Friday, August 27, 2004
Should New Orleans Be Abandoned?
This post was originally written on Saturday, August 27, 2005 when I was first researching the story. As you can tell, it was last updated prior to Hurricane Katrina destroying New Orleans. (However the links are still good sources of background info on why things turned out so tragically.)
At the time I wrote this, I found it hard to believe that the city was not being completely evacuated with the utmost urgency. Apparently, the scientists and researchers were not to be believed. Unfortunately, events are showing that this was the wrong decision. And yet already, the people who should know better are already saying, "We shall rebuild a greater city....." (We should also bear in mind that the true extent of this tragedy will only become apparent in the days, weeks and even months ahead.)
I realize that my opinion is likely to be seen as offensive to some, but the truth must be spoken; someday this will happen again and nothing which is humanly possible can be done to prevent it. Does civic pride justify putting countless, innocent citizens in harm's way until the next, inevitable tragedy? What is meant by the words "responsible government"? Does human life factor into the decisions made by the leaders of these trusting souls? Or are the victims just anonymous numbers to be lumped together in various tax rolls, assessment charts and voter registration lists?
(Trivia: The 17th Street Canal pumping station is the largest single drainage pump in the world, able to move 10,000 cubic feet of water per second. That's roughly how fast the Colorado River flows below Hoover Dam.)
MY ORIGINAL POST:
The city of New Orleans will suffer one of the greatest natural disasters in the history of North America as Hurricane Katrina passes directly over the city early Monday morning. It will be a tragedy of tremendous proportions due to the fact that the city is an average 8 feet below sea level!
Based on cold, hard, scientific fact, there is a strong case to be made that New Orleans should be abandoned altogether. (Don't forget - you read it here first.)
Forecasters are now predicting a storm surge of up to 28 feet - meaning that the entire city and surrounding areas could be submerged in more than 30 feet of water - the height of a 3 story building)! Even the worst case disaster scenario was based on a maximum storm surge of only 10-12 feet. A 28 foot surge means that all single story homes will be completely destroyed by the floodwaters alone if not by the hurricane itself!
A worse (yes, things could get a lot worse) danger is that such a huge storm surge may significantly damage the levees of the Mississippi River, allowing it to run right through the city. If this happens, the levees would have to be repaired before they could even begin to pump the city dry and only after that could infrastructure be repaired and rebuilding begin. (The river is actually higher than the city - which is sinking anyway - and only massive levees prevent the river from inundating the city.)
Here is a 5 part story from the (New Orleans) Times-Picayune showing the projected effect of a Category 5 hurricane hitting New Orleans. It contains all the background and links imaginable about New Orleans and why the combination of this hurricane and this city is so catastrophic.
The total population of the Greater New Orleans area is over 1,000,000 people. It's estimated that 100,000 people have no means of evacuating and that it would take weeks to pump the city dry. Obviously, economic costs will be tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars.
As bad as this may be for New Orleans, much of the Mississippi Delta is threatened with destruction. The ecosystem surrounding New Orleans is extremely fragile and faces great irreparable damage.
Over one third of the US oil production - as well as signicant imports of foreign crude - moves through New Orleans. This supply will be disrupted without question causing oil prices (in Canada too) to skyrocket within days. We're not talking about nebulous oil futures here, this is loss of actual physical distribution which will likely create a logistics nightmare throughout North America. The scope of the economic fallout of this disaster is simply unimaginable.
The worst hurricane to hit New Orleans was Betsy 40 years ago. Katrina is already a much stronger hurricane than Betsy and is expected to grow even stronger before it reaches land early Monday morning.
(If you're inclined to offer them a prayer, these souls - especially the sick and elderly who are unable to leave the city - could sure use all the help they can get.)
Technical note on hurricane strength: The single most indicative measurement of a hurricane's strength is the air pressure in the eye which is measured in millibars (mb). The lower the pressure, the stronger the hurricane. Most named hurricanes are between 930mb and 960mb (ie a small difference in mb reading can be extremely significant).
Only a handful of hurricanes have ever been below 930mb. Hurricane Andrew at 922mb and Hurricane Camille at 909mb were the 2 worst hurricanes to ever hit the US mainland area. Only one recorded (unnamed in 1935) hurricane had a pressure below 900mb (892mb). The barometric pressure of Katrina at 2am CDT has risen slightly to 910mb. Neverthess, it's virtually certain that this will be an immense disaster with very significant loss of life, both during the hurricane and in the aftermath.
I think anyone who has studied hurricanes will agree that the combination of risk factors at play here make this hurricane catastrophic. Due to the fact that New Orleans would likely have to be abandoned anyway within the next 100 years because it's sinking deeper and deeper below sealevel, they will realize that the next time will be just as bad or even worse. When the cost of reconstruction is factored in, serious consideration will have to be given to relocating the city now and getting it over with. Imagine several hundred thousand people with nowhere to go while they're waiting for a new city to be built? This is not a far-fetched scenario. It's certain that the authorities are downplaying the consequences because there is simply nothing they can do except evacuate the city. It is very unusual for the President to declare a state of emergency 2 days before a hurricane hits; they know that this time the hurricane is just the beginning of the story.
A New Orleans disaster relief coordinator has been interviewed on CNN (Sunday evening) and says that the worst case scenario shows 46,000 fatalities and the city being submerged in sewage and chemicals for 6 months. THese people surely deserve our prayers.