Thursday, September 01, 2005

The worst ever?


I've heard several people refer to Katrina as the worst natural disaster ever in this country. (It's also been compared to the recent tsunami, to Hiroshima, and described as being of Biblical proportions). I've no doubt from what I've seen that the physical devastation is greater than anything that's ever occured here -- although the Dust Bowl might give it a run for the size of the area affected -- and certainly the monetary cost will be by far the highest, however one calculates it, and whether or not one include the far-reaching economic impact, but we had all better hope that in terms of the loss of human life it doesn't reach the death toll of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, in which between 6,000 and 12,000 people lost their lives, even though it isn't in the top 10 of the most intense hurricanes.

Nothwithstanding the prior estimates of 20,000 - 100,000 dying if a category 5 hurricane hit New Orleans dead on (which thankfully didn't happen) and Mayor Nagin's comment about the the number of dead in New Orleans being "Minimum, hundreds. Most likely, thousands" (which seemed very much like an impressionistic and off-hand remark, not particularly based on anything concrete), I don't think anyone really has a handle on the deaths from Katrina in that city or, for that matter, elswhere in the region, so we can go on hoping that the Galveston event will keep its title as the deadliest natural disaster ever in the U.S.

(Of course, there's another deadly event going on as well.)

(Thur 1:00am) Here's another topographic map of New Orleans, this one from the Washington Post:

(Thur 3:30am)

St. Petersburg Times
The situation had become so dire in nearby Jefferson Parish that parish council President Aaron Broussard announced he was declaring it a separate country named "Jeffertania," in hopes that would speed up federal aid.

"Please excuse my cynicism," Broussard said. "I just can't take this ineffectiveness anymore."

Broussard said the rampant looting is the result of desperate storm survivors doing what they have to do to survive.

"The basic jungle human instincts are starting to kick in because they have no food," he said. "It's getting ugly."

Los Angeles Times

Draining the billions of gallons of water that have inundated New Orleans could take three to six months, substantially longer than some experts have expected, the Army Corps of Engineers said late Wednesday.

Col. Richard Wagenaar, the corps' senior official in New Orleans, said that the estimate was based on planning done as Hurricane Katrina approached and that it remained the corps' best estimate. He is directing the agency's recovery efforts.

The estimate depends on favorable weather. Additional rain or other problems could cause more delays, Wagenaar warned.

"There is a lot of water here," he said. "The news cameras do not do it justice. And I'm worried the worst is yet to come."


Wagenaar said the evaluations Wednesday were sobering, leading him to believe that city officials' horrific death estimates given could be accurate.

The water is 30 feet deep or more in some parts of the city, covering homes. In the city's 9th Ward, homes have shifted and floated away, leaving nothing that resembled the city grid before the storm, Wagenaar said after a helicopter tour.


He said the corps planned to punch holes in levees around the city to hasten the drainage now occurring through the main breach that swamped the city after the hurricane. Levees on the Mississippi River, Lake Pontchartrain and an inner coastal waterway are to be broken open in coming days, though "we haven't decided yet how."

Houston Chronicle

After the 17th Street Canal breach is fixed, as well as three other less challenging breaches in New Orleans' levee system, the city's pumps can begin to push water into the lake.

At its highest efficiency, the pumping system can remove one foot of water per day. By Friday, when the city and lake drain naturally to 1 foot above sea level, the lowest areas of New Orleans will remain choked under 11 feet of water. That's a minimum of three weeks' pumping.

But it could take as long as a few months to fully drain New Orleans, Jackson cautioned. That's because the breaches must first be repaired, and the pumps restored.

Engineers will assess the condition of the city's dozens of pumps in the coming days. If they were turned off before they flooded they could be restored in a few days, longer if not.


The Corps must also fly in auxiliary power units to operate the pumps, which normally run off the city's electrical grid. This grid may not be restored for a month, or perhaps longer.

[More Katrina posts]


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/01/2005 12:30:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina posts

The Big One for the Big Easy (Mon Aug 29 1:50am - Tues Aug 30 2:30am)
A Breach In the Levee? (Tues Aug 30 2:30am - Wed Aug 31 9:00am)
How Bush Hurt New Orleans (Wed Aug 31 12:15am)
A Political Lesson from History (Wed Aug 31 1:50am)
This is The Big One (Wed Aug 31 9:54am - 11:00pm)
The worst ever? (Thurs Sept 1 12:30am - 3:30am)
Lethal ineptitude and ideological paralysis (Mon Sept 5 9:00pm - Tues Sept 6 4:56am)
One man's perspective (Tues Sept 6 10:32pm)
Towards a Gulf Coast Corps (Wed Sept 7 11:05pm)
Starting the time-line (Thurs Sept 8 1:58am - 9:15pm)
With the rich and mighty (Thurs Sept 8 10:00pm - Fri 2:30am)
The rebuilding of New Orleans (Sat Sept 10 1:00pm)
From rescue to recovery (Sun Sept 11 5:00am - 5:15pm)
In the aftermath, comes the truth (Tues Sept 13 2:45am - Wed Sept 14 12:30am)
McPhee on controlling the river (Tues Sept 13 10:00pm)
About Bush's taking "responsibility" (Tues Sept 13 10:15pm)
Penny wise, pound foolish (Tues Sept 13 11:50pm)
Not up to their usual standard (Wed Sept 14 4:35pm)
Will New Orleans be rebuilt? (Wed Sept 14 10:16pm - Fri Sept 16 1:55am)
Before and after (Thurs Sept 15 4:30am)
Al Gore: A moral moment (Thurs Sept 15 5:00pm)
Going under? (Sat Sept 17 1:15am)
Shirts off to the customs folks (Sat Sept 17 1:45am)
More about rebuilding (Sat Sept 17 10:50pm)
Not again!? [Rita storm watch] (Sat Sept 17 11:00pm - Mon Sept 19 3:30am)
Who's in charge? (Sun Sept 18 5:00am - 2:00pm)
How deadly was it? (Mon Sept 19 11:00pm)
A look at Gulf Coast culture (Sun Sept 25 4:00am)
Rebuilding roundtable (Wed Sept 28 10:30am - Thur Sept 29 2:00am)
How it was done (Wed Sept 28 4:55pm)
Why did the floodwalls breach? (Oct 10)
FEMA fails, again (Oct 27)
Should New Orleans be rebuilt? (Nov 13)
News flash: Gays caused Katrina! (Nov 20)
FEMA: What's to protect? (Nov 24)
The City That Time Is Forgetting (Dec 7)
Cops and Katrina (Jan 9, 2006)
Katrina's Damage (Jan 26)
Knew, Didn't Care (Feb 10)
Sinking and rethinkng (Mar 6)
New Orleans: One Year After (Aug 29)

A list of post about Hurricane Rita can be found here.


Please see the "Hurricane 2005 Relief" sidebar on the right for other organizations to donate to, and a short list of information sources.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/31/2005 11:24:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


This is The Big One


I've been watching this story obsessively for many hours now, and I'm going to have to take a break and get a little rest. One last observation before I do: everyone involved, officials, emergency workers, reporters, anchors, analysts, they all (all but a few, anyway) seem to be havng trouble coming to grips with what I think is the reality of this crisis, which is that this is The Big One.

The drowning of New Orleans and the devastation of the Gulf Coast region is the equivalent of an earthquake hitting San Francisco or Los Angeles, or the East Asian tsunami. A million plus people with no jobs, no place to live and no assets, an entire major U.S. city all but wiped off the face of the earth, our energy infrastructure significantly crippled -- all that and more make this a big, big deal which will adversely affect the entire country for years.

In one respect or another, we've all been waiting for The Big One, the major disaster which would happen in our lifetimes. The attacks of 9/11 felt like it, but in many ways it really pales in comparison to the devastation caused by Katrina. We thought it would be an earthquake, or a terrorist attack, but this is it.

(Wed 3:30pm):
  • I woke up from a little nap to see the news conference being held by high Federal officials (cabinet level, mostly) and was amazed (well, not really) that their first impulse was not to assure the public that they're mounting a massive relief effort using all the tremendous power of the Federal government, but the very first thing they thought of doing was to loosen restrictions on the oil companies abotu sulphur content and volatility, and on the rules about how many hours truck drivers can work.

    Does anyone in their right mind really believe that if Joe Trucker drove day and night to bring in relief supplies the Feds were going the slap him with a violation?

