**rough draft ... more links to be added later**
I am a Baton Rouge resident. I want to give my assesment of what is going on down in New Orleans by explaining what I have been through emotionally the past few days.
My wife and I made a decision on late Friday night that if the storm looked like it was heading for the Louisiana coast as a Category 4 or 5, then we would leave. On Saturday morning the storm was a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour. I am a self professed storm nerd. I know enough to be dangerous but not enough to be worth listening to by folks who need information. I trust that the professionals know what they are doing. I have spent enough time mingling with them to realize they are good at what they do given the limitations we have in understanding the complexities of weather systems. Compared to even 10 years ago we have made huge strides. We have DOPPLER indicated tornadoes, giving lead time to persons in the path and the 3 and 5 day projections for hurricanes are getting better and better. Some of the computer models just this season have been pegging the paths of these storms with startling clarity. Still, with all we do know ... they still get it wrong. Hurricane Charley last season was a perfect example of this. People focused on where they thought it would go ashore. They foused on what they thought the intensity might be. At the very end it rapidly intensified and jogged right of track. With Katrina, however, they were on ... stunningly so. Because of my having followed previous storms I understood the reality of a Category 4 or 5 making landfall in the projection area.
One only needs read personal accounts of Hurricane Camille, The Labor Day Storm of 1935, Hurricane Andrew and especially the Great 1900 Storm to get an idea of what the worst case scenario could be like.
On Saturday I began to feel very uneasy, mostly because of all of the past information I had collected in my head about these storms. I knew something could go horribly wrong. I felt it deep inside that this one would be different. This would be the one to actually hit New Orleans. I began to find out the knot in my stomach was not something I was feeling alone. I got ahold of the following news report
about the worst case scenario of what could happen in New Orleans; A category 4 or 5 making landfall in such a way to completely fill the city with water in short time. The scenario was nightmarish. Death totals would be in the tens of thousands.
I was up all throughout the night because my young children were taking the opportunity away from home to not sleep through the night. I would comfort them and take a peek at the latest information about Katrina. The horror I felt as the scenario they were predicting was unfolding was sinking in. My in-laws noticed. My wife noticed. I sensed history in the making. It was watching a frieght train headed towards the helpless .... and knowing, if it went as they say, the results would be incomprehensible.
Rewind a couple of hurricane seasons. Hurricane Lili. People asked to evacuate the city. Many did. Many complained about having to do so saying they never would leave again. Fast forward to last season. Hurricane Ivan takes aim at the gulf coast. Many were asked to leave. The drive times to Baton Rouge from New Orleans were eight times greater than normal. Many more complained about having to make the trek and said they would never do so again. It has been decades since an event even close to what has occurred has taken place even near the New Orleans area. Betsy was in 1965. Camille was in 1969. Those were before our time. Even those in our time were hard to fear. Mitch was thousands of miles away and besides, that was not the United States. The pinball-like body counts were just numbers on page three. Thousands dead couldn't happen here. The benchmark of our generation in this country was Andrew and not even 30 died in that storm. Times have changed. Or have they?
Sunday brought the sobering reality that what we had out there was a storm of tremendous proportions. The National Weather Service in New Orelans released the following statement:
URGENT - WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA
1011 AM CDT SUN AUG 28 2005
...DEVASTATING DAMAGE EXPECTED...
.HURRICANE KATRINA...A MOST POWERFUL HURRICANE WITH UNPRECEDENTED STRENGTH...RIVALING THE INTENSITY OF HURRICANE CAMILLE OF 1969.
MOST OF THE AREA WILL BE UNINHABITABLE FOR WEEKS...PERHAPS LONGER. AT LEAST ONE HALF OF WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WILL HAVE ROOF AND WALL FAILURE. ALL GABLED ROOFS WILL FAIL...LEAVING THOSE HOMES SEVERELY DAMAGED OR DESTROYED.
THE MAJORITY OF INDUSTRIAL BUILDINGS WILL BECOME NON FUNCTIONAL. PARTIAL TO COMPLETE WALL AND ROOF FAILURE IS EXPECTED. ALL WOOD FRAMED LOW RISING APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL BE DESTROYED. CONCRETE BLOCK LOW RISE APARTMENTS WILL SUSTAIN MAJOR DAMAGE...INCLUDING SOME WALL AND ROOF FAILURE.
HIGH RISE OFFICE AND APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL SWAY DANGEROUSLY...A FEW TO THE POINT OF TOTAL COLLAPSE. ALL WINDOWS WILL BLOW OUT.
