September 10, 2005
2) The Hurricane
Katrina seemed like a second-rate storm at first, but it was fierce enough to take south Florida by surprise. It killed a bunch of people and did a lot of damage, then slipped into the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes build up strength over warm water, and the Gulf of Mexico in late August is VERY warm. By the time Katrina turned north, it was a category five hurricane headed directly toward New Orleans with winds of 175 miles-per-hour. Days before the hurricane made landfall, we were reading news articles explaining why this would be a Very Bad Thing.... articles that discussed scenarios that were common knowledge among disaster experts.
New Orleans is in a bowl that lies mostly below sea level. The only thing that keeps the bowl from filling with water is a series of levees and flood walls that surround the city. But when a major hurricane comes through, it brings along a huge storm surge. That means that the water surrounding the city rises as much as 24 feet or more. According to all the experts, if the levees fail to keep the rising waters out of the city, New Orleans would fill with water up to 20 feet deep, and the city would be swimming in a soup of sewage and toxic chemicals.
So when the Emperor gets on tv and says "no one anticipated the breaching of the levees," he's either a bald-faced liar, or a complete idiot. (personally, I think he's both) This has been among the Big Three disaster senarios for decades.
So just before Katrina came ashore, it veered a little bit to the east and diminished to a category 4 storm. Once the wind died down, there was a lot of damage, but everything seemed all right overall. But then we heard that the water in Lake Ponchatraine was still rising, and a short time later we heard that a 200-foot section of flood wall had collapsed and that water was cascading over the levee and into the city.
The news kept getting worse from that point on. It was like listening to a play-by-play of the sinking of the Titanic, except that in this case it was an entire city that was sinking into the sea. And just like on the Titanic, if was the poor who suffered the most.
80% of New Orleans became part of Lake Pontchetrain (sp?), and as the city flooded, the water picked up gasoline, oil, paint, chemicals, sewage, and everything else it encountered as it rose thru garages, warehouses, homes and toilets all over the city. A toxic soup filled with sewage and dead bodies swept thru the city, and the people who were left behind were left for days to fend for themselves in squalor.