Eye In The Tropics Storm Reports:
Hurricane Katrina Storm Surge Chase Account - August 25th and 29th, 2005
 
Click Here to order "The Battle at the Beachfront" Hurricane Katrina DVD
 
Infrared Satellite Images showing Ultimate Chase's Location During Hurricane Katrina:
 
Location During Hurricane Katrina's Landfall: Gulfport Beach, Mississippi
 
Hurricane Katrina's Satellite Images Below:
   
Hurricane Katrina Satellite Image Courtesy NRL Navy Division Hurricane Katrina Satellite Image Courtesy NOAA
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Hurricane Katrina Photos and Video Stills From Landfall # 01 in Ft. Lauderdale:
Hurricane Katrina sample video clips can be found on the Hurricane Video Page
Hurricane Katrina's first landfall was in South Florida - August 25th, 2005
   
Hurricane Katrina Photos and Stock Video Stills From Landfall # 02 in Gulfport, Mississippi:
   
Hurricane Katrina sample video clips can be found on the Hurricane Video Page
   
Hurricane Katrina makes landfall on the Mississippi Coast - August 29th, 2005
 
All casino's shut down along the Mississippi Coast
Almost Daybreak, No Power ! Jim Reed gives the camera a quick update before we venture outside.
Storm surge coming over Highway 90 along coast
Storm surge coming over Highway 90 along coast
Storm surge coming up to the hotel now....
Storm surge coming up to the hotel even higher....
Storm surge coming IN hotel now....
Storm surge coming THROUGH hotel now....
Furniture floating in the lobby....
Storm surge pushing car through hotel lobby....
Storm surge really coming up fast....
Storm surge almost to the 1rst floor roof....
Storm surge crashing into stairwell....
Storm surge crashing into stairwell....
Storm surge rolling waves....
Storm surge crashing by me....
Intense winds blowing through the first floor....
First floor completely gutted !!
Ultimate Chase Documents 28 Foot Storm Surge During Hurricane Katrina:
 
 
The photo above is the Beachfront Holiday Inn where we rode out Hurricane Katrina. It is located roughly 250 yards from the Gulf of Mexico. As you can see the 1rst floor is completely gutted. The yellow arrow is pointing to a hole in the wall where a 2nd floor air conditioning unit was located before the storm surge pushed it in. I remember going to the second floor during the peak of the Hurricane and noticing waves crashing against the windows of the second floor. Water was surging in through the air conditioning units and filling the second floor with water.

The photo on the left was taken during a storm surge survey I conducted at Gulfport Beach. I estimate from visual observations during the storm that the peak surge reached roughly 9-10 feet into this hotel with 1-2 foot waves or swells on top. The "Official" slab elevation of this hotel is 19 feet above sea level. The hotel sits up on a slight hill and is one of the highest elevations you will find along Hwy. 90 on Gulfport Beach. I came up with a 28 foot storm surge by simply adding the estimated 9-10 feet of surge that came into the hotel to the 19 foot elevation of the hotel.

The storm surge reached roughly 28-29 feet at Gulfport Beach !!
** Revised July 2006 after new flood elevation survey shows a 19 foot hotel elevation.
 
The Aftermath:
   
   
   
 
Board labeled "Biloxi" found at Gulfport Beach.
     
Hurricane Katrina Stock Still Photos Below:
   
Ultimate Chase Storm Video Productions Teamed Up With Jim Reed
Still Photography To Document Hurricane Katrina's Storm Surge.
 
   
Storm Surge starts to subside and we get our first look outside. Trees were still getting blasted by winds over 100mph.
Ultimate Chase photographer Mike Theiss films Katrina's violent and deadly storm surge from the stairwell of the Holiday Inn.
Storm Surge starts rising along the gulf coast and is now engulfing Hwy 90 with large battering waves.
Ultimate Chase photographer Mike Theiss films Katrina's violent and deadly storm surge with large waves crashing on the outside of the building.
Shot of the Storm Surge filled with debris almost up to the second floor of the hotel. This was not the surge at it's peak !
U.S. Navy Members John Gulizia, Roger Ferris, and Michael Latka save a lady from her room as the Storm Surge starts to rapidly rise.
Catastrophic damage as all buildings were cleaned off their foundations.
Before Leaving Gulfport We Went To A Residential Neighborhood And Gave Out All Of Our Remaining Food And Water.
   
