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The Gulf Coast region of the United Statesmarker, sometimes called the Gulf South, South Coast, or Third Coast, comprises the coasts of states which border the Gulf of Mexicomarker. The states of Texasmarker, Louisianamarker, Mississippimarker, Alabamamarker, and Floridamarker are known as the Gulf States. All Gulf States are located in the Southern region of the United States.

Geography and climate

The Gulf Coast is intersected by numerous rivers, the largest of which is the Mississippi. Much of the land along the Gulf Coast is (or was) marshland. The western portions of the Gulf Coast include many barrier islands and peninsulas, including the Padre Islandmarker and Galveston Islandmarker. These landforms protect numerous bays and inlets. The central part of the Gulf Coast, from eastern Texas through Louisiana, consists primarily of marshland. Geographically it is technically part of the east coast of the US, though it is not popularly thought of as such.

Because of its proximity to the subtropical waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf Coast area is vulnerable to hurricanes. Floods and severe thunderstorms also affect the region. Tornadoes are infrequent at the coast but do occur (they are much more frequent in the inland portions of those states). Earthquakes are extremely rare, but a surprise 6.0 earthquake in the Gulf of Mexico on September 10, 2006, was felt from New Orleans to Tampa.

Economic activities

NOAA map of the 3,858 oil and gas platforms extant off the Gulf Coast in 2006.
The Gulf Coast is a major center of economic activity. The marshlands along the Louisiana and Texas coasts provide breeding grounds and nurseries for ocean life that drive the fishing and shrimping industries. The Port of South Louisiana (between New Orleansmarker and Baton Rougemarker in Laplacemarker) and the Port of Houston are two of the ten busiest ports in the world by cargo volume. As of 2004, seven of the top ten busiest ports in the U.S. are on the Gulf Coast.

The discovery of oil and gas deposits along the coast and offshore, combined with easy access to shipping, have made the Gulf Coast the heart of the U.S. petrochemical industry. The coast contains nearly 4,000 oil platforms.

Besides the above, the region features other important industries including aerospace and biomedical researchmarker, as well as older industries such as agriculture and — especially since the development of the Gulf Coast beginning in the 1920s and the increase in wealth throughout the United States — tourism.

History

The history of the Gulf Coast is an important part of United States history; as economically important as the Gulf Coast is to the United States today, it arguably once held an even greater position of prominence in the U.S.

The first Europeans to settle the Gulf Coast were primarily the French and the Spanish. The Louisiana Purchase and the Texas Revolution made the Gulf Coast a part of the United States during first half of the 19th century. As the U.S. population continued to expand its frontiers westward, the Gulf Coast was a natural magnet in the South providing access to shipping lanes and both national and international commerce. The development of sugar and cotton production (enabled by slavery) allowed the South to prosper. By the mid 19th century, the South, including the Gulf, by some standards was populated by the nation's wealthiest people. The city of New Orleans in particular, being situated as a key to commerce on the Mississippi River and in the Gulf, had become the largest U.S. city not on the Atlantic seaboard and the fourth largest in the U.S. overall.

Two major events were turning points in the earlier history of the Gulf Coast region. The first was the American Civil War, which caused severe damage to some economic sectors in the South, including the Gulf Coast. The second event was the Galveston Hurricane of 1900marker. At the end of the 19th century Galvestonmarker was, with New Orleans, one of the most developed cities in the region. The city had the third busiest port in the U.S. and its financial district was known as the "Wall Street of the Southwest." The storm mostly destroyed the city (which has never regained its former glory) and set back development in the region.

Since these darker times the Gulf Coast has been hit with numerous other hurricanes. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast as a Category 3 hurricane. It was the most damaging storm in the history of the United States, causing upwards of $80 billion in damages, and leaving over 1,800 dead. Again in 2008 the Gulf Coast was struck by a catastrophic hurricane. Due to it's immense size, Hurricane Ike caused devastation from the Louisianamarker coastline all the way to the Kenedy County, Texasmarker region near Corpus Christimarker. In addition, Ike caused flooding and significant damage along the Mississippimarker coastline and the Florida Panhandle Ike killed 112 people and left upwards of 300 people missing, never to be found. Hurricane Ike was the third most damaging storm in the history of the United States, causing more than $32 billion in damage and leaving millions homeless. Other than the hurricanes, the Gulf Coast has redeveloped dramatically over the course of the 20th century. The petrochemical industry, launched with the major discoveries of oil in Texas and spurred on by further discoveries in the Gulf waters, has been a vehicle for development in the central and western Gulf which has spawned development on a variety of fronts in these regions. Texasmarker in particular has benefited tremendously from this industry over the course of the 20th century and economic diversification has made the state a magnet for population and home to more Fortune 500 companies than any other U.S. state. Floridamarker has grown as well, driven to a great extent by its long established tourism industry but also by its position as a gateway to the Caribbean and Latin America. As of 2006, these two states are the second and fourth most populous states in the nation, respectively (see this article). Other areas of the Gulf Coast have benefited less, though economic development fueled by tourism has greatly increased property values along the coast, and is now a severe danger to the valuable but fragile ecosystems of the Gulf Coast.

