Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spills Federal Responses

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In 2005, Hurricane Katrina happened and was the most destructive disaster in the history of the United States. The hurricane was large and strong and a catastrophic flood was associated with it. Hurricane Katrina’s destruction exceeded other major disasters as the Chicago fire of 1871, Andrew in 1992 and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. The Exxon Valdez petrol spill in 1989 in Alaska led to massive oil spills (Bankston III, 56). Long before the storm on the Gulf Coast, 29 August 2005, the shattering effects of Hurricane Katrina felt. In the Mexican Gulf, the storm battered the infrastructure of the offshore energy and about 75% of the 819 oil platforms at the Gulf were evacuated. According to the estimates of the U.S energy companies two days before the actual landfall, the approaching storm had reduced the oil productions in the Gulf of Mexico by almost 33.3%. Ever since 1851, seventy-five hurricanes with similar strength like the Katrina at landfall had hit the U.S mainland roughly once in every two years.

Though Katrina was a normal hurricane, it was larger than most hurricanes experienced in the United States. In 1969, Hurricane Camille, a category 5 storm had hit the Gulf Coast, causing devastating effects. In comparison, the force winds of Camille only extended for about 75 miles from its center whereas those of the Katrina extended for approximately 103 miles from the epicenter. The surge of Hurricane Katrina affected a large area as compared to Camille. Across 138 counties along with parishes, Hurricane Katrina covered almost 93, 000 square meters. Over 1, 833 people lost their lives when the storm hit Louisiana and its impacts were felt in the neighboring states of Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama and even beyond (Tierney, 341). The category five storm caused a damage of approximately $ 81 billion and was accompanied by furious winds, torrential rains and most notably, the flooding that covered the entire City of New Orleans.

The levee system of the New Orleans that was meant to prevent the disastrous floods failed miserably. The floods covered almost 80% of the city along with the neighboring areas with water levels subsiding after several weeks. Whereas the U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) were accountable for the faulty design of the levee that led to its failure, the government at the federal and local levels were to blame due to their failure to maintain the levee (Gutmann, 35). The levee catastrophe resulted to a large number of deaths than those caused by the BP spills. The media personnel blamed the federal government for failing to offer adequate help. The lawsuits and investigations further used thousands of the taxpayer’s dollars in its futile attempts to alleviate the corruption in the government along with the bureaucratic waste. The winds and storms of Hurricane Katrina that rose up to twenty-seven feet high had devastating effects on property, residential areas and businesses along the Gulf Coast and thousands of miles inland. The gravest challenge caused by the storm was the large distribution of damage geographically. The cities along the Gulf Coast and miles inland were destroyed. Further, the storm surge demolished buildings from Mississippi to Morgan City, Biloxi to Alabama.

The BP Oil Spills

The BP oils spills occurred in the Gulf of Mexico on April 2010. The oil spills resulted from the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon where 11 workers lost their lives. The BP oil spill was the largest in the history of the oil drilling operations of the marine. The wells exploded on April 22, 2010 after natural gas leaked into the wells through the concrete core which was meant to seal them for later use. The gas ignited and injured about seventeen workers while eleven workers died immediately. The oil started flowing into the gulf and thousands of barrels were lost. A Switzerland company known as Transocean Limited owned the Deepwater rig and BP was leasing it. The BP company was sixth largest oil company of the time. The crude oil flowed persistently for over eighty-seven days.

The BP Company was charged in a court of law for lying to the Congress which is regarded as felony and manslaughter due to the deaths of the eleven employees at the well. Due to its apprehensions about the “safety practices and ethics”, the federal government started monitoring BP since the occurrence of the incidence in 2010 till the end of 2016 (Edwards 2). The Department of Justice reached an agreement with the BP Company to pay $4.525 billion to meet the fines and other payments. Further, on February 2013, the company spent over $42.2 billion as payment to a trust fund. The BP spills had several legal implications, some of which are ongoing in different settlements such as civil and criminal. Though the circumstances that contributed to the blowout of the oil wells are not clear that eventually led to the oil spills were not clear yet the BP Company was held liable for all the destructions. The company spent billions of dollars as compensational fees.