  • My disdain for Wolf Blitzer continues to know no bounds. I've just watched him repeatedly talk over a reporter on the ground who was giving brand new first-hand information about the relief effort. What was so important that Wolf had to interrupt new data? He wanted his studio cohort to use his Google Earth display to show where the reporter was located.

    Blitzer is truly an idiot.

    Not that the others are much better. Soledad O'Brien (if that's her name) this morning was uninformed and combatative. She hectored the poor mayor of New Orleans (who seems to be in a very bad psychological state, alternating between unjustified optimism and total gloominess), a man whose city has just been practically wiped off the face of the earth, about why the emergency response plan wasn't better. That's a legitimate question, but her attitude was of a know-it-all college sophomore -- just dump some shipping containers in front of the breach, that will do it, duh!

    And then there's Paula Zahn whose stock-in-trade seems to be allowing her emotions to color everything she "reports".

    These are all CNN people because that's what I'm watching primarily -- I'll switch over to MSNBC for a break, but then I have to put up with people like Joe Scarborough and Chris Matthews. Faux News is not an option, of course, and ABC is occasionally bearable.

    Aaron Brown hasn't been fabulous, but he's been better than the others, at least.

  • Good news that the water has apparently crested. I hope that means they'll be able to make some progress on plugging up the breaches.

  • Heard that Bush spent 35 minutes looking at the devastation out the window of Air Force One. I'm glad he was able to squeeze such a dynamic response into his busy vacation schedule.

    Wonkette has it right:
    The President's Response to Insurgent Katrina

    Fox News and others are reporting that the President just got "his own bird's eye view" of Katrina's damage as Air Force One flew over the devestated region. Shortly after, Bush gave prepared remarks to the press pool:
    We are making progress in New Orleans. The flood is in its last throes. Clearly, the hurricane has a hateful ideology and does not like our freedom or our dryness. We cannot surrender to it. In New Orleans, they are working on a draft evacuation; it is an evacuation process, and we must expect that if we are to bring American-style democracy to the Mississippi Delta.
    The president added that "to pull out now would only give aid to the elements."

    [Thanks to Trish]

(Wed 5:15pm):

  • Bush is speaking now. As always, I find it valuable (and much better for my blood pressure) to interpret him by keeping the sound off and watching his face and body language, while his words roll by on closed captions. He seems like he's attempting to look both resolute and concerned, but he's only managing to look angry -- and I think it's probable that this is just what he feels. I don't know if he's angry at the storm, mad that he had to stop vacationing, or upset that he's been called on to do something presidential instead of political, but he looks much more like a parent scolding an errant child than a strong leader taking charge in a crisis.

  • I'm surprised we haven't heard from Pat Robertson, blaming the residents of New Orleans for bringing this disaster on themselves, as he did to New Yorkers after 9/11. Surely New Orleans, with its lascivious French Quarter, the excesses of Mardi Gras and its reputation for sensuality and sexuality, must rate as a junior Gomorrah to New York's Sodom, so it's strange that Pat hasn't interpreted the storm as God's wrath on the Crescent City for its evil ways.

    Of course, if Katrina was the expression of the deity's retribution, it has to be said that his aim is as bad as his design capabilities. Just as plants and animals prove to be patched-together Rube Goldbergian mechanisms and not the well-designed systems that intelligent design adherents claim, Katrina could have done a lot more damage to New Orleans if God had just sent it slightly to the west of the city instead of to the east. If that had happened, the full power of the strongest part of the storm, the north-east quadrant, would have hit Lake Ponchartrain directly, and the city would have been devasted much more quickly, without the period of time we've got now to rescue people and try to patch things up.

    Of course, perhaps Pat is holding his tongue because he learned his lesson after 9/11 (not likely), or maybe because too many good religious people, both in New Orleans and in the rest of the greater Gulf Coast region, were badly hurt by the storm, and how would he explain that?

    Of course, that was also the case for New Yorkers and 9/11 (we're not all homosexuals and godless atheists, after all), and it didn't stop him then.

(Wed 7:40pm): Talk about fiddling while Rome burns! [Thanks to Shirley]

(Wed 8:15pm): The media emphasis on "law and order" consistently fails to make the vital distinction between people who take things which are essential for their survival -- food, water, medical supplies, clothing, equipment -- which there is no other way to get in a city which has totally broken down, and those people who take luxury items and other non-essentials. One is surviving, the other is looting. And stealing, whether of essentials or non-essentials, is really unimportant compared to the threat of violence and mob behavior.

It seems as if the police understand the difference, and have their priorities in order:

The officers were rushing to a break-in next door at the Sports Authority, desperate to secure the store's stockpile of guns and ammunition.

"I think we ran them off before they got any of it," said the commanding officer at the scene. The cops secured the store with heavy plywood before moving on to other emergencies.

At about 2 p.m., the officers rushed back to disrupt a second break-in at the sporting goods store. An officer in a squad car tried to chase a Bell South utility truck that fled the scene, but he lost the truck amid fallen trees.

Upon surveying the thefts, the officer said the most conspicuous missing items were all the weapons from the store's knife case.

Before boarding up again, the officers took some essential supplies for themselves: socks, T-shirts and Power Bars.

[Emphasis added -- Ed]

Note that I'm not criticising the cops: they took what they needed, in a circumstance where they couldn't get it any other way -- which is my point exactly.

Addendum: This is from the Times-Picayune:

Mayor Ray Nagin ordered 1,500 police officers to leave their search-and-rescue mission Wednesday night and return to the streets to stop looting that has turned increasingly hostile as the city plunges deeper into chaos.

"They are starting to get closer to heavily populated areas — hotels, hospitals, and we're going to stop it right now," Nagin said in a statement to The Associated Press.

The number of officers called off the search-and-rescue mission amounts to virtually the entire police force in New Orleans.

Well, it sounds wrong to me, but I'm not on the scene, and don't have any real sense of just what conditions are like in the city. Unlike certain TV anchors, I'm willing to cut the mayor a lot of slack in his efforts to save his city.

At one store, hordes of people from all ages, races and walks of life grabbed food and water. Some drove away with trunkloads of beer.

At one point, two officers drew their guns on the looters, but the thieves left without incident. One of the officers said he was not going to arrest anyone for snatching up food and water.


"It's really difficult because my opinion of the looting is it started with people running out of food, and you can't really argue with that too much," [Mayor] Nagin said. "Then it escalated to this kind of mass chaos where people are taking electronic stuff and all that."


New Orleans' homeland security chief, Terry Ebbert, said looters were breaking into stores all over town and stealing guns. He said there are gangs of armed men moving around the city. At one point, officers stranded on the roof of a hotel were fired at by criminals on the street.


Several residents of Algiers Point have posted door signs telling would-be trespassers that they are home and have guns to defend themselves. Resident Vnnie Pervel, former Algiers Point Association president, said he and a few other residents had been trying to sleep by day and patrol the streets at night.

(Wed 10:32pm): Looking over the last couple months of entries on unfutz, it's clear that I wasn't much motivated to post. One thing I was doing a lot of (and continue to do) is watching baseball, both the Mets and the Yankees. Baseball is something I've enjoyed since I was a kid, and it's something of a calm harbor for me when things get overwrought in the real world. (Not that don't get exercised about baseball too when things don't go well, but it's the kind of thing that's much easier to shake off, because it's not real.)

I was very happy to hear during tonight's Yankees game, that the team is donating $1 million to help disaster relief in the wake of Katrina. That's a very decent thing to do, and I thank them for doing it. (Other ball clubs are doing their part as well.)

If anyone reading this hasn't had the time or opportunity yet to make a donation, I urge you to do so, for whatever amount you can afford. As the title of this post says, this is big, and I'm sure they'll need every possible penny they can get. Use the link below to give to the Red Cross, or the links on the right in the "hurricane 2005 relief" box, or find another relief agency you're comfortable with and give what you can.

(Wed 11:00pm): Some people are just damned unlucky.

Dawn and Alan Hooley, of Cocoa Beach, Fla., were vacationing in New Orleans when Katrina approached. Ironically, they were taking a break before starting to rebuild their Dairy Queen restaurant, which was destroyed by Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne last year.

[More Katrina posts]


Ed Fitzgerald | 8/31/2005 09:54:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A political lesson from history

On February 9, 1969, a huge storm dumped 15-20 inches of snow on New York City. In the clean-up, the administration of mayor John Lindsay failed to clear the side streets in the borough of Queens for weeks after the storm.

