NOAA satellite image of public school buses flooded in the storm that could have been used for evacuation of residents less able to do so on their own. This is just one of many examples of the inexcusable and collosal failure at all levels of government to properly coordinate this disaster. The full text of the article accompanying this photo is found on wikipedia.org
In the coming week, there is concern for tropical development both near the U.S. coast and far out to sea in the Cape Verde Islands off the African coast. These two trouble spots will have to be watched closely as we cannot take another major hurricane strike on the U.S. mainland this season. If we do, I believe the economic stability we’ve enjoyed since the mid 1980’s will be in jeopardy. I will continue with hurricane forecasting shortly.
Image from a weather blog published by Steve Gregory on wunderground.com It encapsules the current thinking on Atlantic activity: some concerns but no major threats right now.
I am temporarily redirecting the scope of this website to focus squarely on the fallout of Hurricane Katrina. This discussion is central to why I have created this site in the first place, and that was to provide viewers with a different perspective on storm analysis and preparation that is not being presented by mainstream weather or media sources. The other catalyst that spawned this site was the poor lack of planning by local and state officials in dealing with Hurricane Isabel in September 2003. While that situation is microscopic in comparison to this, the same themes have been repeated. The government and media did not heed their own warnings about storm surge and evacuation logistics.
I have been gathering notes and observations all week regarding the overall Katrina Catastrophe of 2005. Some of my commentary is based on my own observations, some of it is from other blogs, internet media, written reports and the TV. As you know there is so much information out there to process, so I am trying to get a grasp like many peope of what really happened and why. My aim is to analyze the reasons this catastrophe was so huge, the problems behind the relief efforts, the enormous post-storm consequences for the country and the areas dealing with refugees, as well as the long term implications for New Orleans, the Gulf Coast and the nation as a whole. I also have blame to issue for the major of the city, the governor, and the federal government. I am not simply jumping on the blame bandwagon like everyone else, I believe there are sound and scientifically verifiable reasons why failure at all levels of government are responsible for the horrific tragedy that is still unfolding before our eyes. Dr. Jeff Masters offers a poignant essay on his weather blog from a meteorologist's perspective.
You will have to forgive some of my discussions that follow, because I believe that especially in New Orleans itself, the blood of those people is on the hands of the mayor, the governor, Congress and the President. I personally have studied and followed the “New Orleans Nightmare scenario” for years, and have conducted a number of lessons in my Earth Science classes on the same. That the President said, “No one could have anticipated the levees would break.” Is the worst-possible one sentence excuse for this disaster when it is clear the Army Corps of Engineers, and anyone else involved in hurricane planning with N.O. knew those levees were designed for Category 3 storms and no more. In actuality, it is a miracle that more levees did not break, but that even one of them did was catastrophic enough.
LOOKING BACK ON KATRINA
How amazing it is that in less than in less than a week, a world-reknown international city has descended into total chaos, anarchy and pseudo-tribalism and the government seems incapable of restoring order. This sounds more like Liberia, or Haiti or Baghdad than the United States. We now have American citizens who are refugees in their own country. We have mothers who lost their babies from heat exhaustion because American bureaucracy got in the way of getting the help to those who need it most. We have seen a hurricane expose deep and disturbing problems in how our society conducts itself, as discussed in a thought-provoking lead article in the UK's Independent.
Evidence that the federal government did not take the possibility of a major hurricane strike on New Orlean that seriously, although they knew it could happen any year:
- In July 2004, FEMA hosted it's very own hurricane conference at the Louisiana State Emergency Operations center. Dubbed the “Hurricane Pam” Exercise, there were a chorus of findings that all pointed to the need for a large-scale over-powering response system needed were this storm to ever strike. However the follow-up study which might have implemented some of those findings was never completed, according to CNN. Plenty of people at all levels of government knew this disaster was predicted years in advance.
- Numerous press articles and reports have been written about the "New Orleans Nightmare Scenario" over the past 10 years, starting with a National Geographic Video special titled, "Cyclone" which I have shown in my Earth Science classes for the past 6 years. More recently, Nat'l Geo did an October 2004 Cover Story that spells out in eerie detail what would happen with a major storm strike, as did also the Times-Picayune in a June 2002 special report titled "Washing Away" and the Scientific American in October 2001. Ironically enough, Popular Mechanics also published a short article on this, but it was lost in the more important news of the day, for the issue date was September 11, 2001.
- Considering that billions of dollors have been pumped into the levee system over past 40 years, it was assumed that the levees and pumps were adequate for a Category 3, and that the probability of a Category 4 making a direct hit was low enough to warrant less funding in present day. Or so the government assumed.
- MSNBC uncovered a Homeland Security disaster planning document, similar to the "National Response Plan" which listed the most likely disaster scenarios requiring a national response. There were apparently over 100 different kind of disasters described, but it was reported that only 2 situations involved the federal response to a hurricane strike, and even those were in the context of if a terrorist attack was followed by or preceded by a hurricane.
Plain and simple: There was an across-the-board failure to do any large-scale contingency planning, or to take seriously the importance of doing so. I can cite a variety of sources for this I uncovered today. I'm sure FEMA officials probably did do a lot of planning and preparation, but by what we see on the ground, it obviously was not enough. The New Orleans Times-Picayune summed up their solution in once sentence: "Fire everyone at FEMA." My contentions are based on partly on what I have observed, on my gut feeling, and what I've known about natural disaster planning over the years. If you have found a more credible source that refutes or supports what I am saying, please post your source in the comments. A link from CNN has a transcript of the "Big Disconnect" between statements of government managers and reality on the ground.
