Published: December 2005

Global Aid

Look Out Uganda

Hope in Hell

When disasters strike nations and aid agencies rally to help.

By Chris Carroll and Edward Girardet
Photograph by John Stanmeyer

Part One: Deadly Delay - Katrina: Grasping for Relief
By Chris Carroll
National GeographicStaff

When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, a world accustomed to global projections of American power—including international relief efforts after such disasters as the 2004 Asian tsunami and the 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran—witnessed that same power reduced to impotence.

Certainly what happened later was more comforting. In the month after Katrina devastated a swath of Louisiana and Mississippi (with Rita not far behind) tens of billions of dollars of emergency aid appropriations were rushed through Congress. Convoys of aid flowed south. People pledged over a billion dollars to the Red Cross.

But the fact that the nation's aid mechanisms eventually seemed to get on track doesn't erase the disgrace of the first week after the storm, when people without food or water suffered and died in a major metropolitan area and when government emergency managers and aid organizations couldn't deliver relief. Katrina behaved exactly like the monster storm scientists and local officials knew would one day drown New Orleans (they'd even practiced with a model storm a year before). The death trap the Big Easy was allowed to become is likely to redound to the U.S.'s discredit for years.

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