Lindsay's mishandling of the aftermath of the storm is widely credited for his failure to win his party primary in the next election. (He was, however, re-elected as an independent, partly because he ran ads accepting the blame for the snow-storm debacle.)

At some point, political Executives, whether mayors, governors or the President of the United States, are expected to deliver, it's the absolute minimum that people want from them, and if they can't deliver, the consequences can be politically serious.

And if the people can't vent their ire on the Executive, others will bear the brunt.

That's a prediction. Look to the 2006 mid-terms.

[More Katrina posts]

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/31/2005 01:50:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


How Bush hurt New Orleans


The Daily Progress Report of the Center for American Progress spells out the many ways in which the Bush Administration helped to make Katrina even more devastating to New Orleans than it might otherwise have been:
Two months ago, President Bush took an ax to budget funds that would have helped New Orleans prepare for such a disaster. The New Orleans branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suffered a "record $71.2 million" reduction in federal funding, a 44.2 percent reduction from its 2001 levels. Reports at the time said that thanks to the cuts, "major hurricane and flood protection projects will not be awarded to local engineering firms. ... Also, a study to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane has been shelved for now."


The Gulf Coast wetlands form a "natural buffer that helps protect New Orleans from storms," slowing hurricanes down as they approach from sea. When he came into office, President Bush pledged to uphold the "no net loss" wetland policy his father initiated. He didn't keep his word. Bush rolled back tough wetland policies set by the Clinton administration, ordering federal agencies "to stop protecting as many as 20 million acres of wetlands and an untold number of waterways nationwide."


National Guard and Reserve soldiers are typically on the front lines responding to disasters like Katrina -- that is, if they're not fighting in Iraq. Roughly 35 percent of Louisiana's National Guard is currently deployed in Iraq, where guardsmen and women make up about four of every 10 soldiers.


Severe weather occurrences like hurricanes and heat waves already take hundreds of lives and cause millions in damages each year. As the Progress Report has noted, data increasingly suggest that human-induced global warming is making these phenomena more dangerous and extreme than ever. ... [J]ust last week, as Katrina was gathering steam and looming over the Gulf, the Bush administration released new CAFE standards that actually encourage automakers to produce bigger, less fuel efficient vehicles, while preventing states from taking strong, progressive action to reverse global warming.

There's more.

[Thanks to Margit for the link]

Update: Chris Bowers and Scott Shields have more on MyDD, here, here and here.

[More Katrina posts]


Ed Fitzgerald | 8/31/2005 12:15:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A milestone reached

Today is the two year anniversary of my starting unfutz.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/31/2005 12:01:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A breach in the levee?


CNN just had a live interview with someone from Tulane University Hospital, who said that the water there was rising at the rate of 1 inch every 5 minutes (which is 1 foot per hour), and that the rate was increasing over time. In fact, every report I've seen from inside New Orleans has said that the flood water there is rising, hampering rescue efforts.

Much more seriously, the woman reported that the Louisiana State Police confirmed that there is a 2 block long breach on the Orleans Parsh side of the levee at the 17th Street canal. That levee is there to hold back the water of Lake Ponchartrain, but she described water pouring down Canal Street so fast that it had whitecaps.

Water from the lake flooding the city is clearly one of the major components of the nightmare scenarios I posted below.

This is not good.

[This link should bring you to a Google Map which shows Tulane University Hospital, where I believe the woman was reporting from, and the 17th Street Canal -- which is the thin north-south strip of blue in the center top of the map, just to the west of Ponchartrain Blvd. Canal Street goes northwest of the hospital, and if the water is streaming down it, it might be that the breach in the levee is somewhere near the Lake Lawn Park Cemetary, which can be seen almost in the direct center of the map. This is speculation, of course.]

(Tue 3:30am): CNN reports that they're waiting for confirmation about the breach from the Army Corps of Engineers, which is supposedly meeting right now about what to do about it.

They replayed the conversation with the woman from Tulane. She said that the hospital had no water accumulation after the storm, but the water rapidly rose until they were surrounded by 6 feet of water and had to evacuate before it reached their emergency generators on the 2nd floor and they lost power.

(Tue 4:00am): WWL-TV says that New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin estimates that 80% of the city is underwater. He also said that the "Twin Span Bridge" was "totally destroyed" by the storm. Not knowing New Orleans well (I've only been there once, for a week), I assume he's referring to the Crescent City Connection.

(Tue 4:15am): A fire depart official confirms a 200 foot break in the levee along the 17th Street Canal.

(Tue 4:00pm): It looks very much as if the situation in New Orleans is playing out pretty much precisely along the lines suggested by the nightmare worst-case scenario I posted previously: levee breaches, widespread flooding, a building toxic sludge in the water, stranded refugees in the Superdome, no fresh water, gas main breaks causing fires, looting, the whole package of horrors.

Some brief observations:
  • Media coverage has turned predictably awful, more concerned about mawkish and sentimental "human interest" stories than in hard reporting. They're already trying to wrap-up a complex story that will go on for months (if not longer) into a neat package for instant consumption.

  • I'm reassured to rediscover that Wolf Blitzer really is a very terrible reportor/anchor, regardles of whether he's covering politics or not.

  • Personification of the storm is rampant: I've heard it called "vicious", "angry", "evil" and it is said to have "spawned" tornadoes. It's also been referred to as "she". Katrina is not a person, it has or had no intentions or designs, it's a process of nature, and the damage it causes is a result of its power and our own natures. We continue to build without regard to potential drawbacks, and are shocked when nature doesn't cooperate with us.

  • How is it possible to estimate the cost of damages, when no one has any clear idea of the extent or nature of those damages? In any event, I've got little or no sympathy for insurance companies which will take a hit -- the nature of their business is that they take a gamble. If they win, they make a lot of money, if they lose, they pay out a lot of money. In the words of Superchicken: "You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred."

  • The "Twin Spans" referred to by the mayor appears to be the I-10 causeway/bridge to Slidell to the northeast. Video on CNN showed it to be heavily damaged, and impassable. According to an article on the Times-Picayune website, the Crescent City Connection I referred to above is "the only clear route out of town."

  • The media should go easy on the moral censure they're starting to heap on looters. In the situation they're in, it all depends on what they're taking. If they're stealing TVs, iPods and luxury items, that's one thing, but if they're taking food, which is going to go bad soon anyway, water or medical supplies in order to survive, that's another thing entirely. Reporters should at least try to find out what's going on before they roll out their high moral tone.

  • I don't think people have yet fully glommed on to the unique nature of the problem in New Orleans. It's not that the damage there is most extensive than in Mobile, Biloxi or Gulfport (although it probably it), it's that in those other places, the flood waters will recede, and work can begin on re-building, while in New Orleans, until the levees are repaired and the pumps are brought up to full capacity, the flood water is just going to stay there and find its natural equilibrium level, caught in the bowl created by the topography of the place and the very flood-control system created to protect the city. That makes the New Orleans situation a very long term and intractable problem, compared to other places.

  • Where is the President of the United States in all this? Shouldn't he be taking a leading roll, at least as the public figurehead, the leader of the country? I guess we should all be grateful that he interrupted his vacation, but surely he can do more than that.

    (My antipathy for Rudy Giuliani when he was mayor of NYC was almost as strong as my hatred for Bush, and yet I gave Rudy full marks for his leadership in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks (until he blew it). I'll never like or admire Bush, but he could earn at least my grudging respect with some vigorous leadership in this crisis. I don't think it will happen, because I don't think he has it in him. He's a Potemkin President, all facade and nothing inside. When we needed a leader, the Supreme Court, and half the people of America, gave us a sham.)

(Tue 6:00pm) More observations:

  • Someone should tell Wolf Blitzer that being an anchor means something more than standing authoritatively in front of a bank of video monitors clutching some papers. The purpose of the anchor in a crisis like this is to gather information and impressions from reporters on the scene, and to arrange those bits and pieces into a mosaic that represents a reasonably accurate view of what's happening. How many times do I have to hear a reporter tell Blitzer that they can't answer his inane question about something going on somewhere else, because the reporter can't get around and has no communications? If Blitzer isn't capable of doing his job of integrating the data coming in, then a producer should be doing it for him.

