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New Orleans' growing danger (Oct. 8, '04 "10,000 body bags stockpiled"
Philadelphia Inquirer (Google Cache) ^ | October 8th, 2004 | Paul Nussbaum

Posted on 08/31/2005 11:57:07 AM PDT by South Hawthorne

New Orleans' growing danger
 
Wetlands loss leaves city a hurricane hit away from disaster.
 
By Paul Nussbaum
 
Inquirer Staff Writer
 

NEW ORLEANS - From a helicopter above the Gulf of Mexico, Col. Peter Rowan could see that his first line of defense had been breached.
 
Where Breton and the Chandeleur Islands had been, only pale green water now sparkled in the sun. Hurricane Ivan had pummeled the sand and grass barriers two weeks earlier, washing away much of them - and the hurricane protection they provide for New Orleans.
 
"It looks like it's pretty much all gone," said Rowan, commander of the New Orleans district of the Army Corps of Engineers.
 
The second line of defense is vanishing, too. Wetlands, which absorb much of the storm surge of approaching hurricanes, are disappearing at the rate of 28,000 acres a year, bringing the sea that much closer to the city.
 
So New Orleans, tucked below sea level between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, is in growing danger of drowning. A direct hit by a very powerful hurricane could swamp its levees and leave as much as 20 feet of chemical-laden, snake-infested water trapped in the man-made bowl.
 
More than 25,000 people could die, emergency officials predict. That would make it the deadliest disaster in U.S. history, with many more fatalities than the San Francisco earthquake, the great Chicago fire, and the 9/11 attacks combined.
 
"It's only a matter of time," said Terry C. Tullier, city director of emergency preparedness.
 
"Ivan just missed us by a hairsbreadth," he said. "The thing that keeps me awake at night is the 100,000 people who couldn't leave."
 
Ten thousand body bags have been stockpiled by Jefferson Parish in a New Orleans suburb, just in case.
 
After Ivan slipped past 175 miles to the east, the 600,000 residents who evacuated last month returned, knowing they might need to flee again: The hurricane season lasts through November, and forecasters believe the Atlantic region has entered an active cycle that could last 15 to 30 years.
 
Engineers and ecologists are scrambling to save the city by several natural and man-made strategies, which is fitting, since nature and humans have conspired for decades to make New Orleans ever more vulnerable to a killer hurricane.
 
The root of the problem is location. New Orleans is hemmed in by 300-square-mile Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the Mississippi to the south and west. Built on newly deposited alluvial soil, the city has been sinking ever since its founding in 1718. Draining land for development has made it sink even faster. And sea levels are rising.
 
Close calls
 
To protect the city from floods, the river and lake have been lined with levees, grass-covered walls as high as 18 feet. The levees keep the Mississippi in its channel, but they have exacerbated the loss of wetlands by cutting off the periodic flood of freshwater and sediment necessary for the wetlands' survival. And the levees would trap water in the city if they are overtopped in a big hurricane.
 
Hurricanes are part of life here, as much as beignets and beads, but most recent storms have spared New Orleans. Betsy (Category 3) hit in 1965, leaving eight feet of water in some places. Camille (Category 5) in 1969 swept by 60 miles to the east. Andrew (also Category 5) in 1992 came within 100 miles. This year, it was Ivan.
 
The levees are designed to protect the city from a fast-moving Category 3 hurricane. A more powerful one, such as this year's Charley or Ivan (Category 4), or a slow Category 3 could send lake water surging over the levees.
 
The worst scenario would be a big hurricane arriving from the east, pushing a wall of water from the gulf into Lake Pontchartrain, then over the levees into the city. There it would remain, submerging single-story houses and lapping at the eaves of two-story buildings.
 
'Clinging to light poles'
 
"The Red Cross has estimated 25,000 to 100,000 would drown, and I don't think that is unrealistic," said Ivor van Heerden, director of Louisiana State University's Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes. About 300,000 of the area's 1.2 million people would not evacuate, he predicted, and many of those would be the most vulnerable - elderly, disabled, homeless, carless.
 
"You'd have people on roofs, clinging to light poles, commandeering high-rises," he said. "And wherever they were, they would be competing with animals and fire ants for the high ground." And since the New Orleans area is home to many refineries and petrochemical plants, burning gasoline on the floodwaters would be an additional hazard, he said.
 
Rescuing 300,000 people trapped inside the flooded bowl would be a logistical nightmare, and officials have started enlisting private boat owners who could help a Dunkirk-style operation to ferry people out.
 