Metropolitan areas

The following table lists the 15 largest MSAs along the Gulf Coast.
Metropolitan Statistical Areas on the United States Gulf Coast
Rank Metropolitan Statistical Area 2008 Pop (est.) 2000 Pop Δ Pop Combined Statistical Area
1 Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX MSA 5,728,143 4,715,407 +21.48% Houston-Baytown-Huntsville, TX CSA
2 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL MSAmarker 2,733,761 2,395,997 +14.10% primary census statistical area
3 New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA MSA 1,134,029 1,316,510 -13.86% New Orleans-Metairie-Bogalusa, LA CSA
4 Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice, FL MSA 687,823 589,959 +16.59% Sarasota-Bradenton-Punta Gorda, FL CSA
5 Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL MSA 593,136 440,888 +34.53% primary census statistical area
6 Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent, FL MSA 452,992 412,153 +9.91% primary census statistical area
7 Corpus Christi, TX MSA 415,376 403,280 +3.00% Corpus Christi-Kingsville, TX CSA
8 Mobile, AL MSAmarker 406,309 399,843 +1.62% Mobile-Daphne-Fairhope, AL CSAmarker
9 Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX MSA 378,255 385,090 -1.77% primary census statistical area
10 Naples-Marco Island, FL MSA 315,258 251,377 +25.41% primary census statistical area
11 Gulfport-Biloxi, MS MSA 234,625 246,190 -4.70% Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula, MS CSA
12 Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux, LA MSA 201,148 194,477 +3.43% primary census statistical area
13 Lake Charles, LA MSA 192,856 193,568 -0.37% Lake Charles-Jennings, LA CSA
14 Fort Walton Beach-Crestview-Destin, FL MSA 179,693 170,498 +5.39% primary census statistical area
15 Panama City-Lynn Haven, FL MSA 163,946 148,217 +10.61% primary census statistical area


Transportation

Road

Major Interstates

Highway Significant Cities Served
Interstate 10 Beaumontmarker, Biloximarker, Gulfportmarker, Houstonmarker, Lake Charlesmarker, Mobilemarker, New Orleansmarker, Pensacolamarker
Interstate 37 Corpus Christimarker
Interstate 45 Galvestonmarker, Houstonmarker
Interstate 65 Mobilemarker
Interstate 75 Bradentonmarker, Cape Coralmarker, Naplesmarker, St. Petersburgmarker, Tampamarker


Major U.S. Routes

Highway Significant Cities Served
U.S. 41 Bradentonmarker, Cape Coralmarker, Naplesmarker, St. Petersburgmarker, Tampamarker
U.S. 49 Biloximarker, Gulfportmarker
U.S. 59 Houstonmarker, Victoriamarker
U.S. 90 Beaumontmarker, Biloximarker, Crestviewmarker, Houmamarker, Lake Charlesmarker, Mobilemarker, New Orleansmarker, Pascagoulamarker, Pensacolamarker, Thibodauxmarker
U.S. 98 Fort Walton Beachmarker, Mobilemarker, Panama Citymarker


Other Significant Routes

Highway Significant Cities Served
LA 1 Grand Islemarker, Port Fourchonmarker, Thibodauxmarker
S.R. 85 Crestviewmarker, Fort Walton Beachmarker
S.H. 288 Houstonmarker, Lake Jacksonmarker


Air

International Service

Airport International Destinations
George Bush Intercontinental Airportmarker Angolamarker, Argentinamarker, Arubamarker, Bahamasmarker, Belizemarker, Bonairemarker, Brazilmarker, Canadamarker, Colombiamarker, Costa Ricamarker, Ecuadormarker, El Salvadormarker, Francemarker, Germanymarker, Cayman Islandsmarker, Guatemalamarker, Hondurasmarker, Jamaicamarker, Japanmarker, Liberiamarker, Mexicomarker, Netherlandsmarker, Nicaraguamarker, Puerto Rico, Qatarmarker, Russiamarker, Spainmarker, Singaporemarker, UAEmarker, United Kingdommarker, Venezuelamarker
Tampa International Airportmarker Canadamarker, Cayman Islandsmarker, Puerto Rico, United Kingdommarker
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airportmarker Hondurasmarker, Mexicomarker


Rail

Amtrak Service

Train Route Gulf Coast Cities Served
City of New Orleans Chicagomarker to New Orleansmarker New Orleansmarker
Crescent New Yorkmarker to New Orleansmarker New Orleansmarker, Picayune, MSmarker, Slidell, LAmarker
Sunset Limited Los Angelesmarker to Orlandomarker (temporarily New Orleansmarker) Bay St. Louis, MSmarker, Beaumont, TXmarker, Biloximarker, Crestview, FLmarker, Gulfport, MSmarker, Houston, Lake Charles, LAmarker, Mobilemarker, New Orleansmarker, Panama City, FLmarker, Scriever, LAmarker, Pascagoula, MS, Pensacolamarker


See also



Notes




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