I did not hear FEMA discuss in depth the usual pre-storm arrangements being made, such as “we have stockpile of food and water already in place outside where we think the storm will hit.” OR "Since the hurricane center has given us a general idea where this storm is going to make landfall, hundreds of FEMA officials are already in place ready to respond outside the storm's path."
I did not hear FEMA say, “Once the storm began affecting the coast, and it was clear that New Orleans, the Mississippi and Alabama coasts were going to be devastated, we directed our staff to begin loading onto trucks massive amounts of supplies, including food, water, medicine, baby formula and more." Note: While the pre-landfall disaster declaration by the President did enable FEMA to pre-position supplies, it is still unfathomable why all those supplies took so long to reach those who need them most.
I did not hear FEMA say, “It is ironic this storm is occuring when it is, because last year at about this time, we conducted a very in-depth training exercise on what to do if a major storm were to strike New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana. We have implemented many of the recommendations from that study in preparing for this storm. I can tell you that as soon as the storm passes, you will see a large convoy of relief trucks heading toward the affected areas. In advance of those trucks are going to be heavy equipment vehicles loaded with bulldozers, and other heavy machinery to clear roads of debris so we can get through.”
I did not hear FEMA or Louisiana officials say, “Given the damage inflicted by Hurricane Ivan last year on bridges such as I-10 in the Pensacola area, we have already made contigency plans in the event that similar type bridges fail during the storm surge. Since Ivan was also a Category 4 at landfall, it is quite possible that the twin-span going across toward Mississippi could be heavily damaged. To prevent this from interfering with relief efforts we have enlisted the help of the Navy and have already dispatched 4 large ships to the region which will arrive shortly after the storm clears the area."
Whether we are willing to acknowledge now or later, this storm will be a defining moment in American History as much as 9/11 was. More attention will be paid to how storms can disrupt our national infrastructure, and deeper than that, that this one storm may reshape American society forever, opening a discussion on the future of race, class, oil, politics, the environment and the role of government. Our life has changed dramatically, though it may be a while before the changes catch up to everyone, eventually you'll know this one storm was, "The One" for all of us, and not just in the price at the pump.
- Will the NWS be willing to modify it’s 24 hour rule on hurricane warnings, given than 72 hours was not enough. Storm preparation and evacuation costs state and local governments $1 million for every mile of coastline included in a hurricane warning. The weather service would contend they don’t want to issue a warning that covers too large an area for fear that if it did not strike inside that zone, people would not take the next warning seriously. So the question is, looking back, was that policy effective in saving lives? Apparently not. While 1 million people did leave, hundreds of thousands did not, and now tens of thousands may be dead. That does not seem like an effective warning system.
- The government and FEMA will re-evaluate how to adjust airport closures and flight cancellations in the 24-48 hour period before a storm’s landfall. Some airlines, including Delta, stopped outbound flights from Armstrong Airport at least 36 hours before landfall, and had there been better contingency planning and wider coordination with the airlines, more people would have been able to leave the city safely, especially the old and infirm.
NEW ORLEANS IS NO LONGER NEW, BUT OLD
(Please note I mean no disrespect to those who may have resided in N.O. I am merely stating my scientific observations and theories about the recovery.)
- The actual "New Orleans" will become a much smaller city, shrinking to a fifth of it’s original size...the "Old Orleans" we knew on August 28.
- with the French Quarter, part of Garden District and some historical areas intact, in perhaps 5 years , the city will become more of a novelty tourist destination and more of an industrial port city than the major residential city it once was. The mind-blogging challenges facing the rebuilding of this city will dominate the nation for years to come.
- will become an EPA Superfund site, as chemicals, sewage, petroleum products, decomposition of plants, animals and bodies have created the "toxic cesspool" talked about extensively before the storm.
- Whether there is 2 feet or 20 feet of water in the city and surrounding area, the “toxic cesspool” the media and other agencies explained before the storm has now happened. The depth of standing water does not matter, it is the fact that any heavy chemicals in that water are going to settle to the ground and seep in, becoming intertwined in the subsurface. Under normal EPA guidelines in a situation like this, when there is a potential long term health hazard, the top 3 to 6 feet of topsoil has to be removed and disposed.
- Instead of being bulldozed, the EPA will have to constructed several remediation sites in the city, and remediate all the soil and water through specially designed incinerators, evaporation ponds and fume stacks that you see at Superfund sites.
- The Army Corps of Engineers will have to overhaul their process of determining how to best manage large infrastructure projects like the Louisiana Levee system. A 50 year effort resulted in thousands dead. A spokesperson for the Corps said he felt the levee system was a “success” because it did not fail initially at the height of the storm.
WE ARE MORE VULNERABLE
I contend we are now more vulnerable than at any other time in our history, including in the days following 9/11. Why?
- FEMA is already mitigating dozens of other on-going regional and local disasters, including the continuing cleanup from Dennis, Ivan, Frances, Jeanne and Charley. There are still thousands of families in Florida living in temporary housing, and thousands of homes with blue tarps for roofs. Another hurricane strike would make rapid response much more difficult because resources are stretch so thin, despite what the President says about both running a war and helping those at home.
- God forbid there is a major earthquake in California, another hurricane, unrest in some part of the world that supplies oil, a terrorist attack, North Korea tests a tactical nuclear weapon. Any major event of this kind would put a long term surcharge on the world economy, and put a crippling influence on the U.S. economy.