Thoughts on Japan From a Katrina Survivor
Part 1, The destruction.

As many of you know,
after Katrina devastated New Orleans, I spent several months studying
why it happened and the damage from the storm. I probably
single-handedly made the price of crude oil move up a nicked I burned so
much fuel driving through the city. The damage -it seemed- was
infinite. When I took people from out of town, I’d make them use the
restroom before we left because we’d be driving two or sometimes three
hours and there would not be a working restroom. And we’d never see the
same thing twice. Everything was destroyed.

If you’ve watched the videos of the tsunamis pouring over Japan and
struggled to put it into perspective in your head, let me try to help.
YOU HAVE NO IDEA. I never thought I’d live long enough to type these
words…. Katrina was child’s play.

Allow me to explain.

]]>< ![CDATA[When most people think of Katrina, they think of people stranded at the Superdome for a few days or the pictures of people on their roofs, or maybe the whole city underwater at once. And all that was bad. But the real damage from Katrina was done not by rising water but by moving water. If water rises slowly, even if it sits in your house for a few weeks, the damage is not that bad. (well, in relative terms) Water moving quickly however is another ballgame. The areas of the city that were the most damaged were the ones closest to the where the water entered the city. -- In Lakeview where a negligently engineered flood wall collapsed even before the storm arrived, whole neighborhoods were destroyed by the force of the water rushing through the break and into the city. In the lower ninth ward we saw the same thing. The water rushing in leveled (I dunno) probably 4 square miles of buildings. As I drove though town after the storm, I figured out something that probably few people know. It started when I was struck by how differently flooded cars looked in different neighborhoods. In some areas of town, the cars where up on roofs. In others they were turned on their backs or sides while other areas of town the cars the cars had floated several feet from their parking places but were on 4 wheels. — Still other sections, the cars were flooded but were exactly where people left them. Why the difference? After several weeks I solved the puzzle. You could tell the speed at which the water rose in that part of town by looking at the cars. The matrix looks something like this:

  • Cars on the roof or fence etc =
    Water rose so fast the car floated and the water rose high enough to
    float it over the house or fence. Big damage area.
  • Cars on their side or back but in the streets = Water rushed thru fast
    enough to tumble the cars but did not rise high enough to let them float
    up on anything.
  • Cars that floated some distance from there original
    parking space, but still on 4 wheels = medium speed water rise that
    floated the cars up and carried them away. These cars usually sank after
    the air bubble in the car was displaced by water.

If a car had clearly been underwater but was obviously in the
driveway where someone parked it before the storm, it meant the water rose so slowly the car never floated at all. For a
car to float, the water must rise faster than the air can escape the
cabin area and that’s pretty quick.

It was ASTONISHING how accurately the locations of the cars in an
area could be used as a proxy for the damage in that area. I could look
down a side street and know the extent of the damage to the buildings
just by looking at the cars. Dramatic movement of cars = faster water
movement = more damage.

After Katrina, much was made about the city having to be pumped out. But I’ll take sitting water over moving water any day. In Katrina, the moving water damage was limited to certain areas, the bulk of the damage was caused by the flood water itself. In Japan the movement of the water was unimaginable…

I combed youtube and selected 4 videos to show the scope of tsunamis.
The first is a helicopter shot of the tsunami offshore and rushing over a mostly rural
area. This is the big picture so to speak.  We ‘zoom in’ with each video
until the astonishing first person view on the last one.

Remember these walls of water can be 30 feet high:

The person taking this video is standing almost a mile (about 8/10th) from what used to be the shore.

Every river or bay or body of water that emptied into the sea, became a superhighway of water bringing the tsunami miles on shore.

This video is nothing short of amazing. It is taken a quarter mile on shore. At this exact location. The water shows no sign of slowing. To really put things into perspective, this is 60 miles up the coast from the airport. Think about that.

And this is video that we could get from areas where people survived to record it. Other areas nobody lived to upload video to youtube. — Check out these two links to see the real destruction in the form of before and after pictures. ABC NYT And remember this is not including the damage from the 8.9 magnitude earthquake. Or the fires. As I said, this makes Katrina look like child’s play.

In part two, I’ll discuss some of the challenges Japan faces in making civilization where there is none.

A PIthy musical interlude
Three Cheers For The DUmmies