[Note: This is a repost from 11 months ago. As it stands things look far worse this time. Some of the links are old, but I don’t have time to deal with it now. This storm is stronger, it will probably hit closer and we had far less warning. In simple terms, it doesn’t look good.]
There was a study done for the hurricane preparedness folks in the New Orleans area this summer. I don’t remember who did the study or any of the specifics but I do remember that it was so grim it dominated talk radio for 3 days locally.
For those who don’t know, New Orleans is a bowl and, for all practical purposes, an island. We have Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the Mississippi river to the south. The east and west are water too.
Most of the city is below sea level. Over the last century we have surrounded the city by 10-12 foot earthen levees and installed some of the most massive pumps in the world. We can, unlike most cities, laugh at 24 inches of rain in 24 hours. — As long as it comes at the rate of an inch per hour. We simply pump the water out and go on with our lives.
Within these earthen walls live about a million people. In the city itself especially, many of the residents are poor and lack adequate transportation to evacuate. We have always known there was a fatal flaw in our hurricane defense. If the fabled “Big One” ever hit New Orleans we were in big trouble.
The scenario goes like this:
The tidal surge will top the levees and the bowl will fill from river to lake. The studies say that if we took a direct hit from a category 4 or 5 storm, a city of one million people could be under as much as 30 feet of water. According to the experts there could be over 50,000 dead. What’s more, since we would have to pump the water out the bowl, they say the city could be underwater for as long as 10 months. You’ll understand if I don’t dig up that link right now.
The numbers were so wildly astronomical when the survey was released just a few short weeks ago that I guffawed when I first heard them. That would never happen here. Things like that only happen in third world countries. Over the next few days, listening to a progressive number of experts explain the how’s and why’s, I was less and less skeptical of the report. As someone who prides himself on having a sensitive B.S. detector, I was faced with the reality that I had no way of dismissing these predictions out of hand. It could happen here.
But it won’t. We all knew that.
After a few days of people being somewhat freaked out, we put the survey in the back of our minds and went on with our lives. We grew up living in a hurricane zone, and besides… what are the odds… it would take a direct hit from one of the biggest storms to ever hit the United States mainland for that to happen. Sure it could happen here… but it won’t.
That was easier to believe 72 hours ago. As it stands, a category 5 storm is inching ever closer with every passing advisory to the exact angle the experts say would bring the devastation. (For those of you who are not familiar with the city, it is directly under where the 30N and 90W lines cross.) What was once a bizarre hypothetical is now an all too real threat.
With a storm producing hurricane force winds in a swath over 200 miles wide, it seems inconceivable now that we will not get 110+MPH winds over the city. A wobble on the storm’s path at this point could bring the apocalypse.
Do I think it will happen? No. How do I know? Because I’m praying.
To be clear it would take a direct hit at the right angle. But that talk was more comforting last week.
I know, being a man of science, that empirically, even with Ivan at our doorstep the experts are always wrong. The experts knew the sun rotated around the earth and the experts knew the earth was flat. They get paid to predict bad news and by golly then managed. But I’m praying.
Today about a quarter of a million people will be heading north, hoping to ride out the storm in a hotel room and return in a few days glad the storm spared us. Knowing human nature, my family and I will pack a few possessions and papers along with our family photos and head north around 3AM on Wednesday, when the traffic will be the lightest.
Right before I sat down to write this, I was on the phone with my brother in law. We both said we had accepted as a fact that our homes may not be when we return. That’s not just macho talk of the brave. That is acceptance of a grim reality.
Saturday afternoon, I’ll sit at this same desk and make a post telling everyone that we were spared the experts’ worst predictions. But in the mean time- would you do me a favor? Pray.
I was forced by both curiosity and habit to provide a link the study. [or a media report on it]
My memory was being kind to me. I had originally written 20 feet of water 40,000 dead. I had to edit the post. Now you know why I didn’t want to find this link.
I figured I’d put a cut here in the extended entry. This link is to the local paper. If the worst happens and they are hosted locally, there is a good chance the link will be dead.
… a  Category 2 storm that only grazed New Orleans, had pushed waves to within a foot of the top of the levees. A stronger storm on a slightly different course — such as the path Georges was on just 16 hours before landfall — could have realized emergency officials’ worst-case scenario: hundreds of billions of gallons of lake water pouring over the levees into an area averaging 5 feet below sea level with no natural means of drainage.
That would turn the city and the east bank of Jefferson Parish into a lake as much as 30 feet deep, fouled with chemicals and waste from ruined septic systems, businesses and homes. Such a flood could trap hundreds of thousands of people in buildings and in vehicles. At the same time, high winds and tornadoes would tear at everything left standing. Between 25,000 and 100,000 people would die, said John Clizbe, national vice president for disaster services with the American Red Cross.