There are national implications, too, if New Orleans is hammered. About one-fourth of the nation's oil and natural-gas production is here, as is one-third of its seafood catch. Thousands of miles of oil and gas pipelines snake through the bayous and marshes.
 
The region is home to the nation's largest port complex, moving 16 percent of its cargo.
 
"A week after a hurricane here, you wouldn't be able to find underwear at a Wal-Mart in Des Moines," Tullier said.
 
A glimpse of that ripple effect could be seen this week, as worldwide oil prices surged because of reduced Gulf of Mexico production after Ivan.
 
So, what to do?
 
Experts say it will take a combination of higher levees, new floodgates and restored wetlands to save New Orleans. And time is not an ally; hurricane-protection projects are moving slowly, even as the threat seems to grow each year.
 
"It's possible to protect New Orleans from a Category 5 hurricane," said Al Naomi, senior project manager for the Corps of Engineers. "But we've got to start. To do nothing is tantamount to negligence."
 
It could take 20 years and at least $1 billion to raise the levees high enough and to build floodgates at the mouth of Lake Pontchartrain, Naomi said.
 
The corps hoped to begin a study this year of the steps necessary and the costs. Just the study would take four years and cost $4 million, Naomi said, but the money is not in the federal budget for 2005, though the Senate has yet to act.
 
The other part of the equation - restoring wetlands - is a bit further along, but marshes are still disappearing much faster than they are being created. Wetlands are vital for many things, including fish and wildlife; as a hurricane buffer, they act as a sponge to absorb the storm surge. Four miles of marsh can absorb about one foot of surge.
 
About 1,900 square miles of Louisiana coastal wetlands, an area the size of Delaware, have been lost since 1930. At least 70 percent of the loss is blamed on human activities, such as flood levees and oil and gas pipeline channels.
 
At current rates, even including current restoration efforts, 1,000 more square miles of wetlands would be lost by 2050.
 
To begin to reverse the process, the corps has opened diversion channels in Mississippi River levees to mimic nature and allow nourishing freshwater and sediment to once again escape into wetlands. But those feasibility projects are relatively small, and the need is large.
 
"About 28 percent of the loss is being addressed," said Troy Constance, corps project manager for the Louisiana Coastal Area study, who is working with other state and U.S. agencies.
 
To save the wetlands - and the fisheries, petroleum production and hurricane protection they provide - would require an initial $1.9 billion over 10 years, and an estimated $10 billion to $14 billion over 30 years, Constance said. That initial $1.9 billion funding, to be used for such things as freshwater diversion, grass plantings and dredged fill material, has not been approved by Congress.
 
"If we want to save New Orleans from becoming an Atlantis, we have to restore the wetlands," said van Heerden. "The Mississippi has a great capacity to build wetlands, and we are not harnessing that ability."
 
"Ivan was a real wake-up call. We have to take Ivan's near-miss to get the federal government to fast-track some of these restoration projects."
 
Officials worry the recent focus on terrorism exposes New Orleans to a more likely danger.
 
"With the creation of Homeland Security, we have taken a backseat," said Walter Maestri, emergency management director in Jefferson Parish. "To us, it is pretty obvious which is the greater threat. One is maybe, the other is when."
 
In the meantime, evacuation is the only way to protect New Orleanians. The Red Cross will not even staff hurricane shelters in the city because of flooding danger. But evacuation from the threat of Ivan produced 12-hour traffic jams, and that was with only about half the residents on the roads. The experience may make many people reluctant to leave next time.
 
Rowan, the commander of the New Orleans district of the Corps of Engineers, said that for now, New Orleans would have to rely on luck, because protection projects take many years.
 
"We have been fortunate, and hopefully, we'll continue to be fortunate," he said. "There always is a perfect storm, and we have not built for the perfect storm. The exact right combination would be catastrophic."
 
"We are at the mercy of chance for the foreseeable future."


TOPICS: News/Current Events; US: Louisiana
KEYWORDS: bodybag; bodybags; katrina; neworleans

Ten thousand body bags have been stockpiled by Jefferson Parish in a New Orleans suburb, just in case.

Owl_Eagle

(If what I just wrote makes you sad or angry,

 it was probably sarcasm)

1 posted on 08/31/2005 11:57:07 AM PDT by South Hawthorne
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To: Owl_Eagle

Thanks to Dennis Prager for this and another article I've posted today.

