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A BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF HURRICANE KATRINA’S DESTRUCTION

NOAA image of NOAA helicopter pilot Lt. Phil Eastman surveying the damage in Bay St. Louis, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast.Nov. 23, 2005 The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season will no doubt be remembered for many years to come. Records have been set. Storms seemed to be forming almost one right after another—even late into the season. Among the storms that formed this year, Hurricane Katrina will no doubt stand out as the one storm to have had the greatest impact on millions of lives along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina became the most destructive hurricane to strike the United States. The aftermath of the powerful storm was captured in hundreds of photos taken by NOAA personnel. Lt. Phil Eastman, a NOAA helicopter pilot with the NOAA Corps, flew more than 100 hours surveying Katrina’s devastation. (Click NOAA image for larger view of NOAA helicopter pilot Lt. Phil Eastman surveying the damage in Bay St. Louis, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

NOAA image of damaged marina in Grand Isle, La., after Hurricane Katrina blasted through the region.Eastman piloted NOAA’s Bell 212 Twin Huey Helicopter from August 31 to September 19. He reached his maximum allowed flight time of 120 hours within that period. Fellow NOAA pilot Lt. Dave Demers stayed on to fly the balance of the flights, which ended September 21. The NOAA helicopter flew missions from northern Mobile Bay, Ala., all the way across the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts, including hard-hit New Orleans. (Click NOAA image for larger view of damaged marina in Grand Isle, La., after Hurricane Katrina blasted through the region. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

During that time, Eastman took hundreds of photos of the devastated areas along the Gulf Coast from altitudes that ranged from several feet above the ground to 500 feet. Sometimes the NOAA helicopter flew low enough so that the personnel onboard could read labels on floating and in-land debris.

NOAA image of relief supplies being loaded onto the NOAA helicopter.Flying from a temporary base in Panama City, Fla., the NOAA helicopter flights initially served as relief missions for the NOAA Ships Gordon Gunter and Oregon II in Pascagoula, Miss., which were in need of supplies since none could be found after Katrina plowed through the region. (Click NOAA image for larger view of relief supplies being loaded onto the NOAA helicopter. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

“We made runs with water, gasoline and supplies of every kind from food to diapers to insect repellent to flashlights to first aid to you name it.,” said Eastman. “We took every request we got and tried to get as much as we could. Our loads were up to 2,000 pounds at a time, and we would land them on the pier next to the ships.”

NOAA image of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in Gulf Port, Miss.Some of the families of NOAA personnel on the ships took refuge there since many of their homes were either damaged or destroyed.

Tons of debris covered the only landing area near the NOAA ships. Eastman used the NOAA helicopter to literally move it out of the way. “I just hovered over it for a while blowing all the debris away with the rotor's downwash—about 10,000 pounds worth.” (Click NOAA image for larger view of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in Gulf Port, Miss. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

Eastman’s 20-day mission took him and his colleagues all across the Gulf Coast regions affected by Hurricane Katrina. Supply missions were flown to the NOAA Fisheries Lab in Pascagoula, Miss., as well as the NOAA National Data Buoy Center in Stennis, Miss. “They painted an "H" on the concrete in front of their facility for us to land on, and we provided more fuel, generators, chain saws, bug spray, water, food, tarps, first aid kits, batteries, etc. All this was amidst a veritable zoo of air traffic as helicopters arrived along the Gulf coast in droves. Having flown in the military for nearly 10 years, it was like nothing I had ever seen.”

NOAA image of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina to the New Orleans, La., marina.Hurricane Katrina also destroyed tide gauges along the Gulf Coast. “It took a helo to do this job because we had to hover right up to them to inspect the damage and document it. Many gauges had been destroyed completely with almost nothing left to even indicate one had been there,” said Eastman. (Click NOAA image for larger view of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina to the New Orleans, La., marina. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

It was non-stop work with pre-dawn to late-night mission planning, flying and maintenance management. Because many hotels were either wiped away by Katrina, made uninhabitable or just booked, Eastman and other NOAA personnel would wind up sleeping in numerous places over the course of their near month-long endeavor. One place was a United Methodist summer camp in Baton Rouge, La., which had bunks for 20 people.

NOAA image of automobiles piled on top of each other at the New Orleans, La., Lakefront Airport left behind by Hurricane Katrina.“We were now working out of a grass field, eating MREs and flying the hot sweaty delta finding oil spills, wrecked equipment, broken pipelines and documenting it all by systematically flying search patterns in pre-determined grid lines dividing up the whole of the Mississippi Delta and off-shore regions,” said Eastman. This was work only suited to helicopter flight as we had to stop, hover, identify offending equipment and slowly zigzag our way up the mazes of water that compose the Delta's salt marshes.” (Click NOAA image for larger view of automobiles piled on top of each other at the New Orleans, La., Lakefront Airport left behind by Hurricane Katrina. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

NOAA image of NOAA helicopter surveying tide gauges in Grand Isle, La.For Eastman this was a difficult time personally because he had been away from his family all summer while flying projects in the NOAA Twin Otter plane in New England and Alaska. He’d been home just a few days when Hurricane Katrina came blasting across the U.S. Gulf Coast. It was an experience he’ll never forget. “The appreciation we received from those we served—a haggard bunch—made the heat, sweat and exhaustion worth enduring. I was proud to be able to have such a direct impact.” (Click NOAA image for larger view of NOAA helicopter surveying tide gauges in Grand Isle, La. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

NOAA photo of Lt. Phil Eastman, NOAA Corps Aviator and Bell 212 Helicopter Aircraft Commander, taken during Hurricane Katrina aerial survey flights in September.
Click NOAA photo for larger view of Lt. Phil Eastman, NOAA Corps Aviator and Bell 212 Helicopter Aircraft Commander, taken during Hurricane Katrina aerial survey flights in September. Click here for high resolution version. Please note that this is a large file.

Lt. Phil Eastman, NOAA Corps Aviator
"NOAA61" Bell 212 Helicopter Aircraft Commander
NOAA Aircraft Operations Center, Tampa, Fla.

The responsibilities of the Helicopter Aircraft Commander are to coordinate plan and fly missions in support of NOAA activities. During post-Katrina operations NOAA61 provided direct assistance to stricken NOAA facilities, navigational infrastructure, HAZMAT emergency response teams and personnel across the entire region.

Lt. Eastman is a 1995 graduate of Villanova University, veteran U.S. Navy aviator and also pilots NOAA's DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA Aircraft Operations Center

NOAA Corps

NOAA’s Hurricane Assistance Spans Multiple Levels—Before, During and Even after the Storm

Media Contact:
Greg Hernandez, NOAA, (202) 482-3091 or Lori Bast, NOAA Aircraft Operations Center, (813) 828-3310 ext. 3072

(Photos courtesy of Lt. Phil Eastman, NOAA Corps.)