Hurricane Katrina was described as a Category 4 hurricane by the National Hurricane Center. Yesterday I saw a home video of New Orleans during the storm made by a storm chaser. During the filming you could hear the guy say (from memory), "This is a category 4? I was in Hurricane Charley last year and that was a category 4, but compared with this that was really just like chasing a thunderstorm. This one is huge."
I wonder if the classification system itself is lacking and that this may have contributed to the lack of preparedness. If you read this page from the NHC you'll see no mention of the breadth of the storm. There has to be some explanation for the vast difference between Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Charley.