     
Theiss Device Storm Surge Stock Video Stills From Hotel Lobby:
   
   
 
Hurricane Katrina Chase Account Below:
Landfall # 01: I started documenting Hurricane Katrina from her first landfall in the South Florida area. Hurricane Katrina came into the Ft.Lauderdale/Miami area as a strengthening Cat-1 Hurricane and produced winds up to 100mph. I was shocked by how many people/tourists were out in the hurricane. The steady 85-90mph winds had sand blowing everywhere. I filmed tourists walking in the wind and knew this was very dangerous, but these people were not going to listen to me. Just downwind of me was Katrina's first fatality--a large tree blew over onto a vehicle, killing the person inside. I was totally shocked by how lightly everyone was taking this storm.
As of 9/07/05, Katrina was responsible for eleven deaths in the South Florida area. This was from a Cat-1 Hurricane. I eventually convinced some of the tourists to take refuge in the lobby because of the danger of flying debris. I noticed a lot of flying sheet metal and lots of trees falling over from the wind, along with soft soil from all the rain. I eventually got into Katrina's center and actually saw a plane flying around. I assumed this was one of the NOAA Hurricane Hunter planes. I decided to go home after about three hours of filming and discovered Katrina had started to go south after making landfall. So I went to investigate Katrina's southern eyewall, as the radar showed a lot of deep convection. And I figured why not, it was on my way home anyway. Well, that was the longest drive home I took in my life. It was dark by now and blowing a steady 70mph with some gusts reaching 90mph. The rain was so thick and blinding that everyone on the interstate drove about 5mph. It took me hours to get home in these conditions and the lightning was very intense. I actually had a bolt hit very close to my car and the thunder almost made me lose control and drive off the road. I don't know what it is about this year's storms, but I've seen a lot of hurricane lightning.
Anyway, I got home in the early morning hours to find a large tree lying on the roof of my condo building. The parking lot was under three feet of water and there was no power. Safely inside, I quickly passed out and tried to catch some sleep because I planned on documenting Katrina's next landfall somewhere in the Gulf Coast. I knew sleep was something I would not be getting for a while.
The next morning I woke up early to the sound of loud chainsaws cutting up the ficus trees that had fallen all over the place. I decided to document some of the major flooding in downtown Homestead before I started my journey up to Katrina's next landfall. Most of downtown Homestead was under three feet of water from the estimated 20 inches of persistent pounding rain Katrina brought our way. South Florida was hit hard, But nothing like the next set of events that were about to unfold.
Landfall # 02: On my drive to the Gulf coast, I spoke to photographer Jim Reed several times and we decided when Katrina reached Category 5 status, we'd team up and document this very dangerous storm from beginning to end. We knew this was a dangerous storm and it would be tricky to capture it--and stay alive. This would be my 14th hurricane, and I felt the lessons I've learned in past hurricanes helped train me to get through this historic storm.
We decided that strength was in numbers on this one. Between us, Jim and I had five cases of water, lots of food, 21 gallons of gas, lots of rope, life preservers, GPS locators, satellite phones, an Internet connection, helmets, goggles--basically all the survivor tools. He and I met up at the Gulfport Beach Holiday Inn. We had worked out a deal with the hotel manager that allowed us to stay there if we signed a liability release. We unloaded all of our equipment and brought it into one room, making a checklist of everything and putting together a survival plan. We surveyed the entire structure, including the super-strong stairwells, and felt confident in staying at this hotel during Katrina's peak winds and storm surge.
Trying to get some last minute rest that night was impossible! The wind was already picking up, and by daybreak, the hurricane really was cranking at Gulfport. We documented the storm surge as it came over Hwy.90, right in front of our hotel. I ran to my room and quickly looked at the radar, and saw that the worst was still two hours away. By then, the storm surge was already up to the hotel and I knew we would soon be experiencing an "intense" situation. The surge came crashing into the hotel lobby, bringing a vehicle with it on the storm surge waves.
