The second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is approaching, and on Sunday — two years to the day since my oft-quoted “New Orleans in peril” and “get the hell out” posts — I’ll be giving a talk, or hosting a forum, or whatever you want to call it, on the hurricane at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church at 10:05 AM, part of their weekly “Sunday forum” series. I was asked to do this by Edward Lollis, chairman of the church’s forum committee, who is a fan of my blog and wanted to do something for the storm’s anniversary. Anyway, here is what the church’s official newsletter has to say about Sunday’s event:
Forum at 10:05 AMÃ¢â‚¬â€ Ã¢â‚¬Å“Hurricane Katrina: What Went Right and What Went WrongÃ¢â‚¬Â: When Hurricane Katrina roared ashore two years ago today, its human toll would have been far less had Mayor Nagin and the Louisiana media heeded the warnings of Brendan Loy, a 23-year old law student in South Bend, Indiana. Immediately after the storm, LoyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s predictions were acclaimed by the New York Times and Washington Post, and his web log (blog) became one of the most frequently linked-to websites of all times. Loy recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame and moved to Knoxville. He will tell us how he scooped the nation in 2005 and how the mainstream media and government continue to fail the people of New Orleans.
I’ll try my best to live up to that billing. To be honest, I’m still working out exactly what I’m going to say. :) I suspect I’ll be somewhat heavy on the 2005 stuff and somewhat lighter on the “continue to fail” part, as I haven’t followed subsequent events in New Orleans as closely as I’d like. But I think I’ll still have some reasonably valuable things to say, if I don’t get totally bogged down in the minutiae and run out of time! Whatever I say, I’ll definitely have to issue my standard clarification/correction about the whole “predictions” thing — I didn’t “predict” it, I just sounded the alarm, as I always say. Anyway, the church is at 2931 Kingston Pike here in Knoxville, if anyone wants to come on down.
[UPDATE: Meteorology Ph.D. student and weather blogger Charles Fenwick believes the Army Corps’ numbers are plausible. He knows a lot more about this stuff than I do, and his analysis makes sense.]
The New York Times has an article today declaring that New Orleans is still vulnerable to severe flooding from a hurricane — hardly a surprise, though the timing of the article is interesting, since that fact could become quite relevant in five or six days’ time if the computer models keep shifting Hurricane Dean’s track to the right.
But anyway, what is surprising, to me at least, is the fact that the Army Corps of Engineers has declared that Hurricane Katrina was “a 1-in-396 [years] storm.” That is to say, according to the Corps, residents of New Orleans can expect to go almost 400 years, on average, between storms as bad as Katrina — and even longer, one presumes, between storms that are worse.
I would really like to see the study on which this conclusion is based, and examine the rationale underpinning it, because on the face of it, this conclusion strikes me as peculiar, even bizarre. As I’ve pointed out numerous times, Hurricane Katrina could have been far worse than it actually was for New Orleans: the center passed 30-40 miles east of the city, sparing New Orleans a direct hit; a last-minute bout of dry-air entrainment severely weakened the portion of the eyewall that passed over the city; and, more broadly, the whole storm weakened just before landfall from a Category 5 to a Category 3 and, by the time it reached New Orleans’s latitude, a Category 2. How is that a 400-year storm? (Read more here, re: the NHC’s official report on Katrina.)
Admittedly, Katrina’s storm surge was historic, far worse than a typical Cat. 2 or 3 (worse even than a “typical” Cat. 5, if there is such a thing), because it had been so powerful the day before and was so geographically huge. But the worst of the surge hit Mississippi, not New Orleans. The dangerous right-front quadrant of the eyewall brought a wall of water 30+ feet high into Waveland and environs, while back over in New Orleans, the weakened left-front quadrant was delivering the city what amounted to a glancing blow. The worst damage to New Orleans, by far, was from seeping water slowly filling up the city after the storm; the storm itself wasn’t that bad, except insofar as it breached the deficient levees. I have always contended that, if the track had been slightly different and that massive surge had made a direct hit on southeastern Louisiana, funneling the wall of water up the rivers and canals toward the Big Easy and breaching the levees more quickly and completely, the death toll could have been in the tens of thousands because many, many people who sought refuge on their roofs (and were eventually rescued by helicopter) would have instead drowned in the much higher water levels during the height of the storm — which, in such a scenario, would have been far more deadly, with higher winds, more debris flying around, more wave action, etc.
In any event, the Army Corps’s conclusion makes no sense to me. If Katrina was a once-in-400-years event, that would seem to imply that hurricanes of Category 2 or greater intensity, which were Category 5 less than 24 hours before and are geographically very large, will only pass within 30-40 miles of New Orleans (on either side) every 400 years on average. That conclusion seems obviously wrong, doesn’t it? They do realize that New Orleans is on the Gulf Coast, right?