Owl_Eagle

(If what I just wrote makes you sad or angry,

 it was probably sarcasm)

2 posted on 08/31/2005 11:58:56 AM PDT by South Hawthorne (In Memory of my Dear Friend Henry Lee II)
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To: Owl_Eagle

They should not rebuild on that spot. It's idiotic.


3 posted on 08/31/2005 12:01:00 PM PDT by Huck (Looting makes GREAT television.)
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To: Owl_Eagle

Wow, that is a lot of body bags. Dennis Prager is wonderful. I listened to a speech he gave at a fundraiser for the Boy Scouts District. Inspiring.


4 posted on 08/31/2005 12:01:10 PM PDT by television is just wrong (http://hehttp://print.google.com/print/doc?articleidisblogs.blogspot.com/ (visit blogs, visit ads).)
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To: Owl_Eagle

I'm reading aboutt this and hearing the environmentalists simultaneously blame global warming for the disaster.

But the main scope of the disaster's effects seem to have been the work of civil engineering and not greenhouse gases. In the case of NO, perhaps it is time to bulldoze the parts of the city that are unsustainable without the infusion of massive amounts of civil engineering projects, and rebuild the city on better ground.

Dare I say that we can call the new city, "New New Orleans"?


5 posted on 08/31/2005 12:04:31 PM PDT by coconutt2000 (NO MORE PEACE FOR OIL!!! DOWN WITH TYRANTS, TERRORISTS, AND TIMIDCRATS!!!! (3-T's For World Peace))
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To: Owl_Eagle

Prager rocks. Thanks for this.


6 posted on 08/31/2005 12:13:02 PM PDT by Rutles4Ever
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To: Owl_Eagle; All

{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{
My good G-D!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


7 posted on 08/31/2005 12:16:34 PM PDT by anonymoussierra
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To: Owl_Eagle

Actually there were 20k stockpiled. I used to work with La emergency management. The stories I could tell... maybe someday I should write a book.


8 posted on 08/31/2005 12:29:07 PM PDT by Kirkwood
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To: Owl_Eagle

put the cityreal bowl to rest


9 posted on 08/31/2005 12:33:17 PM PDT by sure_fine (*not one to over kill the thought process*)
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To: Kirkwood

Actually there were 20k stockpiled.

Yikes.  That just makes your blood run cold.

Owl_Eagle

(If what I just wrote makes you sad or angry,

 it was probably sarcasm)

10 posted on 08/31/2005 12:46:19 PM PDT by South Hawthorne (In Memory of my Dear Friend Henry Lee II)
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To: Owl_Eagle
Click here to watch a 12-minute NOVA episode, eerily prescient, on New Orleans vs. the hurricane.
11 posted on 08/31/2005 12:59:35 PM PDT by Izzy Dunne (Hello, I'm a TAGLINE virus. Please help me spread by copying me into YOUR tag line.)
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To: Owl_Eagle
...and 325 days later...I rem. a Nat. Geo. acticle on N.O. couple of years ago.."even back then, they were shankin' in their boots"...I guess the pols, were hoping "not on my watch."
12 posted on 08/31/2005 4:04:11 PM PDT by skinkinthegrass (Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you :^)
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To: skinkinthegrass

bttt


13 posted on 08/31/2005 4:08:07 PM PDT by stocksthatgoup (Polls = Proof that when the MSM want your opinion they will give it to you.)
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To: Owl_Eagle

A dead major US american city, in just 48 hours.No water, no power, no sewer and no comerce. Dead, unbelievable this could happen here.


14 posted on 08/31/2005 4:11:29 PM PDT by eastforker (Under Cover FReeper going dark(too much 24))
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To: anonymoussierra

I told you so, yesterday.


15 posted on 08/31/2005 4:12:41 PM PDT by eastforker (Under Cover FReeper going dark(too much 24))
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To: Kirkwood

Without being disrespectful...will they be able to access those bags now? Did they put them somewhere away from flood zone?


16 posted on 08/31/2005 4:17:49 PM PDT by SE Mom (God Bless those who serve..)
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To: Owl_Eagle
Hmmm...w/ modern "technical" means, N.O. won't end up like Atlantis :) , Pompeii, Troy or Port Royal, Jamaica...the march of civilization
17 posted on 08/31/2005 4:18:01 PM PDT by skinkinthegrass (Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you :^)
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To: Kirkwood
La emergency management

Unfortunately this now appears to be an oxymoron.

18 posted on 08/31/2005 4:36:12 PM PDT by thepainster
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