All the furniture was floating everywhere, and the wind was really starting to howl. I deployed the Theiss-Device cam in the hotel lobby, knowing that it was too dangerous for us to stay in that spot much longer. We retreated into the stairwell, knowing we would be spending some time there during Katrina's wrath. In all, there were eight people in the hotel that stuck together throughout the hurricane: myself, Jim Reed, three U.S. Navy members, and three hotel workers. We all helped each other make it through this experience. I alerted the U.S. Navy members about a lady I'd seen earlier in one of the ground floor hotel rooms and they instantly went to her rescue. To reach her, we had to go outside to the back part of the hotel, and there was glass and lots of other debris already flying all over the place. The surge was at two feet, so it was hard to walk back to the room where the lady was trapped.
The three of them worked together and helped her back to the stairwell in the main hotel. Now with everyone in the safety of the stairwell, I went back down to the first level to shoot some last-minute images of the car floating through the lobby. It was an eerie sight because the water had caused a short in the car, and so the lights turned on as the waves pushed it into the hotel. We also heard horns honking loudly in the back parking lot as they, too, started to short out.
By now it was extremely hard to walk in the lobby, and furniture and other objects were hitting me in the legs. I suddenly envisioned what the tsunami must have looked like, and realized that I was in a situation similar to that. I watched as the waves were coming in from the Gulf of Mexico. They were very long, two-to-three foot tall waves that didn't crash, but just moved in--the classic storm surge. With every surge, the force of the water would bang new objects into my lower legs, threatening to knock me off my feet. I stood right next to the stairwell, holding onto the railing and hoping to capture as much as I could. Storm surge from a major hurricane has rarely been captured on video, so I knew my video could be beneficial to scientists and meteorologists to learn more about it, including how fast it can come in, and how high it can get.
I shot for another three to five minutes and then retreated to the stairwell to regroup with the others. I took a barometer reading--955mb. This was the lowest pressure I saw, but it could have gone lower when I was shooting video or moving around. That was the only time I checked it.
Now the storm surge was at its max, causing water to come into the second floor through the wall unit air conditioners. I estimate that the surge, at its peak, came up to the second floor, and the waves on top of the surge crashed into the side of the building and sprayed in through the wall-unit air conditioners, flooding the second floor. The official elevation of the hotel is 19 feet above sea level. We were basically sitting in a hotel on top of a small hill right on the beach 100 yards from the Gulf of Mexico. Calculating the nineteen foot foundation and the 9-10 foot of surge into the hotel tells me that the storm surge was roughly at 28 feet!!
One of the most memorable parts of this experience for me wasn't how fast the surge came up, but how fast it subsided. It was like someone pulled the plug and instantly drained all the water. When the surge subsided and the winds died down, we quickly went down to the lobby, only to find the entire first floor completely gutted! Exterior walls were gone, Interior walls were gone, doors, sinks, bathtubs, front desk--gone! All that was left on the first floor were the concrete pilings that kept the hotel standing.
Jim and I stayed and surveyed the area and noticed the destruction to be even more catastrophic just about half a mile to our west. This was because Gulfport had hundreds of shipping containers that came into the port with the surge, completely plowing down everything in their path for about a quarter mile inland. Where we rode out the hurricane, the live oak tress were still standing, but just half a mile to our west, even the live oaks trees were gone! It didn't matter if a structure was wood or concrete, if it was downstream from these shipping containers and on the immediate coast, it was gone! There were gas leaks everywhere. It was complete destruction. We were standing where a Days Inn used to be and it was simply gone. Nothing left but foundation.
With the assistance of the three Navy guys, we were able to clear the roadways so we could drive up to the interstate and head back home. Before we left, we gave out all of our remaining water and food to residents in a Gulfport neighborhood. We wrote down phone numbers so that we could call the residents' loved ones to tell them they were alive. I didn't have any cell coverage, but I knew once we hit the road and got away from the affected area that the phone would work again. It was a great feeling to call someone with good news. One gentlemen I spoke with broke down and started crying when I told him his wife was alive and OK.
August 29, 2005 was a tragic day for the Gulf Coast region. This hurricane will be talked about for many many years, just as Hurricane Camille has been in the past. My heart goes out to everyone that was affected by Katrina and I pray for their speedy recovery.
  Photographer,
 
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