Tropical Depression Twelve formed over the southeastern Bahamas at 1700 EST on 23 August 2005, partially from the remains of Tropical Depression Ten. The system was upgraded to a Tropical Storm on the morning of 24 August and was named: Katrina. Katrina became a hurricane only two hours before it made landfall around 1830 EST on 25 August between Hallandale Beach and Adventura, Florida. Hurricane Katrina was the eleventh named storm, fifth hurricane, third major hurricane, and first Category 5 hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It strengthened rapidly in the Gulf of Mexico, becoming, at that time, the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Gulf. (Hurricane Rita broke this record later in the season.) The storm weakened considerably before making its second landfall as an extremely large Category 3 storm on the morning of 29 August along the Central Gulf Coast near Buras-Triumph, LA.
The storm surge from Katrina caused catastrophic damage along the coastlines of Louisianna, Mississippi and Alabama. Levees separating Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans were breached by the surge, ultimately flooding about 80% of the city, all of St. Bernard Parish and portions of St. Tammany Parish and Plaquemines Parish. Wind damage was reported well inland, impeding relief efforts. Katrina is estimated to be responsible for $75 billion in damages, making it the costliest hurricane in U.S. history. The storm killed 1,422 people, becoming the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane. It was the third most powerful storm of the season, and the sixth-strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded.
In advance of the storm, the Coast Guard evacuated all units form the New Orleans area. Three HH-65s went to Lake Charles and two went to Houston. As soon as Katrina made landfall, all five helos launched and flew to Houma, LA. They landed at 1330 to take on fuel and position a maintenance team. Maximum wind speed for engaging the rotor of an HH-65 is 60 knots. The winds were gusting well beyond 65 knots. The crews convinced themselves that a sheltering tree line gave them the margin they needed. At 1420 they launched in search of souls in need.
At 1450 29 August, CG6514 was flying over the Mississippi Delta. LT Dave Johnston heard a panicked grandmother calling for help on 16 FM. She was trapped in a half-submerged fishing boat lodged among downed trees and power lines with her daughter, granddaughter and three dogs. Using the DF, Johnston flew toward the voice. The family had made its living from the sea and knew how to act in emergencies. When they heard the helo, they fired a series of red flares. Johnston and his copilot, LT Craig Murray, brought CG6514 to a 100-foot hover. Petty Officer Warren Labeth used the rescue hoist to lower Petty Officer Larry Nettles into the water where he assessed the situation on the boat. Just after 1500, Nettles loaded the family into the hoist and Labeth rasied them into the helo. As Nettles was being hoisted, a gust of wind entangled the basket in the trees, anchoring the helo to the ground. Labeth calmly manipulated the hoist and Nettles broke free from the trees. As near as can be determined, this was the first Coast Guard rescue in the aftermath of Katrina.
In all, the Coast Guard would rescue 33,000 people in about two weeks. Of these, about 13,000 were by helicopter hoist. Put in perspective, in an average year the Coast Guard rescues about 5,500 people. Helicopters from as far away as AIRSTA Kodiak were deployed to the Gulf to assist in this massive effort. Government response to Katrina had been called lacking and the head of FEMA lost his job because of it. But Time magazine ran a story under the title, “Where did all those orange helicopters come from?”, calling the Coast Guard “the little service that could”. Coast Guard Chief of Staff, and future Commandant, Thad Allen relieved the head of FEMA as the on scene commander for the disaster.