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Friday, September 02, 2005

Hurricane Katrina - what went right, and what went wrong

Katrina seems to be a storm of two halves - before, with the authorities doing all the right things, and after, with anarchy. How'd that happen?

First, a few knowns:

1. 80% of New Orleans is below sea level
2. New Orlean's flood defences were designed to withstand only a Category 3 hurricane
3. That the defences were going to fail was a certainty.

So, when NOAA forecast the storm, everyone knew what was going to happen. FEMA told people to prepare, on top of the standard advice for those who live in areas that affected by hurricanes

So, with warnings becoming more dire, the mayor of New Orleans ordered the evacuation of his city, stressing that people should not use shelters such as the Superdome, but should actually leave. Free transport out was provided for everyone, departing from twelve points across the compact city. Everyone who stayed behind made a concious choice to do so. (Surrounding areas also ordered evacuations.)

Then, on Monday, Katrina struck with high winds and heavy rain. The wind, in New Orleans at least, wasn't a problem - on the west side of the storm, where the forward motion of the system effectively slowed the winds, conditions were never that bad. It was the storm surge that did the damage. The flood walls were soon over-topped, and the rushing water undermined the floodwalls, leading to a total of over 1,000 feet of breaches. Water poured into New Orleans, until the levels inside the city equalized with those outside.

The problem is that, despite the warnings, tens of thousands chose to remain in the city - a city that no longer has any infrastructure, and which, for the most part, is under water. Not suprisingly, looting broke out - some for greed, but some because people needed supplies.

It seems that this is where the US's preparations fell short. It seems that it was not anticipated that so many people would ignore the warnings and stay in the city below the sea, and that there was little or no plans to deal with the situation. We are now seeing the results. Only a few thousand troops were in the area - that is, the whole region hit by Katrina, not just New Orleans - after the storm, with 30% of the National Guard and many helicopters and vehicles tied up in the Middle East. They didn't even have enough radios.

Now, days later, the sort of response that is required is beginning to happen - but far too late for so many people.

Footnote: Bush says "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." No wonder New Orleans is so screwed with him and his "advisors" in charge.

Footnote 2: In fact, considering the complete screwing FEMA got at the hands of Bush, it's amazing America isn't demanding his resignation.

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Comments:
Great overview on what has happened until you get to the point about Bush. What does the POTUS have to do with hurricane evacuation? Initially, the mayor of NO and the governor of Louisiana would know what's going on and that the levy may fail. They ordered evacuation. Still, the local/state authorities were slow to ask for help and move quickly. Complicating this were some did not take heed, as you stated. Yet...it's Bush's mismanagement? In the US, the city and state have authority until they call for help. FEMA was involved early, but at this level the full force of the US govenment is needed to quell the looting, etc.
 
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