Beach was completely destroyed, while Bridge City and Sabine Press also took a huge hit with wind and water damage.
Hundreds of square miles of coastal wetlands were wiped out by Hurricane Rita, furthering the damage Katrina left behind.
Parts of coastal Louisiana continue to feel the long-lasting impacts of back-to-back hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Hurricane Katrina was worse than Hurricane Rita in terms of the death toll, with 1,836 fatalities.
The majority of deaths occurred in Louisiana where 1,577 lives were lost. 238 people died in Mississippi, 14 in Florida, and two each in Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio.
There was also one fatality in Kentucky as the storm remnants moved north.
A 2008 report from the American Medical Association found that drowning caused 40% of deaths in Louisiana, while injury and trauma were responsible for 25% of deaths.
11% of deaths were attributed to heart conditions.
While around 1.5 million Louisiana residents were evacuated before Katrina hit, around 150,000 to 200,000 people stayed back.
This was a personal decision for some, while others were not informed of the evacuation efforts in time due to a lack of resources.
A total of 120 deaths were caused by Hurricane Rita, with 113 of those fatalities in Texas. Six deaths were directly related to the storm, while 107 occurred during the evacuation of Houston.
This was much different than Katrina as most of the fatalities occurred before Rita actually made landfall.
During the evacuation of an estimated 2.5 to 3.7 million Texas residents, excessive heat and substantial traffic gridlocks claimed over 100 lives.
Many people switched off their air conditioning to conserve gas and limited water intake to avoid bathroom stops, which inadvertently resulted in heat stress and hyperthermia.
There was also a deadly accident where 23 nursing home residents were killed when their bus caught fire during the evacuation.
Although Hurricane Rita did not cause as much devastation as Katrina, it was still a huge hardship for already hard-hit Louisiana.
The loss of human life, property, and natural resources was difficult to comprehend so soon after Hurricane Katrina.