  • Why is the Pentagon just now deploying urban search-and-rescue teams, on 6pm of the second day, almost 36 hours after the storm first hit? Shouldn't those teams have been on site this morning to start working at first light? I'm an ignorant peon with access to nothing but what information is out there publicly, and yet it was apparent to me by late yesterday that this was a very serious problem -- shouldn't that have been apparent to those in charge in Washington? They've now lost a full day of light in which to work.

  • Reporters who spent their time during the storm having their crews take footage of them trying to walk in hurricane-force winds, and the producers who air that footage ad infinitum ought to reconsider their choice of careers. The purpose of the reporter on the scene is to gather information, not to prove their macho foolhardiness.

  • More easy moral censure is being thrown at those who stayed behind in New Orleans and elsewhere instead of leaving, completely ignoring the reality that many people don't have the capability of leaving (no money, no cars, physical inability) even if they wanted to. Did the local government organize buses to take those people out? If they did, where would they go?

    As hard as it is for people to comprehend, not everyone owns a car, especially in a city like New Orleans (or New York City for that matter) where the public transportation system is good. Now is really not the time to pick on people who are in extremis.


Tuesday, 6:35 p.m.

Mayor Ray Nagin issued an urgent bulletin through WWL-TV at 6:30 p.m.

Nagin said efforts to stop the flow of water at the breach on the 17th Street Canal are failing, which means the floodwaters will rise again.

Nagin said the waters will soon overwhelm the pump, shutting it down. He said the water will rise to 3 feet above sea level - or 12-15 feet in some places of east Jefferson and Orleans parishes.

Nagin has advised residents who have not already evacuated to do so as soon as possible.

(Wed 1:30am): From what I've seen and read, the widespread looting doesn't seem to be people taking the essentials they need to survive, it seems to be kids and young men (always the most dangerous demographic group) stealing luxury items. I certainly understand the police wanting to prevent lawlessness, but it may be that their efforts are simply wasted energy. The police should protect people from violence (as in the mob that's apparently threatened the Charity Hospital), but otherwise allow people to take what they want, since they won't be able to use the stuff anyway. With no power, and little chance of getting it back for weeks, no ability to get around, and the streets either under water or soon to be, let them waste their time hauling TVs to their apartments -- what's the difference? The businesses are going to write off their entire stocks anyway. The energy of the authorities could almost certanly be better spent in other ways.

Small business owners have another perspective, of course:

In Uptown, one the few areas that remained dry, a bearded man patrolled Oak Street near the boarded-up Maple Leaf Bar, a sawed-off shotgun slung over his shoulder. The owners of a hardware store sat in folding chairs, pistols at the ready.

Uptown resident Keith Williams started his own security patrol, driving around in his Ford pickup with his newly purchased handgun. Earlier in the day, Williams said he had seen the body of a gunshot victim near the corner of Leonidas and Hickory streets.

"What I want to know is why we don’t have paratroopers with machine guns on every street," Williams said.

There's quite a few logistical reasons why not, of course (impassable roads, flooded streets, etc.), but the fact that 35% of the Louisiana National Guard are in Iraq probably has something to do with it as well.

(Wed 3:30am)

  • It seems my estimate of the location of the breach in the levee by the 17th Street Canal was off. According to this article, it's by the Hammond Highway Bridge, which is quite close to the lake. (Update: It was not a levee which was breached, but a sea wall. Apparently, the water undermined it.)

    As night fell on a devastated region, the water was still rising in the city, and nobody was willing to predict when it would stop. After the destruction already apparent in the wake of Katrina, the American Red Cross was mobilizing for what regional officials were calling the largest recovery operation in the organization's history.

    Police officers, firefighters and private citizens, hampered by a lack of even rudimentary communication capabilities, continued a desperate and impromptu boat-borne rescue operation across Lakeview well after dark. Coast Guard helicopters with searchlights criss-crossed the skies. Officers working on the scene said virtually every home and business between the 17th Street Canal and the Marconi Canal, and between Robert E. Lee Boulevard and City Park Avenue, had water in it. Nobody had confirmed any fatalities as a result of the levee breach, but they conceded that hundreds of homes had not been checked.

    As the sun set over a still-roiling Lake Pontchartrain, the smoldering ruins of the Southern Yacht Club were still burning, and smoke streamed out over the lake. Nobody knew the cause of the fire because nobody could get anywhere near it to find out what happened.

    Dozens of residents evacuated to the dry land of the Filmore Street bridge over the Marconi Canal were stranded between the flooded neighborhood on their right, and the flooded City Park on their left, hours after they had been plucked from rooftops or second-story windows.

    With 80% of the city flooded, something on the order of a million people are essentially homeless right now. Rebuilding will probably take years, and even starting the reconstruction effort won't happen for months. This suggests that if you have a relative or friend in New Orleans (or, to a lesser extent, in the other affected areas of the Gulf Coast), it might be a good idea to invite them to stay with you for a while. Every person that the authorities don't have to provide for would be something of a help to them in stretching their resources.

  • I'm really surprised that no one (as far as I know) has used any of the various satellites to take photographs of New Orleans to better illustrate the extent of the flooding. (Update: No sooner did I post this then I saw a post-Katrina satellite image of New Orleans on ABC World News Now. It was credited to both Google Earth and the USGS.)

  • One caller to CNN, a parish official from the New Orleans area, started to talk about the Missippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) being one of the (many) reasons that the affects of the hurricane were so devastating, but they weren't allowed to continue. There's an article about the canal here:
    “The Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, since its construction in 1965 as an alternative route for ocean going vessels into the Port of New Orleans, has caused increased storm surge vulnerability to developed areas of St. Bernard and Orleans parishes and extensive environmental damage to a vast region. Greatest impacts occur in St. Bernard, Orleans and Plaquemines parishes, in that order. The channel is a serious threat to public safety and an environmental threat to the region.”

    Here is the website of a group urging the canal (which costs $13 to $37 million a year just to keep dredged, all for fewer than five ships per day) to be closed.

(Wed 7:06am): Here's a map showing the elevation of New Orleans.

A guide to New Orleans neighborhoods is here, and a graphic showing the levee system is here.

(Wed 9:00am) From the Times-Picayune:

[Louisiana State University Hurricane Center researcher Ivor] Van Heerden said that if there's a silver lining to this disastrous event, it's that the eye of Katrina didn't go directly over or to the west of the city. If that had happened, the storm surge could have been much higher and would have directly topped levees all along the lake and much more rapidly filled the bowl, which would have meant an even higher death toll than is anticipated from this slow-moving event, he said.

So in that respect, New Orleans got lucky -- if you want to call it that.

The problems caused by floodwaters will only get worse, according to van Heerden and the earlier tabletop exercises. For one, if the water in the city does rise to the height of levees along the lakefront, it may be difficult to open floodgates designed to keep the lake out that would now be needed to allow the lake to leave. Van Heerden said the rising floodwaters also would cause major pollution problems in coming days, as they float dozens of fuel and chemical storage tanks off their fittings, severing pipelines and allowing the material to seep into the floodwaters.

"In our surveys of the parish, a lot of the storage tanks we looked at weren't bolted down with big bolts," he said. "They rely on gravity to hold them down. If an industrial property is 5 feet below sea level and the water gets to 5 feet above sea level, that's 10 feet of water, and I'm certain many we looked at will float free.

"You'll see a lot of highly volatile stuff on the surface, and one spark and we'll have a major fire," he said.

Another story:

[C]ops on the street, cut off from their superiors by a failure of the communications system, complained of chaos.

"Put this in your paper," one officer on Canal Street said. "They told us nothing. We were unprepared. We are completely on our own.''

[More Katrina posts]


Ed Fitzgerald | 8/30/2005 02:30:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Quick take

Among other things, blogging is an attempt to organize reality in such a way that it can be more easily coped with.

At least I assume that's why I'm bothering to research, collate and write posts about Katrna that, almost certainly, only a handful of people will ever read (if that).

I also subscrbe to the idea that blogging about things is better than yelling back at the TV, and this may help to explain my recent hiatus from blogging. (Really, it was more like a self-enforced slowdown.) It was provoked by a continuing poltical reality so painful that it could no longer be re-organized to be comfortably lived with, and prolonged by my effort to simplify my own daily reality to the point where it didn't need to be reorganized.

Or maybe I was just tired, and need a break.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/30/2005 02:25:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, August 29, 2005

Where's the Beef?