As I said, though, I’d really like to see the rationale underlying the Corps’s conclusion, because maybe I’m missing something. Perhaps their conclusion is well-founded, for reasons I’m not grasping. As I try to repeat frequently, I’m not actually an expert on this stuff, so I could be wrong. But if I’m not wrong — if the Corps is engaging in some fuzzy math here, perhaps because it wants to pretend it’s gotten New Orleans better prepared than it really has — then I fear for the complacent attitude this sort of thing may cause. If New Orleans residents believe Katrina is as bad as it’s ever likely to get in their lifetimes, or their children’s or grandchildren’s lifetimes for that matter, the ones who stayed put and survived in 2005 will probably stay put again the next time a storm threatens, not realizing that Katrina was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what New Orleans could potentially face whenever a major hurricane finally decides to make a direct hit on the city.
P.S. Much more about the Corps and its blatant failures from Time magazine. (Hat tip: Patrick Cullen.) The article includes a quote from LSU hurricane researcher Ivor van Heerden, who certainly doesn’t sound as if he believes Katrina was a 1-in-400-years storm: “Katrina wasn’t even close to the Big One,” he says. “We better start getting ready.”
A pediatrician from Waveland, Mississippi has finally given up hope and left town. His farewell blog post is a stinging indictment of the failures of our current “leadership” and a gut-wrenching reality check for those who may think the Katrina recovery effort is coming along swimmingly. Read the whole thing. (Hat tip: Patrick Cullen.)
The SciGuy is worried about how Houston will handle the next Rita (or worse, a Rita that actually hits Houston). Money quote:
If anything, Rita provided a longer-than-usual time for emergency planners to call for and implement an evacuation. Next time there may well not be as much time, and those looking to escape the winds during the height of the storm will have few options.
Lots of good thoughts in comments, too.
Sixteen months after Hurricane Katrina, the AP says the French Quarter is in a funk:
“The money’s not the same. I remember when I made $1,200 a night,” said Elizabeth Johnson, a manager and dancer at a Bourbon Street strip club, frowning at another slow night. “I know girls who used to never let people touch them, and now they’re resorting to prostitution.”
Does this mean that going to Bourbon Street, ordering some drinks and getting a lap dance is now a patriotic duty? Ask not what your stripper can do for you…
Guess Brendan missed this one.
Just a law school blogging weather nerd…harumph.
One year ago today, Hurricane Wilma became the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, as its barometric pressure bottomed out at 882 millbars — the climax of an unbelievable 12-hour, 86-millibar pressure drop.
‘Twas an absolutely amazing storm.
The anniversary of Hurricane Rita’s landfall near Lake Charles, Louisiana recently passed without much notice in the media, and without any mention on this blog. I certainly remember well the weekend of Rita’s landfall, as it occurred during the most hectic week of my life, and I noticed the anniversary’s approach, but I was remiss in failing to blog about it. Brian Neudorff blogged about it, though. Also, Gus Van Horn sends along a three-part post on his own personal Rita evacuation story: Part I, Part II and Part III.
You can read my posts about Hurricane Rita from last year in my Rita category.
It’s Saints 20, Falcons 3 at halftime. Everything has gone right for New Orleans so far: the game started with a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, the second touchdown came on a triple-reverse trick play, and in the final seconds the Saints hit a 51-yard field goal that looked like it would have been good from 60 yards. The fans are going crazy.
UPDATE: New Orleans 23, Atlanta 3, final. The Saints are 3-0.
P.S. Disturbing quote of the night, from the ESPN postgame show: “You are what you eat, and all these years, you’ve been eating Bill Parcells.”
Fellow weatherblogger Margie Kieper has posted the final installment in her excellent series on the devastation all along the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coastlines from Hurricane Katrina’s massive storm surge. While the manmade disaster in New Orleans has gotten the lion’s share of the media attention, the “invisible coastline” is still picking up the pieces after a calamity that was “on the order of a 500-year storm,” surge-wise, according to a new study.
Speaking of Katrina… tonight on Monday Night Football — in a rare event combining two of this blog’s favorite topics (hurricanes and football) and raising the question, “Brendan, why didn’t you apply for a press pass to this game? If Al Jazeera can get one, surely the Irish Trojan could too!” — Reggie Bush and the New Orleans Saints host the Atlanta Falcons in the first game at the Superdome since the hurricane. The Saints are 2-0, although their wins have come against “the Browns and Packers, the Rice and Temple of the NFL.” The Falcons are also 2-0. The game is on ESPN at 8:30 PM.
Once again: Welcome, HBO viewers! Viewers of tonight’s Spike Lee documentary who aren’t familiar with my blog — and thus don’t understand why the heck I, of all people, was in the movie — may want to read this post for a bit of background information.