Federal responses to Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oils Spills

In New Orleans, the federal government was preparing to prevent a large-scale catastrophe since the year 2002. Joe Allbaugh, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director in 2005 had well-organized an investigation on the likelihood of the occurrence of a tornado (Edwards 3). In 2004, FEMA carried out a “Hurricane Pam” exercise that initiated a storm which nearly devastated the City of New Orleans. After the drill, the government conducted more preparation with the same intensity and height for a storm like the Katrina. Prior to the landfall, President Bush had declared a state of emergency. The responsibility of organizing and mobilizing resources that would help the residents of New Orleans. One day before the catastrophe struck, the governor of Louisiana had avowed an evacuation of the city that was voluntary. Since most of the residents lacked the ability to vacate the city, the state and local governments in conjunction with the federal government had opened a superdome where the residents could shelter away from the storm. When the hurricane finally struck on August 29, 2005, FEMA had mobilized more than one thousand workers at the Homeland Security (Rubin, 45).

Additionally, FEMA prohibited fire fighters along with ambulances to respond to areas affected by the hurricane as a way of organizing the response fully. Nevertheless, the declaration slowed the response to the tragedy. FEMA appeared to be unwilling to accept any help especially from the not-for profit organization. For instance, though the Red Cross was not allowed to carry out any operations after the catastrophe and was therefore unable to complement the response of the federal government. Within a short time, the superdome was overcrowded forcing an evacuation to be carried out the next day. As the storm struck the Gulf Coast, it was evident that the response of the government was not only inadequate but also ineffective. To make matters worse, the federal government was unconscious of the actual damages cause by the hurricane.

Although the government had deployed several civil workers in New Orleans, the storm unrelentingly caused havoc and people were stranded and had nowhere else to seek help. Firefighters from all over U.S were summoned to the region to boost the response of the federal government. Nonetheless, most of the fighters lacked efficient skills in rescue operations and the whole process was disastrous. It is evident that the government response to the Hurricane Katrina was unsuccessful and there is a lot to be improved. According to the polls conducted about the response of the U.S government towards Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Coast, more than 60% of the Americans rated the response to the BP oil spills negatively (Perrow, 68). A few gave the government a positive rating while most of the people felt that the response of the U.S government towards the spill was ineffectual. Further, the Americans were agitated with the attempts of the BP Company to control the oil spillage.

Comparison of the Hurricane Katrina and BP Oil Spills

The two disasters occurred in the U.S during the reign of different presidents. The Hurricane Katrina occurred during the governance of President George W. Bush while the BP oils spills occurred during the administration of President Barack Obama. The two presidents responded differently to the catastrophes with each of them using his strategies. The federal government in both cases tried its best to respond to the hazardous situations. After the occurrence of the Hurricane Katrina, President Bush arrived at the scene which was the City of New Orleans two days later. The president’s response was quicker than that of President Obama in the BP oils spills where he arrived at the Gulf Coast twelve days after the disastrous spill (Goldstein, Howard and Maureen, 1334). When considering the time taken between the occurrence of the disaster and the arrival of the president, Bush won. However, Obama’s government was speedy in response though it was limited than that of President Bush. “President Obama mobilized the Homeland Security, Coast Guard, the EPA and the Interior Department within twenty-four hours after the rupture of the oil wells at the Gulf Coast” (Jefferson 2). However, the federal response was intended to control pollution but not to stop the flow. The government frustrated the public by giving the BP Company which had failed tremendously in preventing the catastrophe the mandate to stem the oil. The act was against the interest of the public.

During the Hurricane Katrina in 2005, President Bush offered aid that was valued at about $10.5 billion within four days after the storm occurred (Edwards 4). However, the aid was too little to meet the damages caused by the Hurricane and also it was a bit late. Experts had warned that the levees which surrounded New Orleans were susceptible yet both the local and federal governments disregarded the warning. They failed to provide support along with the relevant escape routes to the underprivileged residents and this led to massive deaths which could have been prevented if only the governments at all levels had regarded the warnings from the experts. Ray Nagin, the New Orleans’ mayor by then is alleged to have refused to dispatch the school buses in the evacuation mission. Moreover, the governor at that time was Kathleen Blanco failed to request assistance from the National Guard troops on time till New Orleans was covered with water. Surprisingly, President Bush continued with his vacation in Texas for another day even after Hurricane Katrina had hit the U.S. On arrival at Louisiana, the president congratulated the director of the Federal Emergency Management agency for a job well done yet the citizens were suffering and many of them lost their lives. “The residents of the Gulf Coast were dehydrating and starving to death” (Jefferson 2). Though the 2006 report of the Congress tried to prove the effective response of the federal government in responding to the Hurricane, the government had failed at all levels.