My favorite philosopher, Daniel Dennett, had an op-ed in the New York Times on "intelligent design", Show Me The Science:
The focus on intelligent design has, paradoxically, obscured something else: genuine scientific controversies about evolution that abound. In just about every field there are challenges to one established theory or another. The legitimate way to stir up such a storm is to come up with an alternative theory that makes a prediction that is crisply denied by the reigning theory - but that turns out to be true, or that explains something that has been baffling defenders of the status quo, or that unifies two distant theories at the cost of some element of the currently accepted view.

To date, the proponents of intelligent design have not produced anything like that. No experiments with results that challenge any mainstream biological understanding. No observations from the fossil record or genomics or biogeography or comparative anatomy that undermine standard evolutionary thinking.

Instead, the proponents of intelligent design use a ploy that works something like this. First you misuse or misdescribe some scientist's work. Then you get an angry rebuttal. Then, instead of dealing forthrightly with the charges leveled, you cite the rebuttal as evidence that there is a "controversy" to teach.

Note that the trick is content-free. You can use it on any topic. "Smith's work in geology supports my argument that the earth is flat," you say, misrepresenting Smith's work. When Smith responds with a denunciation of your misuse of her work, you respond, saying something like: "See what a controversy we have here? Professor Smith and I are locked in a titanic scientific debate. We should teach the controversy in the classrooms." And here is the delicious part: you can often exploit the very technicality of the issues to your own advantage, counting on most of us to miss the point in all the difficult details.

William Dembski, one of the most vocal supporters of intelligent design, notes that he provoked Thomas Schneider, a biologist, into a response that Dr. Dembski characterizes as "some hair-splitting that could only look ridiculous to outsider observers." What looks to scientists - and is - a knockout objection by Dr. Schneider is portrayed to most everyone else as ridiculous hair-splitting.

In short, no science. Indeed, no intelligent design hypothesis has even been ventured as a rival explanation of any biological phenomenon. This might seem surprising to people who think that intelligent design competes directly with the hypothesis of non-intelligent design by natural selection. But saying, as intelligent design proponents do, "You haven't explained everything yet," is not a competing hypothesis. Evolutionary biology certainly hasn't explained everything that perplexes biologists. But intelligent design hasn't yet tried to explain anything.

To formulate a competing hypothesis, you have to get down in the trenches and offer details that have testable implications. So far, intelligent design proponents have conveniently sidestepped that requirement, claiming that they have no specifics in mind about who or what the intelligent designer might be.

And that bit of intellectual dishonesty, claiming that they don't have a specific "designer" in mind, provokes Dennett's ultimate question: "Is intelligent design a hoax?" The answer is that it most certainly is: it's a classic example of bait-and-switch, the technique beloved by hucksters of all kind.

Scott Atran points out one of the dangers:

As Americans rose against England, inspired by Benjamin Franklin's credo that "rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God," English historian Edward Gibbon wrote Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, attributing Rome's collapse to religious infection by Christianity. Ever since, most politicians and ordinary people have continued to praise God whereas most scientists and secularly-minded scholars have continued to bemoan religion's influence and predict its demise. If anything, religious fervor is increasing across the world, including in the United States, the world's most economically powerful and scientifically advanced society. An underlying reason is that science treats humans and their intentions only as incidental elements in the universe, whereas in religion — as for people generally — they are central. Personal gods speak to people's problems. But in purging intentional causes from science, including supernatural agents, great progress has been made in understanding nature and helping people, as with modern medicine. Those who preach intelligent design would reintroduce intention into science and so reduce science's capacity to serve. For society, that is an unintelligent design.

As many have often noted, science is a tool, it can be abused and misused, but the scientific method has not only been the most powerful tool humanity has ever devised for uncovering facts about the natural world, on the whole, it has been the most tool which has benefitted us the most as well.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/29/2005 11:17:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Big One for the Big Easy


"Imagine the city of New Orleans closed for four to six months."
Jefferson Parish Emergency Preparedness Director Walter Maestri

Here's why New Orleans is in such danger from Hurricane Katrina (from the Army Corps of Engineers website):

Obviously, if we see anything like the 25-30 foot storm surge that's currently being predicted, water from Lake Ponchartrain (which connects to the Gulf of Mexico via Lake Borgne and the Mississippi River via shipping canals) will be pushed over the protective levees and floodwalls and be captured in the bowl that New Orleans sits in. I've heard reports of possibly 20 feet of water in Bourbon Street. Residents and businesses there have apparently not done much in the way of protecting themselves from flooding, and one can certainly see why that would be: 20 feet puts the water up to the second storey.

As of this moment (about 2am Eastern), it looks as if the storm will strike the Big Easy head on. The damage could be extensive:

On August 28, 1101 AM CDT, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a bulletin predicting catastrophic damage to the city. Effects include at least partial destruction of one out of every two well-constructed houses in the city, damage to most industrial buildings rendering them inoperable, the total destruction of all wood-framed low-rise apartment buildings, and the creation of a huge debris field of trees, telephone poles, cars, and collapsed buildings.

Further predictions are that the standing water caused by huge storm surges will render most of the city uninhabitable for weeks, while the destruction of oil and petrochemical refineries in the surrounding area will spill waste into the flooding, converting the city into a toxic marsh until water can be drained. Some experts say that it could take six months or longer to pump all the water out of the city. Even after the area has been drained, all buildings will need to undergo inspection to determine structural soundness, as all buildings in the city are likely to be at least partly submerged. Damage and subsequent recovery efforts are predicted to cost the city of New Orleans in excess of US$100 billion. [From Wikipedia]

The devastation has been long anticipated [American Public Media, Sept. 2002]:

On a recent evening, a scientist pulls up in the French Quarter. Joe Suhayda takes a plastic rod out of his trunk and he proceeds to show us what could happen the next time a hurricane hits New Orleans.

"OK, this is tool that I have a range rod," explains Suyhayda. "It will show us how high the water would be if we were hit with a Category Five Hurricane."

Which would mean what?

"Twenty feet of water above where we are standing now," says Suyhayda.


A Category Five Hurricane is the most powerful storm on a scientific scale. Suhayda plants the rod on the sidewalk next to a 200-year-old building that's all wrought iron balconies and faded brick and wooden shutters. Every click marks another foot that the flood would rise up this building.

I can't believe you're still going.

"Yeah, still going," says Suyhayda.

Until a couple months ago, Suhayda ran a prominent research center at Louisiana State University. They've developed the most detailed computer models that anybody's ever used to predict how hurricanes could affect this region. Studies suggest that there's roughly a one in six chance that a killer hurricane will strike New Orleans over the next 50 years.

Suhayda is still extending his stick as he describes what he is doing, "It's well above the second floor, just about to the rooftop."

It's hard to comprehend.

"Yes," agrees Suyahada, "it is really, to think that that much water would occur in this city during a catastrophic storm."

Do you expect this kind of hurricane—this kind of flooding—will hit New Orleans in our lifetime?

"Well I would say the probability is yes," says Suyahada. "In terms of past experience, we've had three storms that were near misses—that could have done at least something close to this."

Basically, the part of New Orleans that most Americans—most people around the world—think is New Orleans, would disappear.

Suyhayda agrees, "It would, that's right."


People have known for centuries that New Orleans is a risky spot — the biggest river in North America wraps around it; and most of the land is below sea level. But researchers say they've been learning just how grave the problem is, only in the last few years. And they say the city and the nation aren't prepared to handle it.

To begin to understand why, we clamber up the levees along the Mississippi River. Our guide is Oliver Houck, who runs the environment program at Tulane University Law School.

Houck describes it, "There's no place in the world that has a levee system that is as extensive as this one—it's a monster system."

Walter Maestri [czar of public emergencies in Jefferson Parish] thinks 40,000 people could lose their lives in the metropolitan area if a hurricane were to hit.

The U.S. Army built this monster system we're standing on. Since the late 1800s, the Army Corps of Engineers has built more than 2,000 miles of high, grassy embankments, along the Mississippi and its branches.

"This levee system is to levees around the world, the way that the Great Wall of China is to walls around the world," continues Houck. "There are other walls and then there is The Wall. There are other levees and then there is The Levee system.

The Army built it because storms over the Mississippi used to cause massive floods. Back in the 1920s, the river gushed over its banks and killed thousands of people and forced a million to abandon their homes.

"It was always thought that the big threat of flooding in New Orleans was the river—and it was—because it flooded regularly," explains Houck. "So we beat flooding by taming the river. The irony of history has been that we—like one of those old citadels in an adventure story— defended ourselves against the enemy that we knew, which was the river, but to the rear and to the flank was this other threat, which we are only now beginning to appreciate, and it may be too late to prevent.


