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Katrina Chaos in New Orleans
31/08/2005

I usually try to avoid posting about US stuff on this blog, but what has been happening with Katrina is simply too amazing and too horrible.

On Sunday night I was watching CNN and Aaron Brown asked a Louisiana disaster analyst, "What are the chances that tomorrow we'll have lost a city?" The answer was "50:50" and I couldn't believe it.

Much of yesterday's news was focused on what had happened in Mississippi, but there was surprisingly little coming out of New Orleans. Yes, we were seeing some pictures and some stories, but, for the most part, it seemed like we weren't getting much news because the news people simply weren't able to get in and get the story out. We are talking about a city under water, with no electricity, no phones, and no access to food or plumbing.

On Monday, when things didn't seem so bad, Robert McClelland wrote that he felt too much attention was being paid to this storm. Well, as I see it, this isn't just a storm. This is a major city, bigger than Ottawa, that is suffering a breakdown of civilization, with no end in sight. And, from what I've seen, insufficient support from outside in terms of emergency manpower.

By now, everyone knows the basics of why the situation in New Orleans is so bad. However, I found this Wikipedia paragraph useful in understanding the history:

Much of the city is located below sea level between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, so the city is surrounded by levees. Until the early 20th century, construction was largely limited to the slightly higher ground along old natural river levees and bayous, since much of the rest of the land was swampy and subject to frequent flooding. This gave the 19th century city the shape of a crescent along a bend of the Mississippi, the origin of the nickname The Crescent City. In the 1910s engineer and inventor A. Baldwin Wood enacted his ambitious plan to drain the city, including large pumps of his own design which are still used. All rain water must be pumped up to the canals which drain into Lake Pontchartrain. Wood's pumps and drainage allowed the city to expand greatly in area. However, pumping of groundwater from underneath the city has resulted in subsidence. This has greatly increased the flood risk, should the levees be breached or precipitation be in excess of pumping capacity, as would later happen in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A major hurricane could create a lake in the central city as much as 30 feet deep, which could take months to pump dry.

Since Sunday, a growing crowd of refugees has been huddled inside the Louisiana Superdome domed football stadium. They've had no power since early Monday and are in miserable conditions with water rising around them. A plan has now been announced to move them, by bus, to another domed football stadium, the Houston Astrodome. Not a great place to live. Meanwhile, it has been estimated that up to a million people could be left homeless by this event, and not able to return to the city for months.

Now, we all know that this sort of thing happens in other parts of the world. However, like 9/11, Katrina is shattering the myths we unconsciously hold in North America about our invicibility and immunity.


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