Fourteen years ago today, early in the morning, a Category 3 storm with winds near 127 miles per hour made landfall right here on the Gulf Coast, forever etching the name Katrina in the minds of those hardest hit.
“Nobody was prepared for what we were going to get with Katrina.” Fourteen years ago, current Waveland Mayor Mike Smith worked to save lives as a firefighter during Hurricane Katrina.
“Of course at the fire department, we were the EMA directors for the city. So, we were used to tracking storms. When Katrina was out in the Gulf, it looked like it was going to continue past Louisiana and then all of a sudden, it took a sharp north turn and didn’t stop until it ran slap over Waveland.”
At the time there were 2,600 homes and after Katrina made an appearance more than 90 percent of them were uninhabitable. Before Katrina, Waveland was 10 percent in a flood plain and now that number sits at 90, creating an issue the city still deals with to this day.
“The FEMA flood elevation right here where we are standing is about 5 foot above sea level. So, with the FEMA maps, you have to be 22 feet above ground so for a business to come in and build back 22 feet above ground has been nearly impossible.”
Twenty-six people died in Waveland, including a family of four that drowned before they could make it out of their home. “Waveland was by far ground zero for Katrina because we were on the right front quadrant, which is the worst in a storm especially in a Category 5 storm surge.”
Smith says before Hurricane Camille was the benchmark, then Katrina came, showing the city there is no benchmark and to be prepared for anything. “Our buildings that are built are built to hurricane force winds so we’re good there. They’re all built to the 500 flood plain which is higher than you would be required to build a residence and so I think the city in that aspect is good.”
Smith says if there is anything to remember this hurricane season, it is this: “Please remember Katrina, the worst natural disaster in America’s history, but again, I emphasis if you’re asked to evacuate during a storm evacuate.”
A total of 238 Mississippians lost their lives during Hurricane Katrina.