Maestri says imagine what happens if a huge storm hits just to the east of the city.

"The hurricane is spinning counter-clockwise, it's now got a wall of water in front of it some 30 to 40 feet high, as it approaches the levees that surround the city, it tops those levees," describes Maestri. "The water comes over the top - and first the communities on the west side of the Mississippi river go under. Now Lake Ponchetrain— which is on the eastern side of the community—now that water from Lake Ponchetrain is now pushed on the population that is fleeing from the western side, and everybody's caught in the middle. The bowl now completely fills and we've got the entire community under water, some 20 to 30 feet under water."

Remember all those levees that the U.S. Army built around New Orleans, to hold smaller floods out of the bowl? Maestri says now those levees would doom the city, because they'll trap the water in.

"It's going to look like a massive shipwreck," says Maestri. "Everything that the water has carried in is going to be there. It's going to have to be cleaned out— alligators, moccasins and god knows what that lives in the surrounding swamps, has now been flushed -literally—into the metropolitan area. And they can't get out, because they're inside the bowl now. No water to drink, no water to use for sanitation purposes. All of the sanitation plants are under water and of course, the material is floating free in the community. The petrochemicals that are produced up and down the Mississippi river—much of that has floated into this bowl... The biggest toxic waste dump in the world now is the city of New Orleans because of what has happened."


New Orleans has protected itself from past floods partly with the levees, but the city also operates one of the biggest pumping systems on earth. There are giant turbines all across town, and every time there's a major rain, they suck up the water and pump it out. [Army Corps of Engineers chief researcher Jay] Combes says that system won't work after a huge hurricane.

"The problem," says Combe, "is that the city's been underwater. And the whole city has to be drained by the pumps, and since the pumps have been under the water, the pumps are flooded. They don't operate now— we have to get the pumps back in operation and in order to get the pumps back in order, we have to get the water out of the city."

Sounds like a Catch 22.

"That's correct."


Researcher Jay Combe has reached a troubling conclusion. He's told his supervisors at the Army Corps of Engineers that if The Hurricane hits New Orleans, most of the buildings in the city would probably be destroyed. If the water didn't demolish them, the hurricane's horrific winds would. And Combe says that raises a question: How many people would die?

Some researchers say 40,000. Some say 20,000. This Army Corps researcher says those figures are probably too low.

Combe worries, "I think of a terrible disaster. I think of 100,000."

That's anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 deaths from a category 5 hurricane hitting directly on New Orleans. (By way of comparison, the estimated death toll from the Indian Ocean tsunami is around 230,000.)

[Note: As of 3am Eastern, Katrina has been downgraded to a strong category 4 storm, with sustained winds of 155 mph (just under the limit to be considered a category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale).]

There's more on the potential impact to New Orleans from a major storm here:

The Mississippi River delta's flat, buckling geography makes it uniquely vulnerable to hurricanes, which destroy with wind, rain, tornadoes and a tidal wave known as storm surge. High winds account for most hurricane damage elsewhere. Louisiana is vulnerable to both winds and floods. When a giant storm surge hits the shallows near the shoreline, the only direction the water can move is up. Like water sloshing against the wall of a bathtub, a storm surge running into a steep, solid coast rises suddenly, then dissipates. Along a gradual slope like the Mississippi River delta's, the surge doesn't rise as high but can penetrate dozens of miles inland.


The problem for south Louisiana is that the natural protections are rapidly deteriorating, and that in turn is weakening man-made defenses, mainly because the entire delta region is sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. The Louisiana coast resembles a bowl placed in a sink full of water. Push it down, or just tip it slightly, and water rushes in.


If enough water from Lake Pontchartrain topped the levee system along its south shore, the result would be apocalyptic. Vast areas would be submerged for days or weeks until engineers dynamited the levees to let the water escape. Some places on the east bank of Orleans and Jefferson parishes are as low as 10 feet below sea level. Adding a 20-foot storm surge from a Category 4 or 5 storm would mean 30 feet of standing water.

Whoever remained in the city would be at grave risk. According to the American Red Cross, a likely death toll would be between 25,000 and 100,000 people, dwarfing estimated death tolls for other natural disasters and all but the most nightmarish potential terrorist attacks. Tens of thousands more would be stranded on rooftops and high ground, awaiting rescue that could take days or longer. They would face thirst, hunger and exposure to toxic chemicals.

"We don't know where the pipelines are, and you have the landfills, oil and gas facilities, abandoned brine pits, hardware stores, gas stations, the chemicals in our houses," said Ivor van Heerden, assistant director of the LSU Hurricane Center. "We have no idea what people will be exposed to. You're looking at the proverbial witch's brew of chemicals."


With computer modeling of hurricanes and storm surges, disaster experts have developed a detailed picture of how a storm could push Lake Pontchartrain over the levees and into the city.

"The worst case is a hurricane moving in from due south of the city," said Suhayda, who has developed a computer simulation of the flooding from such a storm. On that track, winds on the outer edges of a huge storm system would be pushing water in Breton Sound and west of the Chandeleur Islands into the St. Bernard marshes and then Lake Pontchartrain for two days before landfall.

"Water is literally pumped into Lake Pontchartrain," Suhayda said. "It will try to flow through any gaps, and that means the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (which is connected to Breton Sound by the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet) and the Chef Menteur and the Rigolets passes.

"So now the lake is 5 to 8 feet higher than normal, and we're talking about a lake that's only 15 or 20 feet deep, so you're adding a third to a half as much water to the lake," Suhayda said. As the eye of the hurricane moves north, next to New Orleans but just to the east, the winds over the lake switch around to come from the north.

"As the eye impacts the Mississippi coastline, the winds are now blowing south across the lake, maybe at 50, 80, 100 mph, and all that water starts to move south," he said. "It's moving like a big army advancing toward the lake's hurricane-protection system. And then the winds themselves are generating waves, 5 to 10 feet high, on top of all that water. They'll be breaking and crashing along the sea wall."

Soon waves will start breaking over the levee.

"All of a sudden you'll start seeing flowing water. It'll look like a weir, water just pouring over the top," Suhayda said. The water will flood the lakefront, filling up low-lying areas first, and continue its march south toward the river. There would be no stopping or slowing it; pumping systems would be overwhelmed and submerged in a matter of hours.

"Another scenario is that some part of the levee would fail," Suhayda said. "It's not something that's expected. But erosion occurs, and as levees broke, the break will get wider and wider. The water will flow through the city and stop only when it reaches the next higher thing. The most continuous barrier is the south levee, along the river. That's 25 feet high, so you'll see the water pile up on the river levee."

As the floodwaters invade and submerge neighborhoods, the wind will be blowing at speeds of at least 155 mph, accompanied by shorter gusts of as much as 200 mph, meteorologists say, enough to overturn cars, uproot trees and toss people around like dollhouse toys.

The wind will blow out windows and explode many homes, even those built to the existing 110-mph building-code standards. People seeking refuge from the floodwaters in high-rise buildings won't be very safe, recent research indicates, because wind speed in a hurricane gets greater with height. If the winds are 155 mph at ground level, scientists say, they may be 50 mph stronger 100 feet above street level.

Buildings also will have to withstand pummeling by debris picked up by water surging from the lakefront toward downtown, with larger pieces acting like battering rams.

Ninety percent of the structures in the city are likely to be destroyed by the combination of water and wind accompanying a Category 5 storm, said Robert Eichorn, former director of the New Orleans Office of Emergency Preparedness. The LSU Hurricane Center surveyed numerous large public buildings in Jefferson Parish in hopes of identifying those that might withstand such catastrophic winds. They found none.

Amid this maelstrom, the estimated 200,000 or more people left behind in an evacuation will be struggling to survive. Some will be housed at the Superdome, the designated shelter in New Orleans for people too sick or infirm to leave the city. Others will end up in last-minute emergency refuges that will offer minimal safety. But many will simply be on their own, in homes or looking for high ground.

Thousands will drown while trapped in homes or cars by rising water. Others will be washed away or crushed by debris. Survivors will end up trapped on roofs, in buildings or on high ground surrounded by water, with no means of escape and little food or fresh water, perhaps for several days.

