Katrina's Surge, Part 9

A Weather Underground 16 part series about Hurricane Katrina, by Margie Kieper.

For the remainder of the month, we're traveling the coastline destroyed by Hurricane Katrina's record storm surge. This is something that has never been shown on the news or talked about, either in the overall, or in detail. What you'll be seeing here is what people on the Gulf Coast have been calling the “Invisible Coastline” for almost a year now.

Today we'll continue our coverage of western Hancock County, MS, where the coastal communities of Lakeshore, Clermont Harbor, and Waveland were completely destroyed by surge. Waveland, in particular, was noted in the news as being "ground zero" for the hurricane's surge, but the surge along this entire strip of coastline was effectively ground zero. In addition, this southeast-facing shoreline was the only location where winds favored setup of significant waves on top of the surge.

From Google Maps, the location of this area along the Gulf of Mexico coastline impacted by Katrina:

Waveland, Hancock County, MS

Image courtesy of Google Maps

Yesterday I posted a photo of the height of the surge at Waveland. I have since contacted the person who shot that photograph. I talked to both Judith and Bill Bradford, who survived the surge staying in their Waveland home, which is immediately past the railroad tracks (not close to Jeff Davis Road as specified on Mapquest).

Here is the image from yesterday:

Surge in Waveland, MS

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The information provided by the Bradfords regarding the surge was very specific. The power went out at around 6:30am at their Waveland home on the morning of the 29th. They were staying in the home for a couple of reasons; first, because the home had not received any water at all from Camille, and, secondly, because both work in the medical field and needed to be available after the storm. At almost exactly 8:30am, water started coming over the railroad track embankment, from the coast, and into their yard.

Their home is 18 inches off the ground, and the first floor has 8-foot ceilings. There is an 18-inch truss between the 1st and 2nd floors, and this is what saved their 2nd floor from being flooded. In a matter of only five to ten minutes the water came up six feet, and quickly filled the first floor after that. Judith said that is why they saved so little from the first floor; they had no time to get anything. She first tried to shut the living room front door, but the force of the water burst the door open. She grabbed a camera and the Bradfords and their children ran upstairs. They marked the high water mark (HWM) on the inner stairwell showing how high the water came – a little more than six more inches into the truss, which is a total of 10 feet of surge.

They saved two other people besides the man who was floating by on the roof in the photo. He was a chef named Glen, holding a four month old dachshund named Pinky, in the surge. He had lost his other dog and three cockatiels when his mother's home collapsed. The roof wedged against their van, underwater, and stopped, so they were able to save him. Bill Bradford told me when he swam out to rescue that man, that the water was so warm it seemed almost hot. He said the current was nothing like white water, but was a gentle continuous flow.

Because their home is right by the railroad tracks, it is not as high in elevation as I had thought. It is around 17 feet elevation. That is close to the HWM observed in Pass Christian, 27 feet.

With such a good quality HWM, I wondered why their house was not surveyed. Judith Bradford told me that no one from the federal government seemed to realize their house was there. The road leading up to Jeff Davis (they own 6 ½ acres and raise miniature horses, which were drowned in their stables when the surge came) was filled with debris. The teams doing Search and Recovery for bodies didn't even check the house because they didn't know it was there; it was a good thing the family survived!

The water started to go down sometime after 11am, and by noon was about chest high, and by 2pm about waist-deep. The water finally left the house completely by about 4 or 5 pm that evening. She believes the railroad track embankment kept the water from receding faster.

Because Waveland was for the most part along a 1/2 mile strip between the coastline and a railroad embankment, that part of town had, I believe, only one structure standing after the extremely high surge washed through. Clermont Harbor and Lakeshore had similar geographies and suffered the same fate. Again here are a number of the NOAA aerial images of each town, followed by a detail from each image.

NOAA Waveland aerial image:

NOAA Katrina Images

Image courtesy of NOAA

Details of slabs and the debris field in Waveland:

NOAA Katrina Images Waveland slab detail

Image courtesy of NOAA

NOAA Katrina Images Waveland debris field detail

Image courtesy of NOAA

NOAA Clermont Harbor aerial images – again, nothing but slabs and a debris field, over half a mile inland:

NOAA Katrina Images Clermont Harbor

Image courtesy of NOAA

Details of the debris field in Clermont Harbor:

NOAA Katrina Images Clermont Harbor debris field detail

Image courtesy of NOAA

NOAA Lakeshore aerial image, and detail of slabs left behind (there was hardly a debris field left in the Lakeshore area at all; either it was pushed very far inland into the marsh, or all pulled out to the Gulf of Mexico when the surge receded):

NOAA Katrina Images Lakeshore

Image courtesy of NOAA

NOAA Katrina Images Lakeshore slabs detail

Image courtesy of NOAA

These USGS aerial images, also taken a day or two after the storm, show the devastation from a closer angle. Part of Waveland is shown, with the main street, Coleman Avenue, then two of Clermont Harbor, and one of Lakeshore:

USGS aerial Waveland

Image courtesy of USGS

USGS aerial Clermont Harbor

Image courtesy of USGS

USGS aerial Clermont Harbor

Image courtesy of USGS

USGS aerial Lakeshore

Image courtesy of USGS

Here are two images of the debris field that covered much of Waveland. Note how the remaining trees are stripped of bark from debris hitting the trunks.