AIRBORNE DEBRIS WILL BE WIDESPREAD...AND MAY INCLUDE HEAVY ITEMS SUCH AS HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES AND EVEN LIGHT VEHICLES. SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES AND LIGHT TRUCKS WILL BE MOVED. THE BLOWN DEBRIS WILL CREATE ADDITIONAL DESTRUCTION. PERSONS...PETS...AND LIVESTOCK EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL FACE CERTAIN DEATH IF STRUCK.
POWER OUTAGES WILL LAST FOR WEEKS...AS MOST POWER POLES WILL BE DOWN AND TRANSFORMERS DESTROYED. WATER SHORTAGES WILL MAKE HUMAN SUFFERING INCREDIBLE BY MODERN STANDARDS.
THE VAST MAJORITY OF NATIVE TREES WILL BE SNAPPED OR UPROOTED. ONLY THE HEARTIEST WILL REMAIN STANDING...BUT BE TOTALLY DEFOLIATED. FEW CROPS WILL REMAIN. LIVESTOCK LEFT EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL BEKILLED.
AN INLAND HURRICANE WIND WARNING IS ISSUED WHEN SUSTAINED WINDS NEAR HURRICANE FORCE...OR FREQUENT GUSTS AT OR ABOVE HURRICANE FORCE...ARE CERTAIN WITHIN THE NEXT 12 TO 24 HOURS.
ONCE TROPICAL STORM AND HURRICANE FORCE WINDS ONSET...DO NOT VENTURE OUTSIDE
We were closer to the reality of the nightmare scenario and that knot started getting bigger. I was almost sick. Maximum sustained winds of 175 miles and hour and a minimum pressure of 902 mb. For reference, the benchmark storm of our generation was 922 mb and its winds were 160 and to make matters worse, Andrew was a small hurricane compared to this. Furthermore, Andrew was primarily a wind event crumbing homes in to hardly recognizable piles of rubble. Still, I remember the day I educated myself on Camille. The pictures of multi-story buildings that were brushed away like a carpenter blowing the sawdust off his creation seemed impossible ... but there they were. It could get worse and it had been worse in the past. The gulf coast was staring down the barrell of a loaded gun and it was certainly going to fire. I kept those images in mind knowing that our beloved New Orleans was the target. Still surge wouldn't likely flow in and out like with Camille. Maybe that would spare some of the devestation, but flood waters would still cause significant loss of life.
I also thought back to the 1900 storm where an island of over 30,000 residents was innundated by surge covering nearly the entire island. Buildings collapsed with entire families inside. The horrors of the screams in the night must have haunted the survivors until their deaths many decades later. We knew surge kills, but we also knew how to get out of the way. That is the modern day advantage. Over 6000 people died on Galveston island that night with some estimates in the 8000 range and over 10,000 including the coastal areas on the shore of Texas across from the island. With all of this in mind, some things were not adding up about New Orlenas. It is always estimated that some people stay. They cannot leave or they choose not to leave. New Orleans is a large city. This storm was going to have a large surge. I have heard it takes 72 hours to evacutate the city. We had less time than that. Some people, even if everyone wanted to leave would be there. The scenario seemed more and more like Galveston than like Andrew or even Camille. There would be people behind and when the numbers started coming out that it could be as high as 200,000 people I felt even sicker ... The thought was torturing me -- It is now almost certain that people would die with this storm.
As the storm passed through I watched feverishly on the Internet for the latest information. Between checking with family and watching my hard drive fail making work impossble, I was checking the news. I was left with news reports comforting me with the idea that New Orleans was spared the worst. The major networks were hardly covering it. Still, the feeling wasn't gone. This was history and deep down I knew it. What I was seeing was like every other hurricane in recent memory. The images from the Superdome looked tame. Reporters were alive. They were well. Pictures were coming out of ground zero and other than wind damage, everything looked great. Lots of waving stop signs and bending trees. A couple of days would pass .. a small death total would materialize and this storm would pass into history just like all the others in our generation. Most hurricanes these days take our things. Still, I watched message boards for information, soon finding that the reports on the message boards were every bit as accurate as the news sites, and usually a few hours ahead. All of the sudden someone posted a picture of the bay bridge in Mobile with water raking at its bottom. This revealed a shocking piece of information. The storm surge with this hurricane was going to be unreal. Hundreds of miles away from the center we were seeing a surge of easily 15 feet. Also accounts of what happened to Jim Cantore of TWC left people making guesstimates of the storm surge in the Mississippi area. They were incredible and fortunately wrong .. but not by much. Rumors that the casinos had moved and that the storm surge was higher than Camille added fuel to the worry. It took the press almost 24 hours to start verifying the second hand reports but it soon became a reality. If the press was botching the job in the Mississippi area, what does that mean about New Orleans. Reports from the local officials in Mississippi that numerous folks decided to ride this one out made it even worse. It was becoming sadly apparent that this was worse than Camille and there were MORE people in the way. Despite the fact that the storm itself had weakened to a category 3, it maintained the category 5 storm surge.
