South Dakota Red Cross looks back 10 years after Hurricane Katrina

This week marks the 10 year anniversary since Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people, forcing the evacuation of an entire metropolitan area and leaving a lasting impact on the state of Louisiana and surrounding areas. It also changed the nation and the way we as a country respond to natural disasters forever.

The nation looks back 10 years at a storm that would create history and leave scars on communities across the nation. “Oh I’m sure, every state was trying to help those people find places to live and of course, most of those people have never even been out of New Orleans,” said a South Dakota Red Cross Volunteer, Nancy McKenney.

Executive Director of the Red Cross, Richard Smith, said Hurricane Katrina is the largest disaster response in United States history and it changed the Red Cross. “So we have more disaster volunteers that are able to respond to those areas immediately rather than a few weeks to get them trained" said Smith, “It was the single biggest response the Red Cross has ever done. What do you do with that number of people when you’re evacuating a major metropolitan area. How do you meet their basic needs, what do you do with them, how do you house them? We do a great job in preparing for that but it was just a bit overwhelming when that happened. It actually made significant changes in the Red Cross that would change the way we handle disasters like that.”

This was the first disaster in history where the Red Cross would serve 1 million meals in a single day. Nearly 68 million meals would be served in total. That's four times more than the Red Cross had ever served up until that point.

Although the storm hit 1,550 miles south of Rapid City, it would still require South Dakota’s help. Many volunteers packed up, heading south to assist with recovery efforts. Red Cross volunteer Nancy McKenney was station in Jackson, Mississippi, because it was too dangerous to get any closer. “I know what the area is like and I can just visualize the panic of everyone trying to get out of there,” said McKenney, “Everyone we saw was from New Orleans, and of course they came on busses, however they could get there, with nothing in their pockets but what they could grab quickly. And even some of the children were without their parents because they got separated when they were being moved so quickly.”