The two presidents failed in regard to the effectiveness of the government response. The federal government was completely ineffective in ending the spill. They seemed to be more concerned with the process of conservation rather than finding a way to stop the leaks. Instead of implementing the leak stoppage as the priority, the federal government initiated it as a reconsideration. Initially, it was estimated that the 5,000 barrels of oil were flowing daily and within a few days the amount rose up to 12,000. According to expert, the oil spill, the BP oil spill was more disastrous than the Exon Valdez spill of 1989 in Alaska in which 11 million gallons of crude oil were lost (Finkl 1246). A survey was conducted across the U.S and the findings indicated that the 50% of the population who were surveyed were against the handling of the Deepwater Horizon by President Obama. On the 37th day of the catastrophe, President Obama told the Americans, “in case you are wondering who is responsible, I take responsibility” (Jefferson 3). From the way the disaster was handled, it is evident that the U.S government as well as the BP Company are incapacitated and not fully equipped. As compared to the Katrina Hurricane where the government aid arrived late, the Gulf leak did not receive much help to help stop the spillage. The delay jeopardized the lives of thousands of Americans and destroyed their homes. The government should have sent engineers to correct the hazard which the BP Company had failed miserably.

In addition to a lot of errors that occurred before the arrival of the Hurricane Katrina, the response of the federal government was insufficient. Millions of dollars were mishandled through fraud and instead of the money being spent to start mobile homes which were ran at a total cost of $250,000 monthly (Osofsky and Joy, 383). Both the federal, state and local government were accountable for the misappropriation of the funds that were meant to help the victims. Though the BP oil spills caused economic destruction, it cannot rival with the billions of dollars that were required to handle the Hurricane Katrina. Hundreds of lives were lost during the hurricane as compared to only eleven employees who lost their lives during the initial explosion of the Deepwater Horizon. In both catastrophes, the federal government responded though it was not effective and there are several mistakes to learn from it.


Conclusively, the Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spills were hazardous and affected the economy of the U.S. Further, many people lost their lives while others were rendered homeless. The Katrina also led to massive oils spills at the Mexican Gulf Coast and even the BP oil spills is regarded to have resulted from the effects of the hurricane. In the U.S history, Hurricane Katrina the most powerful and catastrophic storm with the highest number of deaths. The BP oil spills occurred in the same Mexican Gulf as Hurricane Katrina. Whereas the hurricane occurred during the reign of President Bush while during the BP oils spills, Obama was the U.S president. The two presidents tried to stabilize the conditions. The Americans expressed their views on the response of the government towards the catastrophes and most of them felt that the way the federal government handled the BP oil spills was not operational. Conclusively, the negative aspects of the federal response towards the two disasters was not effective. The occurrences were preventable yet the government failed to respond to the warnings on time. Besides, the aid offered was minimal and could not cater for all the affected people. The U.S government should learn from its failures in handling the disastrous events.

Works Cited

Bankston III, Carl L., et al. The sociology of Katrina: Perspectives on a modern catastrophe. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010.

Edwards, Chris. “Hurricane Katrina: Remembering the Federal Failures | Cato @ Liberty.” Cato Institute, 27 Aug. 2015, . Accessed 11 Apr. 2015.

Finkl, Charles W. “Oil Spill Impacts: Taxonomic and Ontological Approaches.” (2016): 1246-1246.

Goldstein, Bernard D., Howard J. Osofsky, and Maureen Y. Lichtveld. “The Gulf oil spill.” New England Journal of Medicine 364.14 (2011): 1334-1348.

Gutmann, Amy. On risk and disaster: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina. Eds. Ronald J. Daniels, Donald F. Kettl, and Howard Kunreuther. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

Jefferson, Cord. “Gizmodo-default.” The Root, 6 Feb. 2010, Accessed 11 Apr. 2017.

Osofsky, Howard J., and Joy D. Osofsky. “Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill: Lessons learned.” Psychiatric Clinics of North America 36.3 (2013): 371-383.

Perrow, Charles. The next catastrophe: Reducing our vulnerabilities to natural, industrial, and terrorist disasters. Princeton University Press, 2011.

Rubin, Claire B., ed. Emergency Management: The American Experience 1900-2010. CRC Press, 2012.

Tierney, Kathleen. “Disaster governance: Social, political, and economic dimensions.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 37 (2012): 341-363.

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