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Monday, September 13, 2004

Ivan may be heading for New Orleans

And that could be catastrophic beyond imagination. From NOW with Bill Moyers from September 20, 2002:
JOE SUHAYDA: So this indicates the depth of water that would occur above this ground in a category five hurricane.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: It's hard to comprehend, really.

JOE SUHAYDA: It is really, to think that that much water would occur during this catastrophic storm.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: So basically the part of New Orleans that most people in the United States and around the world think of as New Orleans would disappear under water.

JOE SUHAYDA:: That's right. During the worst of the storm, most of this area would be covered by 15 to 20 feet of water.
WALTER MAESTRI: A couple of days ago we actually had an exercise where we brought a fictitious Category Five hurricane--


WALTER MAESTRI: --the absolute worst, into the metropolitan area

DANIEL ZWERDLING: Walter Maestri is basically the czar of public emergencies in Jefferson Parish. It's the biggest suburb in the region.

WALTER MAESTRI: Well, when the exercise was completed it was evident that we were going to lose a lot of people we changed the name of the storm from Delaney to K-Y-A-G-B... kiss your ass goodbye... because anybody who was here as that Category Five storm came across... was gone.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: The American Red Cross lists the worst natural disasters that might strike America. They worry about earthquakes in California, and tropical storms in Florida. But they say the biggest catastrophe could be a hurricane hitting New Orleans.
DANIEL ZWERDLING: And on top of those worries: scientists say that the threat to New Orleans keeps getting bigger.

New Orleans has always had a huge natural shield that helps protect it from storms: there are miles and miles of wetlands, between the city and the Gulf of Mexico. When a hurricane blows over them, it loses some of its power. But as we reported a couple of weeks ago, this shield is breaking apart.

And here's the irony: the wetlands are disappearing because of the levees. The very levees that were supposed to protect New Orleans. They stopped the Mississippi River from flooding, but it turns out that they also triggered an environmental chain reaction, which is starving the wetlands to death.

Scientists say if this shield keeps crumbling over the next few decades, then it won't take a giant storm to cause a disaster. A much weaker, more common kind of hurricane could devastate New Orleans.
DANIEL ZWERDLING: Maestri says, imagine what happens if a hurricane like Andrew comes raging up from the Gulf:

WALTER MAESTRI: The hurricane is spinning counter-clockwise. It's been pushing in front of it water from the Gulf of Mexico for days. It's now got a wall of water in front of it some 30, 40 feet high. As it approaches the levies of the-- the-- that surround the city, it tops those levees. As the storm continues to pass over. Now Lake Ponchetrain, that water from Lake Ponchartrain is now pushed on to that - those population which has been fleeing from the western side and everybody's caught in the middle. The bowl now completely fills. And we've now got the entire community underwater some 20, 30 feet underwater. Everything is lost.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: Remember the levees which the Army built, to hold smaller floods out of the bowl? Maestri says now those levees would doom the city. Because they'd trap the water in.

WALTER MAESTRI: It's going to look like a massive shipwreck. There's going to be-- there's going to be, you know-- everything that that the water has carried in is going to be there. Alligators, moccasins, you know every kind of rodent that you could think of.

All of your sewage treatment plants are under water. And of course the material is flowing free in the community. Disease becomes a distinct possibility now. The petrochemicals that are produced all up and down the Mississippi River --much of that has floated into this bowl. I mean this has become, you know, the biggest toxic waste dump in the world now. Is the city of New Orleans because of what has happened.
DANIEL ZWERDLING: And here's perhaps the most troubling question of all: if a huge hurricane does hit New Orleans, how many people will die?

JAY COMBE: I think of a terrible disaster. I think of 100,000, and that's just my guess.
Western Cuba is getting hit now:
At least 1.5 million Cubans were evacuated to higher ground ahead of the storm, and early Monday, Cuban President Fidel Castro toured parts of western Cuba, which was ravaged by Hurricane Charley a month ago.

Castro reiterated that his island nation would not accept any money from the United States or other countries that "have imposed economic sanctions against Cuba."

"The United States can save itself the hypocrisy of trying to help Cuba out in this situation," he said.

Forecasters said Cuba would continue to get whipped by hurricane-force winds until about 5 a.m. Tuesday.

The storm is expected to dump as much as 8 to 12 inches of rain in its wake and bring storm surge flooding of 20 to 25 feet.

"They're in for a rough 12 hours," said Hector Guerrero, a meteorologist with the hurricane center. "It's hard to imagine what that 20 to 25 feet of storm surge will look like."