Call 2015 the year of hurricane anniversary coincidence in Louisiana.
Besides marking the 10th anniversary of the devastating hurricanes Katrina and Rita, this year is the 100th anniversary of a deadly storm that struck in 1915, the 50th anniversary of Hurricane Betsy in 1965 (a storm that flooded New Orleans) and the 30th anniversary of Hurricane Juan in 1985 (a storm that caused widespread coastal flooding).
The anniversaries are also a sobering reminder that Louisiana is a hurricane alley. Locations in Louisiana have seen more hurricane landfalls than any other place along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, according to Barry Keim, the Louisiana state climatologist.
Here, then, is a brief look back at these hurricanes that shaped Louisiana’s history:
THE HURRICANE OF 1915
The Hurricane of 1915 (hurricanes didn’t have names back then) struck south of New Orleans on Sept. 29.
Newspapers called it one of the worst storms to ever to strike Louisiana. Miles of levees were washed away and thousands of people were left homeless. Boats were tossed around like toys in a bathtub. Once the floodwaters receded, scores of bodies were left behind. Survivors, hungry and without help, were stranded on levees.
In New Orleans, the storm’s winds caused extensive damage. Buildings collapsed. The St. Louis Hotel, a grand hotel and former slave market in the French Quarter, was torn down because of damage it sustained. Flooding in parts of New Orleans prompted the building of storm protection along Lake Pontchartrain. The storm was blamed for 275 deaths.
HURRICANE BETSY, 1965
Until Katrina, Betsy was considered the worst hurricane to ever hit New Orleans. The storm came ashore on Sept. 9 and flooded about 40 percent of New Orleans from levee breaks and overtopping. Water lingered in neighborhoods for days in scenes that foreshadowed Katrina 40 years later. Buildings collapsed and were badly damaged by hurricane-force winds. Flooding devastated the Lower 9th Ward.
President Lyndon Johnson was quick to arrive and tour devastated New Orleans. The devastation prompted the federal government into building a massive levee system around New Orleans – a system that was partially complete when Katrina hit. The hurricane also led to the creation of the National Flood Insurance Program.
Betsy killed at least 58 people in Louisiana.
HURRICANE JUAN, 1985
Juan pales in comparison in intensity and strength with the storm of 1915 and Betsy, but in Louisiana it remains remarkable because even as a Category 1 hurricane it caused extensive flooding. Juan was an erratic storm that meandered over the Louisiana coast between Oct. 28 and Oct. 31, dropping torrential rains and caused flooding 35 miles inland from the coast.
Windell Curole, a hurricane expert and levee manager in south Louisiana, said Juan proved that south Louisiana was facing a serious coastal crisis due to land loss. “It’s the statement that the Gulf was here,” he said. “It was a minimal storm and it pushed water way inland.” Louisiana’s coast has lost about 2,000 square miles of land since the 1930s and scientists say this has caused the coast to become much more vulnerable.
Juan killed 11 people in Louisiana.
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