Waveland debris field

Image courtesy of Carl Schott

Waveland debris field

Image courtesy of NoMoFilm1

The debris had to be pushed back from the roadways before any access was possible to the area, and this was slow work:

Waveland debris field

Image courtesy of FEMA

Waveland debris field

Image courtesy of the Schlatter website

When I visited in March, after the bulk of the debris removal, and first drove along 603 (Nicholson Avenue) over the railroad tracks and into the part of Waveland swept completely bare by the surge, I knew exactly what I would find. However once there I was overwhelmed. It felt like I was entering a beautiful park, except for the one lone battered car by the side of the road, but this street had once been crowded with homes and landscaping, and covered with a thick canopy of oak branches. This was sacred ground.

Waveland – sacred ground

I took this photo of the mural on the steps of Waveland City Hall; the steps were all that was left of the building (see below for a before image of City Hall).

Waveland City Hall steps and mural Waveland City Hall before

Here is an image of the plaque commemorating the help after Camille; aside from the City Hall steps it is the only other thing on Coleman Avenue from before the hurricane.

Waveland Camille plaque

Predicting surge: When storm surge threatens the coastline, a tool called SLOSH, for Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes, is used to determine the surge height and inundation. This tool is fairly accurate. Below is a sample SLOSH run from Katrina. In actual landfall situations, a series of runs is done, not just one, for each forecast period (the surge team is very busy!). This particular run is a tad shy of the actual surge values that occurred over the eastern MS coastline, but notice how Jackson County (the easternmost MS county) is already flooded up to the county line, as well as the Pearl River basin on the border between LA and MS.

Katrina SLOSH run

Image courtesy of NOAA

Mississippi is one of the coastal states that has a complete Hurricane Evacuation Study, or HES. These studies are done by USACE, and contain a wealth of information, including a vulnerability analysis, behavioral studies, transportation studies, a chart of the types and numbers of evacuating vehicles, time required to clear each county for different surge zones, maps for evacuation routes, evacuation zones, and surge inundation by storm category, and details of the SLOSH runs that generated the surge maps.

Many SLOSH runs of different categories of hurricanes are done, and the maximum amount of surge in any particular location, regardless, is documented and sorted by storm category. For the MS HES study: "A total of 2445 hypothetical hurricanes were run through the Mississippi Sound SLOSH Model to determine the worst case surge elevation for each of the five hurricane categories."

The results are a set of maps that show the areas of a county that will flood, for a particular category of hurricane. Here is the set of maps for Hancock County:

Hancock County HES Maps

Image courtesy of USACE

Here is part of one of the maps, showing the surge potential for Lakeshore, Clermont Harbor, Bayside park, Waveland, and part of Bay St. Louis, followed by the map legend. Note how little land is above water in a Cat 4 surge, and how all the densely populated sections of the county - south of I-10 - are underwater:

Hancock County HES Map Detail

Image courtesy of USACE

Hancock County HES Map Legend

Image courtesy of USACE

Hancock County HES Map Legend 2

Image courtesy of USACE

These maps provide a very accurate way for emergency planners to determine what areas of the county to evacuate.

Hurricane Katrina Storm Surge:

Weather Underground Storm Surge Articles

Storm Surge Safety Actions

  • Minimize the distance you must travel to reach a safe location; the further you drive the higher the likelihood of encountering traffic congestion and other problems on the roadways.

  • Select the nearest possible evacuation destination, preferably within your local area, and map out your route. Do not get on the road without a planned route, or a place to go.

  • Choose the home of the closest friend or relative outside a designated evacuation zone and discuss your plan with them before hurricane season.

  • You may also choose a hotel/motel outside of the vulnerable area.

  • If neither of these options is available, consider the closest possible public shelter, preferably within your local area.

  • Use the evacuation routes designated by authorities and, if possible, become familiar with your route by driving it before an evacuation order is issued.

  • Contact your local emergency management office to register or get information regarding anyone in your household whom may require special assistance in order to evacuate.

  • Prepare a separate pet plan, most public shelters do not accept pets.

  • Prepare your home prior to leaving by boarding up doors and windows, securing or moving indoors all yard objects, and turning off all utilities.

  • Before leaving, fill your car with gas and withdraw extra money from the ATM.

  • Take all prescription medicines and special medical items, such as glasses and diapers.

  • If your family evacuation plan includes an RV, boat or trailer, leave early. Do not wait until the evacuation order or exodus is well underway to start your trip.

  • If you live in an evacuation zone and are ordered to evacuate by state or local officials, do so as quickly as possible. Do not wait or delay your departure, to do so will only increase your chances of being stuck in traffic, or even worse, not being able to get out at all.

  • Expect traffic congestion and delays during evacuations. Expect and plan for significantly longer travel times than normal to reach your family's intended destination.

  • Stay tuned to a local radio or television station and listen carefully for any advisories or specific instructions from local officials. Monitor your NOAA Weather Radio.

Source: NOAA