While the city of New Orleans was spared the northwest quadrant of the storm, and everyone was breathing a sigh of relief last night, the staggering toll in damage and possible loss of life is becoming apparent with sunrise this morning. Even though the storm is gone, it cost the city its vital pumps—many of which rely on electrical power— and several critical levees failed during the night. Now the water is rising around the historic business district and the French Quarter, and emergency plans to bring in generators and water purifiers on barges seem to be desperate afterthoughts. There are reports of water up to 20 feet deep in some places, and rescue parties now report seeing bodies floating in the flooded streets. The survivors remaining in New Orleans face lack of clean drinking water, sanitation, and power. Thousands—many elderly and invalids—are still jammed into the Super Dome, which lost much of its roof covering in the storm, without power for the air conditioners in stifling heat and humidity.
In Mississippi, which took the worst of the category 4 hurricane, no one can guess how many are dead. At least 80 are dead in Harrison County alone—30 people in one seaside apartment complex which collapsed. There is no word as to what might have possessed those people to “ride out” a gigantic, killer storm in an unreinforced beachfront building. Several of the state’s huge, incomprehensibly lavish coastal casinos reported water on their third floors.
Dramatic rescue scenes are on all the news services as National Guard, Coast Guard, local law enforcement, and others risk their own lives to pluck survivors from rooftops, in some cases hacking through the roofs to allow those trapped in their attics to escape rising water. Video of adults, inevitably carrying children and babies, being lifted to safety by helicopters or picked up by boats leaves a question which may not be answered for weeks—how many others didn’t make it?
There are reports of at least 300 people clinging to rooftops in New Orleans, probably hundreds or thousands elsewhere. How did they get into such dire circumstances? As their functional motor vehicles sat idle in their driveways, when they decided that it would be okay to ride out the worst hurricane in living memory in wood-frame structures protected from the potential of a 20+-foot storm surge only by earthen embankments, did they suspect that they might face more serious issues than how the kids would watch their ScoobyDooTM tapes if the power went out? I suppose criminal punishment would be considered cruel after everything else that has happened to them, but how can this appalling, deadly foolishness be prevented in the future? Martial law has just been declared in New Orleans, probably a couple of days late.
Much of the flooding in New Orleans apparently is coming from a two-block breach in the levee on a canal which connects directly to the Ponchartrain. One report suggested that the only way the flow of water into the city could be stopped now was for the level in the city to equalize with that in the lake—a catastrophic scenario. Plans are underway to plug the breaches with 3000-lbs. sandbags dropped by helicopters, and some officials are still optimistic that the flooding can be controlled.
In developments that would overextend an audience’s suspension of disbelief in a mediocre disaster movie: Drinking water for New Orleans has been compromised by the rupture of a 50-inch water main, both airports are under water, an oil tanker has run aground and is leaking, the Interstate 10 causeway over Lake Ponchartrain is “completely destroyed”, there are fires and gas leaks everywhere, and electrical power may not be restored for weeks.
Parties in the French Quarter, however, will apparently continue until fully submerged.
Photos from http://www.nola.com/hurricane/photos/:
As environmental experts begin to express their determinations that the catastrophe of hurricane Katrina is nature schooling us and the U.S. administration for indifference to global warming, thousands of survivors in New Orleans who followed instructions to go to the Super Dome are being left to sleep on freeway overpasses, without access to food, water, or sanitary facilities. Government relief efforts are in a state of collapse, thwarted by destruction of most transportation and communications. Civil authority has dissolved in finger-pointing and near-chaos pushed beyond its limits by the number of survivors needing immediate rescue, probable massive loss of life, and the prospect of irreversible toxic flooding of the city by failure of its levee and pump system.
The mayor of the city expressed his belief that the death toll may reach into the thousands, and President Bush predicted, after a survey of the area, that recovery will take years.
Elsewhere in New Orleans, it becomes apparent that the difference between civilization and savagery is a gust of wind on a Summer day.