One year ago this night, with Hurricane Katrina bearing down on Louisiana and Mississippi, I was blogging like crazy all night long, and getting 800 hits per hour (a rate which would peak at over 3,000 later in the day, leading to a unprecedented daily total of 31,139 — surpassed the following day by the record that still stands, 34,278). If interested, you can view my posts from that fateful night by going to Page 27 of my Katrina category and working backwards. [UPDATE: Or you can go to my August 29, 2005 page, scroll down to the bottom, and then work your way up. That’s much more efficient, actually.]
Particularly compelling, I think, is the 2:25 AM post “SchrodingerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s City,” quoting N.O. Pundit: “There is a SchrodingerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Cat quality to watching the spinning red ball: does the New Orleans that I know even exist right now, hours before landfall? Surely the buildings are there right now and the people who remained are fine right now. But in a sense, some of those buildings have already fallen and some of those people have already met tragedy. Indeterminacy tonight, determinacy tomorrow.”
In point of fact, “determinacy” was slow to come, and it wasn’t until early Tuesday morning that we got any sense of how bad things were really going to get in the Crescent City. (And some folks still don’t have a good sense of how much worse things almost were, but that’s another issue, to be discussed a bit more after the jump.)
Anyway… if anyone came here expecting some sort of massive, wide-ranging, profound, overarching Katrina anniversary roundup, I’m afraid this post will disappoint. I simply haven’t had time — what with the demands of moving across the country, starting school, living life, and blogging about the current tropical threat — to really collect my thoughts about Hurricane Katrina and come up with some grand anniversary post. Besides, there’s no way I could match the excellent job Margie Kieper is doing with her series on the “Invisible Coastline.”
I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t link to this post by Paul at Wizbang, which was Instalanched yesterday evening (and which several readers have subsequently pointed me to). Paul posts, and extensively analyzes, a video of the main broken levee which he says proves the fascinating, mind-bending hypothesis that Katrina actually saved lives:
Well, I certainly appreciate Spike Lee’s balanced approach to Kanye West’s “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” comment. It was very even-handed and intellectually honest of him to include several intelligent rebuttals to Kanye’s comment, just like he included various rebuttals to the criticisms of Ray Nagin yesterday.
Oh, wait, you mean he didn’t do that? You mean the only commentary he included came from two “activists” who were more interested in stroking Kanye’s ego than providing any sort of critical analysis of his comment? You mean Spike deliberately left out all commentary from interviewees (like me) who criticized Kanye’s comments, and contended that the government’s failures came from incompetence, not malice? Oh.
I love the woman who said: “They aren’t doing anything for the Katrina victims. For the blacks, anyway.” Yeah, because FEMA has separate databases for white and black victims. Only the whites get hotel rooms!
And from the same woman: “If they wanted us in New Orleans, they wouldn’t have tried to drown us and kill us. I’m not going to go back so they can kill us off.” No rebuttal, no analysis. He just let that comment sit there. Nice.
I also love all the accusations of white people of being racist, followed by statements like “the culture of New Orleans comes from black people.” Because that’s not racist!
I will say, however, that the criticism of Barbara Bush was richly deserved.
At the risk of beating a dead horse…
Last night, while watching Acts I and II of Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke, I asked, “What about the school buses? Why hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t Spike shown us the school buses?” There are two possible answers, one cynical and one less so. The less cynical answer is simply that Spike’s focus was the post-storm failures, not the pre-storm failures. The cynical answer — which is also a possible ulterior motive for the less cynical rationale — is that he wanted to shine the light on the federal government’s failures while minimizing the local government’s failures.
Whatever Spike’s motives, his failure to address crucial issues like the drowned buses or to adequately discuss the slowness of the evacuation — coupled with the unrebutted inflammatory comments by the likes of Harry Belafonte, and also Spike’s obsession with irrelevancies like Condi Rice’s shoe-buying habits — takes away a great deal of credibility from what could otherwise have been a truly excellent film. (And yes, I realize Acts III and IV haven’t aired yet, but given the stated topics of those acts, it seems highly unlikely they’ll cure the deficiencies of Acts I and II.)
Anyway, this article from last September (hat tip: Jeff Wendt) does an excellent job expanding on the importance of those drowned school buses:
According to the principle of subsidiarity, governmental agencies and leaders at the city, parish, and state agencies hold primary responsibility for implementing the evacuation process. The city of New Orleans apparently agrees, since in their Ã¢â‚¬Å“Comprehensive Emergency Management PlanÃ¢â‚¬? they vest the authority to authorize an evacuation with the Mayor and the implementation of such an action with the cityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Office of Emergency Preparedness. The stateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s official hurricane evacuation plan even notes that the primary means of evacuation will be personal vehicles but that school and municipal buses, government-owned vehicles, and vehicles provided by volunteer agencies may be used to provide transportation for individuals who lack transportation and require assistance in evacuating.