"If you look at the World Trade Center collapsing, it'll be like that, but add water," Eichorn said. "There will be debris flying around, and you're going to be in the water with snakes, rodents, nutria and fish from the lake. It's not going to be nice."

Mobilized by FEMA, search and rescue teams from across the nation will converge on the city. Volunteer teams of doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians that were pre-positioned in Monroe or Shreveport before the storm will move to the area, said Henry Delgado, regional emergency coordinator for the U.S. Public Health Service.

But just getting into the city will be a problem for rescuers. Approaches by road may be washed out.


Stranded survivors will have a dangerous wait even after the storm passes. Emergency officials worry that energized electrical wires could pose a threat of electrocution and that the floodwater could become contaminated with sewage and with toxic chemicals from industrial plants and backyard sheds. Gasoline, diesel fuel and oil leaking from underground storage tanks at service stations may also become a problem, corps officials say.

A variety of creatures -- rats, mice and nutria, poisonous snakes and alligators, fire ants, mosquitoes and abandoned cats and dogs -- will be searching for the same dry accommodations that people are using.

Contaminated food or water used for bathing, drinking and cooking could cause illnesses including salmonella, botulism, typhoid and hepatitis. Outbreaks of mosquito-borne dengue fever and encephalitis are likely, said Dr. James Diaz, director of the department of public health and preventive medicine at LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans. [More]

It all sounds distressingly apocalyptic -- but we all may be affected in some way:

Crude-oil and natural-gas prices may soar after Hurricane Katrina moved into production regions of the Gulf of Mexico, forcing companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. to close operations.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc said it shut 420,000 barrels of daily oil production in the Gulf. The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, which handles about 11 percent of U.S. imports, closed yesterday. Katrina is one of the most powerful storms ever to enter the Gulf, source of about 30 percent of U.S. oil production and 24 percent of the country's natural gas.

``Forecasters are saying Katrina could do more energy damage than any storm in recent years,'' said Jason Schenker an economist with Wachovia Corp. in Charlotte. ``It's not just that there's going to be outages for the next couple of days. With shutdowns and damage at platforms and refineries, the bullish impact could be felt for the rest of the year.''

[Bloomberg News]

That probably means higher gas prices, perhaps fairly quickly, especially if refineries have to be shut down as well.

As I sit here, at home in my little apartment in Manhattan, and watch the wall-to-wall coverage of Katrina on cable TV, the feeling is something like the one I felt during the lead-in to the war in Iraq, as we got closer and closer to what was obviously going to be a long-term disaster about which I could do nothing.

Update (9:10am): CNN is reporting that part of the roof of the Superdome in New Orleans, where about 10,000 people are sheltered from the storm, has opened up. A local reporter said that he could see daylight through a section of the roof that was about 1/12th of the entire circumference.

There is, of course, no chance of doing anything about it.

(10:10am): I've heard reports of water going over at least one levee in New Orleans, but no indication of how much or where. The only specific report concerned a canal near Tennessee Street, which I think might be the slanted canal below the north-south canal to the left of center of the map below (near where it says Claiborne St.):

There have also been reports of "total structural damage" to buildings, but I haven't heard these confirmed by anyone on the scene. Brian Williams of MSNBC is reporting "many many holes" in the Superdome roof with "a whole lot of water" coming in, but no indication that the roof is going to fail catastrophically.

In any event, the eye of the storm seems to be passing to the east of the city, and the predicted storm surge in Lake Ponchartrain seems like it will be under 15 feet. Since I believe the levees and floodwalls protecting the city vary from 13-20 feet, it'll be close. The city is already flooding, but from the rain and not (as far as I've heard) from water from the lake or the Mississippi River.

It looks like perhaps Biloxi and Gulfport in Mississippi will be hardest hit.


AP: The National Weather Service reported that a levee broke on the Industrial Canal near the St. Bernard-Orleans parish line, and 3 to 8 feet of flooding was possible. The Industrial Canal is a 5.5-mile waterway that connects the Mississippi River to the Intracoastal Waterway.

[This is probably the same canal I indicated above; see "I.H.N.C." on the map below. - Ed]

Note: The Army Corps of Engineers district website seems to be unavailable, possibly because of power outages in the area, so I've copied the graphics in the post above to my own storage and adjusted the URLs.

Postscript: There's not a lot that's humorous about a natural disaster such as Katrina (especially when its effects have almost certainly been exascerbated by human denial or neglect of serious problems, as illustrated above) but this is amusing, and illustrates why so many of us have such profound respect for Faux News.

Update Tues 2:30am: This is not amusing in any way. CNN just had a live interview with someone from Tulane University Hosptal, who said that the water there was rising at the rate of 1 inch every 5 minutes (which is 1 foot per hour), and that the rate was increasing over time. In fact, every report I've seen from inside New Orleans has said that the flood water there is rising, hampering rescue efforts.

Much more seriously, the woman reported that the Louisiana State Police confirmed that there is a 2 block long breach on the Orleans Parsh side of the levee at the 17th Street canal. That levee is there to hold back the water of Lake Ponchartrain, but she described water pouring down Canal Street so fast that it had whitecaps.

Water from the lake flooding the city is clearly one of the major components of the nightmare scenarios I posted above.

This is not good.

[This link should bring you to a Google Map which shows Tulane University Medical Center, where I believe the woman was reporting from, and the 17th Street Canal -- which is the thin north-south strip of blue in the center top of the map, just to the west of Ponchartrain Blvd. Canal Street goes northwest of the hospital, and if the water is streaming down it, it might be that the breach in the levee is somewhere near the Lake Lawn Park Cemetary, which can be seen almost in the direct center of the map. This is speculation, of course.]

Note: Any additional updates will be attached to this post.

[More Katrina posts]


Ed Fitzgerald | 8/29/2005 01:50:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Heart disease in NYC

Since I suffered a heart attack a little over a year ago (from cornorary artery disease, alleviated by the implantation of two stents -- I'm doing very well, thank you), this, from the NY Times, is obviously of interest to me:
Death rates from heart disease in New York City and its suburbs are among the highest recorded in the country, and no one quite knows why.

Heart disease is more common among poorer people. Yet Nassau County, one of the 15 highest-income counties in the country, suffers heart disease death at a rate 20 percent above the norm, a review of death certificate records by The New York Times shows. Some New Jersey counties have similar rates. All the city boroughs except Manhattan have rates as high as rural counties in the South and Appalachia.

The pattern has raised questions about whether people in the New York area live with an excess of heart disease risks -- stress, bad diets, too little exercise.


There is no obvious explanation. Some speculate about the potential role of stress. It is widely believed that life in New York is more difficult, and stress has been linked to higher heart disease mortality. A 1999 study showed that people were more likely to die of a heart attack in New York City than elsewhere. The authors suggested stress could play a role because the excess death rate affected both visitors and residents; they found no other explanation.

''There's an acute effect of being in New York,'' said Nicholas Christenfeld, a psychologist at the University of California at San Diego who did the study. ''You're wired the whole time.'' But stress is difficult to measure, and there is no proof that life is more stressful in and around New York, despite the popular notions.

There is also a growing volume of research showing that heart disease death rates are higher in places with big gaps between the rich and the poor. Metropolitan areas with less income inequality -- Seattle, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City -- have lower heart disease death rates. New York's metropolitan area ranks at the top in income inequality.

Well, I take solace from Manhattan apparently being an outlier to the effect, but it would still be good to know why this is. I was lucky enough to have my attack right across the street from a major hospital (Beth Israel) with a cardiac catherization lab, so I was able to walk into the ER within minutes of first becoming aware that something was happening. If I had started to walk home, the next hospital I would have passed (Cabrini) doesn't have such a unit, which would have delayed my treatment, perhaps signifcantly.

Obviously I lucked out in dodging that particular bullet.

I really don't have a clue why New York and its suburbs should have a higher rate of death for heart disease, but I do have a notion why Manhattan's rate is more in line with the national average, and that is that Manhattanites, to my observation, tend to walk more than New Yorkers from the outer boroughs or folks from the suburbs, and are therefore, perhaps, generally in better physical condition.

[Link via Follow Me Here]

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/28/2005 11:14:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A Connecticut Library takes King Bush to Court

From the American Library Association website:

Connecticut Library Takes on Patriot Act

A Connecticut library is suing the Justice Department to challenge an FBI demand for its user records, billing information, and internet logs under authorization of Section 505 of the USA Patriot Act, the New York Times reported August 26. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has joined the unnamed library in the lawsuit, announced that it was filed under seal August 9 with the U.S. District Court in Bridgeport. The complaint focuses on the FBI’s use of an administrative subpoena called a national security letter to obtain library records without approval of a judge in an “investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities,” as the FBI letter—released by the ACLU with a redacted public version of the complaint—reads.

