Hurricane Katrina figures prominently as a destructive force and plot device in Salvage the Bones, but the impact of the real-life Katrina was far wider in scope.
Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005 and spanned roughly 400 miles across at its peak intensity. Its aftermath was focused especially on New Orleans, since the storm caused key levees—embankments meant to prevent a body of water from overflowing—to breach, collapse, and flood the city. This flooding was especially destructive to New Orleans' Ninth Ward, which sits well below sea level and largely remains in disrepair today.
Like Esch's family, many people along the Gulf Coast didn't receive much warning about the storm, and few had any idea it would have such an extreme impact. Meteorologists began to warn residents of the Gulf Coast about Katrina roughly six days before it hit, and evacuations began soon after, becoming mandatory later on. By the end of the storm, nearly 80 percent of the city was under water.
Although the federal, state, and local government took measures to protect citizens from harm in the wake of the storm—including offering the Superdome stadium as a place of refuge and summoning the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to offer food and shelter—they received a healthy dose of criticism for failing to understand how desperate the situation really was. Because roughly 67 percent of the city's population was black, and nearly 30 percent was living in poverty, numerous critics pointed to the institutional racism and classism that they believed contributed to the lack of aid ("Katrina").
All in all, Katrina was the most destructive and costliest storm to ever hit the United States, causing $108 billion in damage. Far worse, it killed about 1,833 people and caused one of the most massive displacements since the Great Depression at over 1 million people ("Hurricane Katrina: Facts, Damage & Aftermath").