Ivan must make that right-hand turn tomorrow, or else the apocalypse forseen in this old news article will come true:
Georges, a Category 2 storm that only grazed New Orleans [in 1998], pushed waves to within a foot of the top of the levees. A stronger storm on a slightly different course — such as the path Georges was on just 16 hours before landfall — could have realized emergency officials’ worst-case scenario: hundreds of billions of gallons of lake water pouring over the levees into an area averaging 5 feet below sea level with no natural means of drainage.
That would turn the city and the east bank of Jefferson Parish into a lake as much as 30 feet deep, fouled with chemicals and waste from ruined septic systems, businesses and homes. Such a flood could trap hundreds of thousands of people in buildings and in vehicles. At the same time, high winds and tornadoes would tear at everything left standing. Between 25,000 and 100,000 people would die, said John Clizbe, national vice president for disaster services with the American Red Cross.
The comparison to 9/11 is explicitly made: “If you look at the World Trade Center collapsing, it’ll be like that, but add water. There will be debris flying around, and you’re going to be in the water with snakes, rodents, nutria and fish from the lake. It’s not going to be nice.”
Then there’s this:
Getting the water out is just the first step to making the city livable, officials say. “Imagine the city of New Orleans closed for four to six months,” said Jefferson Parish Emergency Preparedness Director Walter Maestri. “We’ll have to re-evaluate all our sanitary systems, completely evaluate the water and purification systems, evaluate half to two thirds of all buildings to see if they were structurally damaged by water pressure and wind. Restoring electricity will be another complicated problem. Will houses catch fire when they throw the power switch? All that’s going to have to be handled.”
“The projected death and destruction eclipse almost any other natural disaster that people paid to think about catastrophes can dream up,” the article says. And it’s going to happen eventually:
In a given year, for example, the corps says the risk of the lakefront levees being topped is less than 1 in 300. But over the life of a 30-year mortgage, statistically that risk approaches 9 percent.
So it’s a matter of “when,” not “if.” But here’s hoping — fervently hoping — that “when” isn’t Thursday morning.
P.S. Paul, by the way, is himself a New Orleans resident, and he will be leaving the city very soon, according to his post:
Today about a quarter of a million people will be heading north, hoping to ride out the storm in a hotel room and return in a few days glad the storm spared us. Knowing human nature, my family and I will pack a few possessions and papers along with our family photos and head north around 3AM on Wednesday, when the traffic will be the lightest.
Unfortunately, not everyone can evacuate, he explains:
Within these earthen walls live about a million people. In the city itself especially, many of the residents are poor and lack adequate transportation to evacuate. We have always known there was a fatal flaw in our hurricane defense. If the fabled “Big One” ever hit New Orleans we were in big trouble.
So really, he’s right. Prayer is the only defense at this point. (Well, prayer and upper-level wind shear. But hopefully the prayer will help with the shear…)