"the best post on the subject [of the Stockwell shooting] so far and I agree. A must read." - Tim Worstall, August 21, 2005

"Chris at Optimus In Omnis wrote a thoughtful post in July...his more recent post describes the edginess many Londoners feel" - BBC News Online, August 22, 2005

Monday, August 29, 2005

Hurricane Katrina lashes Louisiana, Mississippi and more

For the infirm and unwilling of New Orleans, the towns' Superdome was meant to be a haven away from the fierce winds that escalated to 145 miles per hour and driving rain that most predicted would submerge the sub-sea level city, Louisiana's second city, but first in notoriety. The 77,000 seat jumbo stadium was used by 10,000 families, old people and those who simply could not, or rather, did not, want to leave their beloved city. A further 79,000 stayed at home, deciding that, for better or worse, they were going to weather the storm. Nearly half a million locals evacuated the city, between three and ten feet below sea level for the comparatively higher ground of Baton Rouge. Sadly, no-one could escape the severity of this most potent of category four hurricanes, not even those residing in the state-approved shelter.

The New Orleans Superdome, when built, was puported to be stronger than Rome's Coliseum. While the marvel of the ancient world is worn, it is still left standing, and, moreover, it was dependable to what people expected of it. The Superdome was relieved of roughly one-twelfth of its roof, according to sources inside the supposed safe haven, by Hurricane Katrina, only the fourth category four hurricane to hit mainland America.

When the last, Hurricane Andrew, hit Florida in 1992, it caused insurmountable damage with a value in the billions of dollars. It seems likely that Katrina has done much the same. A press release was rushed out to the news networks before midday, informing those who listened that the New Orleans Metropolitan area had suffered "total structural failure." Essentially, most buildings were razed. This was not even near the eye of the storm, which, thanks to an overnight kink north-eastwards, avoided most of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, instead focusing mainly on small towns further east in Louisiana and on neighbouring states, including Mississippi. While most of Louisiana was spared with paltry 100mph gusts, Mississippi and eastern stretches of the state were clobbered with full-force 120mph gusts, and a constant, sustained barrage of winds nearing 90mph.

The quotes in the media that Katrina had been slowed in any way from a lethal category five storm to a category four are misnomers: the storm dropped somewhere between five and ten miles per hour in windspeed from Sunday night to Monday morning, when it hit land 110 miles south east of New Orleans; it was only five miles per hour away from being bumped back up to a category five. The muddy marshland of the southeastern tip of Louisiana did little to slow down the speed of the winds inside the hurricane, and, travelling due north at 15mph, it was worried that the relatively slow moving yet extremely powerful hurricane would both flood rivers and lakes and create storm surges which could make water hurdle the 28 feet high levees that surround the city of New Orleans, bringing the home of Creole to a legacy befitting that of Atlantis. The pump system installed to help divert water in these situations was also useless - able as it was to only shift two inches of water in the first hour of operation, and a further inch every hour after, it quickly became only another broken thing that the people of Louisiana will have to fix. Needless to say, water quickly backed up: drainage systems in downtown New Orleans could not handle the sudden influx of water brought in by the storm which gathered up a plentiful supply as it hovered over the Gulf of Mexico, causing countless offshore oil floats to close and bringing the price of oil to $70.80 a barrel, and soon the city was covered in a foot-deep puddle.

The Mississippi River had risen by fifteen feet from Sunday evening to Monday morning, and the increased water level coupled with monumental winds meant that a barge was quickly untethered from its mooring and was banging with dangerous force against the support beams of a passenger bridge. In Biloxi, MS, the winds were so strong that a tourist at a Comfort Inn lost half her index finger from the force of her hotel door slamming against it. A nurse who was staying at the hotel gave first aid but it seems unlikely that her finger was saved: emergency services announced they would not be responding to calls, possibly concerned by the sight of boats travelling along a nearby Interstate route on a wave of rainwater.

It seems incredible, then, that at the time these events occured, the eye of the storm was still between 40 and 90 miles away.

As members of the National Guard ushered the inhabitants of the Superdome away from the green grass of the american football field, rapidly becoming a quagmire from the rain teeming in through the gaping hole in the roof of the impenetrable building, their city was surviving the brunt of the greatest storm they had faced in 40 years. As the helpless, probably homeless, victims of nature's terror were led towards covered areas of the stadium, experts were more worried about the storm surges which will only intensify as the night draws in on those in Creole Country. What about Katrina?

It moved on eastwards, through Alabama and Mississippi, leaving a trail of destruction much like that in Louisiana. Slowly moving down through the categories to a category two, it turned northwards, and is expected to fizzle out some time tomorrow morning. Luckily, it seems there are no fatalities. Unluckily, the rebuilding program starts tomorrow.

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