Because of a gag order imposed by the Patriot Act, the identity of the institution, the specific records being sought, the date of the request, and other details of the incident cannot be disclosed.

Good luck challenging the power of the Imperial Presidency, especially when Congress is in connivance to cede our individual liberty in the chimerical pursuit of safety and security.

[With a tip of the hat to Bob Park's What's New]

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/28/2005 10:26:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A benighted last-ditch effort

Hendrik Hertzberg in The New Yorker:
At a “round table” with Texas reporters, the President was asked to comment on “what seems to be a growing debate over evolution versus intelligent design” and whether “both should be taught in public schools.”
THE PRESIDENT: I think—as I said, harking back to my days as my governor—both you and Herman are doing a fine job of dragging me back to the past. (Laughter.) Then, I said that, first of all, that decision should be made to local school districts, but I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught.

Q: Both sides should be properly taught?

THE PRESIDENT : Yes, people — so people can understand what the debate is about.

Q: So the answer accepts the validity of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution?

THE PRESIDENT : I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought, and I'm not suggesting — you're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes.
Looked at one way, this colloquy is an occasion for national shame, albeit with a whiff of the risible: here is our country's leader, the champion-in-chief of educational standards, blandly equating natural science and supernatural supposition as “different schools of thought.” Looked at another way, it represents progress of a sort. Twenty-five years ago, Ronald Reagan, then the Republican candidate for President, endorsed the teaching of “creationism”; five years ago, George W. Bush did the same. “Creationism” holds that dinosaurs and people coexisted, and that the fossil record is a product of Noah's flood. Next to that, “intelligent design” represents a scientific advance, or a tactical retreat, or maybe just the evolutionary process at work. I.D. recognizes that the age of the universe is measured in billions, not thousands, of years; that fossils are evidence, not divine tricks to test believers' faith; and that organisms change over time, sometimes via natural selection. This is tantamount to an admission that the Genesis story is poetry, not history; allegory, not fact.

But I.D. — whose central (and easily refuted) talking point is that certain structures of living things are too intricate to have evolved without the intervention of an “intelligent designer” (and You know who You are) — enjoys virtually no scientific support. It is not even a theory, in the scientific sense, because it is untestable and unsupportable by empirical evidence. It is a last-ditch skirmish in a misguided war against reason that cannot be won and, for religion's sake as well as science's, should not be fought. If the President's musings on it were an isolated crotchet, they would hardly be worth noting, let alone getting exercised about. But they're not. They reflect an attitude toward science that has infected every corner of his Administration. From the beginning, the Bush White House has treated science as a nuisance and scientists as an interest group — one that, because it lies outside the governing conservative coalition, need not be indulged. That's why the White House - sometimes in the service of political Christianism or ideological fetishism, more often in obeisance to baser interests like the petroleum, pharmaceutical, and defense industries - has altered, suppressed, or overriden scientific findings on global warming; missile defense; H.I.V./ AIDS; pollution from industrial farming and oil drilling; forest management and endangered species; environmental health, including lead and mercury poisoning in children and safety standards for drinking water; and non-abstinence methods of birth control and sexually-transmitted-disease prevention. It has grossly misled the public on the number of stem-cell lines available for research. It has appointed unqualified ideologues to scientific advisory committees and has forced out scientists who persist in pointing out inconvenient facts. All this and more has been amply documented in reports from congressional Democrats and the Union of Concerned Scientists, in such leading scientific publications as Nature, Scientific American, Science, and The Lancet, and in a new book, “The Republican War on Science,” by the science journalist Chris Mooney.

...The White House science adviser, John H. Marburger III, evidently embarrassed by his boss's evolutionary equivocations, told the Times that “intelligent design is not a scientific concept.” And the cover story in the current National Journal, a well-informed and relentlessly nonpartisan Washington weekly, reports that growing numbers of Republican politicians and corporate chieftains “who once dismissed as unproven the idea that the burning of fossil fuels is causing a harmful rise in Earth's temperature have now concluded that global warming is real—and very dangerous.” As a result, the magazine says, “Advocates of muscular governmental efforts to slow or reverse global warming predict that the United States will eventually take strong action — but they doubt that such action will come on Bush's watch.” In this White House, science's name is mud. And, unlike those intelligent designers in the sky, all this crowd knows how to do is sling it.

[Link and emphasis added. -- Ed]

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/28/2005 09:42:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Pulping Posner

Eric Alterman responds to Richard Posner's recent tendentious essay on media bias:
Three years ago, the legal scholar Richard Posner reached beyond his field of expertise and published his study of 546 public intellectuals, in which he included such well-known scholars as Ann Coulter and David Horowitz but somehow did not see fit to include Paul Berman, Alan Ryan, Ian Buruma, Simon Schama, David Kennedy, Tzvetan Todorov and Robert Hughes, among many others. These public intellectuals, I wrote at the time, ''belong not merely on a list of 546 but on any competent grouping one-tenth its size.'' After reading his 4,600-plus-word essay in the Book Review on media criticism, I see that as a guide to media bias, as well as public intellectual discourse, Professor Posner is a good lawyer.

Posner asserts that my friend Bill Moyers and I are guilty of ''hyperbole'' when we point to the right-wing domination of our media discourse during the Bush era. Naturally, I beg to differ. During the course of his essay, Posner asserts that ''most journalists are liberals'' and deploys the term ''liberal newspapers'' without evidence or definition. He cites the figure of 56 percent for journalists describing themselves as liberal, compared with 14 percent using the appellation among the American public. In fact, a May 2005 study by the Annenberg Center at the University of Southern California found just 31 percent of journalists describing themselves as ''liberal,'' while a June 2004 Wall Street Journal report put the number of self-described liberals among the American public at 21 percent. Both figures are consistent with other findings and nowhere near Posner's convenient, but highly suspect, statistics.

What's more, Posner's ideological sleight of hand does not address the definitions of the descriptive terms ''liberal'' and ''conservative.'' According to a May 2005 survey published by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, 65 percent of Americans who were questioned favor providing health insurance to all Americans, even if it means increasing taxes, and a full 86 percent say that they favor raising the minimum wage. Seventy-seven percent of those polled believe the country ''should do whatever it takes to protect the environment,'' while 63 percent subscribe to that view ''strongly.'' With regard to foreign policy, a May 2005 Rasmussen poll found that 49 percent of Americans say that President Bush is more responsible for starting the war with Iraq than Saddam Hussein, compared with only 44 percent who believe that it was Saddam Hussein's fault. During 2005, strong majorities of Americans polled have consistently expressed disapproval of the war and told pollsters they believe the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into it. By similarly significant majorities, Americans believe the Iraqi incursion has made the nation less, rather than more, secure.

In the mainstream media, these views are considered so ''liberal'' as to be all but unspeakable, save for a few outliers like The Times's Frank Rich and Paul Krugman. (Note that not a single liberal is the host of his or her own cable shout fest, while conservatives not only dominate commercial TV but are taking over PBS as well.) Throw in the power of advertisers to dictate content in many outlets, the adverse effects of media consolidation on journalists who wish to ask tough questions of the powerful, and the Bush administration's extremely unfriendly attitude toward those journalists who do not toe its hard-right line, and you have a recipe for media that both frame and report the news in a manner that is well to the right of the views of most Americans, with little evidence of an apocryphal ''liberal bias.''

Posner, a sitting Federal appeals judge, writes books faster than most Americans, myself included, reads books -- his velocity aided by a distinct pre-set ideology (he apparently believes that almost everything about human life can be reduced to simple mathematics) through which he filters everything, enabling him to avoid time-consuming thoughtful analysis. To say that Posner lacks empathy is an understatement. One would think that such a flaw would be a fatal one for someone in his position.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/28/2005 04:20:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Dissing The Donald

I believe that this accurately reflects the prevailing attitude of my fellow Gothamites:
[M]ost New Yorkers, including me, would readily climb the arch in Washington Square to drop a flowerpot filled with nasturtiums on [Donald] Trump's astonishing head if given half a chance to do so.

Amen, Brother!

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/28/2005 04:01:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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