We could only wait to see what had happened ...
Very little information was leaking out of New Orleans at first that led me to believe the situation was not as bad as they had described in predictions prior to the storm. The only alarming thing was that there were floating bodies, but that could be explained by the numerous above ground graves in the area. Surely we are beyond the era of large death tolls in the United States. I have to hold on to that.
I drove my family home just when they started showing the rescues and shots from the air. It looked pretty bad. Driving home brought home in a very real way the human toll of the mass exodus from New Orleans. It seemed everyone was from New Orleans on Tuesday. I saw a woman sobbing in a Burger King, being consoled by someone it seems she didn't even know. She had lost everything. She wasn't alone. Most people around her had as well. Not even I could see that until the last leg of our drive home. Listening to the people calling in on the radio and asking about areas I knew from the air shots were bad was like listening to a broken record. Caller after caller was hoping to hear someone say that things were fine. Every response was the same ... "I'm sorry ma'am, that area has been completely destroyed" ... A few glimmers of hope were offered to those who found out they only had a few feet of water in their homes. Call after call after call. It never ended. The national media could not see it at this point. People from New Orleans are all around us. They have nothing but their lives and the clothing on their backs. Priceless yes, but it doesn't soothe the pain they all feel. Paychecks will not be coming for most. Baton Rouge is now home to 500,000 homeless. Every five minutes the light noise is crashed by a helicopter headed down to pull survivors from their homes. One after another, after another, after another ... Everyday we meet someone new from New Orleans. I have yet to meet someone who hasn't had their lives impacted by someone who has missing relatives. The stories on the news are real. Men have lost their wives. Wives are looking for husbands that stayed behind to protect property that likely ended up crushing them under pounding waves and wind. This is reality in Louisiana. People are dying in New Orleans and every helicopter flight reminds us. Every five minutes the hope that one more person might make it streams overhead.
It became apparent to me that this was going to be a catastrophe. They were talking about there being a hundred people on the tops of houses in the Ninth Ward where it seemed the worst. I began to think the death toll across the coast could exceed that of Camille. With a hundred or so on the roof, you knew some didn't make it. When the numbers of people being rescued started to reach the thousands I knew deep in my heart my worst fears early on had been confirmed and the mayor of New Orleans added his own thoughts to the mix by saying that the death toll would probably be in the thousands. In my grossy uneducated opinion this storm will claim thousands of lives. I would not be shocked given what we have seen that the death toll could reach or exceed that of 9/11. The mix is deadly. Complacency by some, ignorance or -- most difficult to bear -- the sheer inablity to leave areas where death is near certain. I read a post suggesting that folks should have walked. Many people cannot. Its just that simple. They were doomed and I am sure many of them knew it.
I have seen one too many posts out on this wide Internet of ours claiming this situation is being blown out of proportion to make Bush look bad, or Blanco, or Nagin ... this is reality folks. Those are real people, from real families. Sadly, it can get worse. If a fire breaks out in New Orleans, they cannot stop it. As people get continually desperate because they have no food and water, the crime situation will get even more out of control. Anarchy reigns this night in New Orleans. It IS hell on earth.
I'll leave my thoughts with this ... The counts are not coming out of New Orleans. The number missing is staggering and even with poor communication we know some people will never communicate. The dead are everywhere. Things are so dire they can only push them aside. I think America is going to be shocked when the actual numbers start coming in. The stories will keep coming and they will get harder and harder to listen to. I have to listen to them because they are my neighbors. They need my sympathy even if that is all I can give.
I will finish this post with a link to a site containing shots of the Mississippi coast from the air
(click on the boxes). Please take 30 minutes to scour through it and then spend a few hours in prayer thankful for your own life and in awe of what you now know has happened on the coast. Finally, pray for those who are trapped and for rescuers who must find them.