Lackland Air Force Base, Texas —
Hurricane Katrina knocked the Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Florida,
Mississippi, and Louisiana off their feet with a stunning blow one year ago
"It's as if the entire Gulf Coast were obliterated by the worst kind of weapon
you can imagine," President George Bush said, hours after Katrina made landfall
near Buras, La.
Katrina leveled at least 150 miles of shoreline and devastated more than 90,000
square miles during a five-hour period that began early Aug. 29 last year. With
winds measured at 150 miles per hour and gusts up to 180 miles per hour,
meteorologists have estimated the Category 4 hurricane was one of the strongest
ever to hit the United States.
Across the Gulf Coast, Katrina flooded roughly a half-million homes, forced 1
million people out of their homes and caused billions of dollars in property
damage and more than 1,000 deaths.
"It's truly impossible to capture the morose terror endured by each and every
survivor," said Douglas Brinkley, Tulane University historian and author of "The
Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast."
Team Lackland personnel by the hundreds mobilized to help thousands of victims
from their neighboring states during the aftermath of the catastrophic storm.
Through the first 55 hours following the hurricane, 89 flights landed at
Lackland carrying nearly 10,000 evacuees from the crippled Gulf Coast. More than
250 basic military training graduates worked at Bldgs. 171 and 1536 at KellyUSA
to get them prepared to welcome evacuees from the battered region.
"We worked really hard together with city and state officials to build a
reception plan and put it into action," said Brig. Gen. Mary Kay Hertog, then
the 37th Training Wing commander.
Also from Lackland, the 433rd Airlift Wing flew more than 20 missions and
transported more than 1,200 people affected by Katrina to San Antonio for
medical treatment. After the hurricane flooded Keesler AFB, Miss., Wilford Hall
Medical Center sent critical care air transport teams and an obstetrics team to
escort Keesler Medical Center patients to San Antonio.
Tragically, during what some experts have called the worst engineering disaster
in U.S. history, a storm surge and high winds whipped up by Katrina wrecked the
levees near Lake Pontchartrain along the north and Lake Borgne along the east
side of New Orleans. Subsequently, floodwaters inundated at least 80 percent of
the city and forced all but a very few of its 500,000 residents to flee their
homes for weeks and months.
As the one-year anniversary of the hurricane approached last week, New Orleans
Times-Picayune columnist Dave Walker wrote, "Those who were here know that, in
virtually every way, Katrina was an indiscriminate storm that killed and
destroyed without regard to ethnicity or economic condition."
More than 300 personnel from the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard
departed Aug. 31 from Kelly Field to join other emergency response teams and
assist approximately 70,000 people stranded in New Orleans without adequate
food, water or medical care immediately after Katrina had passed.
The 149th Security Forces Squadron members landed late at night on a C-130 into
Belle Chase Naval Air Station southeast of downtown New Orleans. After a few
hours sleep, they flew downtown to the Louisiana Superdome aboard five U.S. Navy
"As the helicopters took off from Belle Chase, our pilot reported they were
taking fire as they flew in, so we all put on our flak vests," said Chief Master
Sgt. Craig Folts, manager of the 149th SFS. "We had absolutely no idea what to
While operating in hazardous environmental conditions inflicted by the
hurricane, the Guardsmen worked round-the-clock at the Superdome to help 35,000
displaced persons board rescue buses and evacuate the heavily-damaged sports
"As we flew in closer to the Superdome, all we could see was water everywhere
and smoke from fires in the distance," Chief Folts recalled. "The smell was
horrific. I'll never forget it. It was a mixture of raw sewage, oil, chemicals
"No one in the city had bathed or eaten a decent meal in two days. Clean
drinking water was at a premium. The folks were scared, hungry, tired,
frustrated and angry, and they had just lost everything they owned."
Through an exhausting two-day period, the Guardsmen strived to keep thousands of
people calm and good-spirited, especially when buses stopped running for long
During one hot and humid evening, Staff Sgt. Lenieshia Mayberry from the 149th
SFS grabbed a microphone and started singing "Amazing Grace."
"The crowd started singing along, taking some comfort in the simple song," Chief
Folts said. "I remember how cool the night air felt, and the smell wasn't as
bad, or maybe I had just gotten used to it."
Most of the massive crowd at the Superdome had boarded a bus by Sept. 3 and
safely departed New Orleans. Before the 149th SFS left New Orleans, they
evacuated more storm victims from other parts of downtown, and they helped
secure two bridges on the east side of the city.
"Our thoughts and prayers are still with the citizens of New Orleans, and I
don't expect we'll ever forget them," Chief Folts said. "They all needed our
help, and it was an honor to be able to help them."
The 149th Medical Group members were the initial increment and lead unit among
50,000 emergency medical responders assembled at Belle Chase. Many group members went to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, where they helped set up medical triage and emergency airlift operations.
About two miles south of the Superdome, other group members developed a critical
care medical treatment facility at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for
more than 20,000 hurricane victims. Also, medical personnel fielded 911 calls
and helped New Orleans police coordinate more than 116 rescues.
Furthermore, several 149th medics converted an abandoned store near Ellington
Field into a medical treatment and air evacuation hub, and that helped relieve
Houston hospitals busy coping with Katrina victims.
"It was a tremendous experience and a defining moment of why many of us are in
the Guard," said Col. Connie Couch McNabb, the 149th Medical Group commander. "I
am understandably very proud of the great work my folks did. (Katrina) energized
my troops. They got to go out there and lay hands on people, and they made a
difference. One year later, that still resonates real big with them. If I called
them today, they would ask, where do we form up, and they would be ready to go
in a heartbeat."
Incredibly, Hurricane Rita, another major storm, belted the Gulf Coast three
weeks after Katrina. After Rita made landfall, Lackland facilitated the arrival
of more than 1,000 evacuees, including civilians and pets from Corpus Christi
and Naval Station Ingleside.