How many people would need to be evacuated? In a paper written over a year ago, University of New Orleans researcher Shirley Laska estimated that the city has approximately 120,000 residents who do not have their own transportation and would need to rely on the government. While this is an extremely large number, the Regional Transportation Authority and the local school system have roughly 560 busses in which they could use in an emergency. Assuming that each bus could carry sixty-six passengers, each trip could carry 37,554 residents to safety. Three round-trips would be required to move all 120,000 citizens.
Such a task would naturally be rather time-consuming and fraught with unforeseen difficulties. But it would have almost assuredly save many lives Ã¢â‚¬â€œ if it had ever been attempted. Rather than follow their own operating procedures, though, the city allowed the busses to lie dormant and instead advised residents to seek shelter in the Superdome. Only after the storm did the people who had followed this advice discover that they were trapped in the stadium without food or emergency services.
Realizing that their plan was faulty, the city chose to shift the blame to the federal government. Terry Ebbert, the director of homeland security for New Orleans, criticized FEMA for not acting quickly enough to move the 30,000 people who were holed up in the shelter of Ã¢â‚¬Å“last resort.Ã¢â‚¬? New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin even had the audacity to criticize the feds for not moving quickly enough after the storm had subsided, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I need 500 buses, man…. This is a national disaster,Ã¢â‚¬? said Nagin. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Get every doggone Greyhound busline in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans.Ã¢â‚¬? In his rant Nagin never got around to explaining why he never got the 500 buses within the city to move out of New Orleans.
If Spike Lee had wanted to really add something valuable to the public discourse on Katrina, he could have asked probing questions that would have challenged Nagin on that point. Instead, he uncritically quoted Nagin’s rant and never once mentioned the school buses. (And don’t even get me started on the outageous, and completely unchallenged, claim that rapidly evacuating people out of the airport — which necessitated, for the sake of efficiency, a somewhat inprecise process of shipping them off wholesale to far-flung cities — is equivalent to “slavery.” Cripes.)
On a broader note, the above-linked article’s more general point, while not particularly relevant to Spike’s movie, is also very interesting, and dare I say it, compelling:
What is most distressing about the situation, though, is not that a mayor failed to lead but that the principle of subsidiarity was already in place and yet failed to be implemented. Mayor Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco deserve the primary blame for the fiasco in New Orleans. But the larger failure belongs to conservatives.
Principles such as subsidiarity, federalism, and limited government are often considered cornerstones of conservative political thought. But when it comes to their actual implementation they are merely given lip-service. While aspiring young politicos sing the praises of states-rights, they prefer to do so on Capital Hill or in D.C. think tanks rather than in the choirs of their state legislatures or local governments. The very idea that our most competent conservative statesmen should be working in their actual states rather than in Washington is considered ludicrous. After all, everyone knows that state and local governments are reserved for the also-rans and has-beens rather than for the able and ambitious. Any job in FEMA, for instance, is considered superior to working in the New OrleansÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Office of Emergency Preparedness.
But mayorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s offices, city councils, and state legislatures all join the Ã¢â‚¬Å“little platoonsÃ¢â‚¬? that serve as our first line of defense when natural or man-made disasters strike. So why then are we not working to put our best and brightest into these offices? Why do push them to take jobs as Senatorial aides rather than as state senators? Why do we lead them to roles as assistants to assistant directors in the Department of Education rather than as leaders on county school boards? Why do we put our rhetoric behind the local and yet put our faith in the federal?
If we expect to be taken seriously, conservatives must start supporting the principles we claim we believe. One way that we could begin is by Ã¢â‚¬Å“subsidizingÃ¢â‚¬? subsidiarity, by using our resources to promote our intellectual and political leaders at the state and local levels of governance.
If anybody DVR’d or TiVo’d the Spike Lee movie, and has the ability to digitize the portion containing me, and e-mail it to me (tips [at] brendanloy.com), I would be much obliged.
I got a double-Instalanche, by the way, to my self-referential commentary on the film (below). During the course of the a single InstaPundit post, I am quoted as calling Ray Nagin an “incompetent idiot” and Harry Belafonte simply “an idiot,” and criticizing Spike Lee as politically motivated and lacking balance. Clearly, I hate black people! ;) On the other hand, I also criticized Bush, Brown and Chertoff, so maybe I’m just a misanthrope…
Why did I look for this page? The Spike Lee documentary. I wanted to know more about Brendan Loy and why he is important to Hurricane Katrina. I found my answer. … Don’t delete the page and lose this thread of history.
Hey, kids, I’m a “thread of history”! Woohoo! :)