Hurricane Katrina: What's going on?
What are others doing to help?
What can you do?
to classic and less well known agencies where you can donate money (of
course) but also find other ways to contribute
...find or offer a home or a room
...search for people and pets
New Orleans special edition online
newspaper page full of (usually short) articles offering insight to
needed things and activities, plus more links
NY Times interactive maps of the area.
Most are New Orleans but one's wider.
Exceptionally well done, satellite based, lotsa info
and essentially instantaneous load
when switching from one view to another.
Also, detailed satellite views from Dartmouth University sources. These cover a much wider area of the gulf.
STORIES & ARTICLES
Interview with a paramedic who spent 3 days at the scene (originally
emailed to my more usual list of suspects)
Disaster Relief, Firsthand
WebMD Medical Editor Brunilda Nazario, MD, spent three days at shelters in the Atlanta area – and was shocked at the inadequate resources.
America is not prepared for disaster, she says.
Doctors' Essays Describe Katrina Chaos
New England Journal of Medicine
October 13, 2005
A series of essays by some of the doctors who came face to face with the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.
The above link will open a new browser window, to take you to the New England Journal of Medicine web site location for the essays.
Blogger & WebCam
The DirectNic folks stayed in New Orleans, maintaining a webcam, doing work on
communications infra-structure plus archiving the FEMA & police
scanner logs -- talk about fortitude and foresight! Read the article
ABOUT them, then go to their website, have a look at their pictures and read the blog
New Orleans: A Geopolitical Prize
Forecasting Inc, "(Relied Upon by Multinational Corporations,
Private Investors, Hedge Funds, and even Government's Own Spy Agencies"
--Fortune Magazine quote)
explains why there needs to be a support city at this port... and why a port at all
Gone with the Water
(Describes exactly this disaster... last year!)
Agencies Offering ways to Help
Centers For Disease Control
Guidance for health care providers
For Response & Cleanup
For Health Care Professionals
For Evacuation Centers
Hurricanes: Health & Safety
N'Orleans News from My-Godson-the-Paramedic
DT got home from New Orleans late Sunday morning
[Sept 4,'05] and we chatted by phone for the better part of an hour.
Here are the highlights--
He says the news can't give you a feeling for what it's really like
because the reporters zone in on tiny areas and emphasize the high
drama bits. He says there's not so much in the way of these intense
incidents, but the low level misery just goes on and on and on... mile
after mile after mile after mile after...
He was working in a team of four, two Paramedics and two EMT's
(emergency med techs), assessing/triaging/treating/transporting easily
400 people himself on a shift, spending mere seconds on most, a few
minutes on others.
As a clue to how little you can do in these circumstances, of all of
the folks he handled over three full days+, only a dozen or so received
IV's. You're down to basics, and Medic rules of thumb in mass casualty
go like this-- BloodPressure over 70 could do without it, under 60 was
probably hopeless anyhow and you couldn't waste either the supplies or
the time. A seizure of less than a minute, once a day, most likely
wouldn't recur, at least not for another day; multiple seizures or
those lasting longer required more immediate attention.
He worked out of an area called Kenner, by the airport west of New
Orleans old French Quarter, using the I-10 as a conduit. Where they
could drive their ambulance, they did. Where they couldn't, they used
I used the word 'commandeered' but he said no, it wasn't like that.
People were glad to let you. If they could get their boats into the
water intact, they did, and made them available for you.
He said that in his opinion, people weren't shooting at them, either.
There were shots, all right, but he said look at it like this-- there
are people stranded on roofs and in attics, and they see me going by in
a boat... and I disappear! They can't see where I'm headed to. How are
they going to attract my attention? They fired down into the water,
not up into the air, and never hit a single boat, didn't even ever fire
*ahead* of the boats.
On the other hand, one ambulance crew did get abducted for a night...
guys were looking for drugs and hoped to find those on board the
ambulance... or perhaps in some hospital if the crew could get them
in... anyway they wound up letting them go okay by morning...
There are 38 bridges in the area, and each was packed with anywhere
from 600 to 2000 people.
Now, you can't land a chopper in a crowd like that with nowhere for the
people to run, it's hard to lift people on a hover, and a helicopter
can only carry around 5 passengers anyway, along with the crew -- plus
their downdraft tends to blow people *off* the bridges....
The boats were all sorts, whatever was still floating and had a
motor... they ranged in size from a little 24 horsepower motor to big
engine cruisers... and could carry 5 to 10 people away at a time.
Travel in the boat would proceed for half a block or so, then you'd
stop, tilt the motor up, pull a plastic garbage bag or some other
detritus off it, and go again, another half a block....
Health Problem #1
The biggest health issue he had to treat was, without a doubt,
dehydration. No drinkable water - for days on end - leads to kidney
damage, especially in children and the elderly, but really everybody.
Health Problem #2
Second most common health problem turned out to be burns... chemical
burns! The flood water isn't just full of sewage, it's full of
gasoline and oil. People couldn't wade through the water without
getting coated in it, and their legs, especially, were all red and
cracked... the tenderer skin of children and old folks was blistering.
He broke into a convenience store ("Allowed Looting", he called it,
laughing) and got every bottle he could of 409 and all those sorts of
degreasers. You suds it on, rinse it off, do it again and again.
I asked about water treatment... like iodine, or how anyone could
possibly boil water under those conditions... he said on most bridges
people had managed to bring little BBQs and charcoal and they were
using it to boil water as best they could... he had a rather dubious
ring to his voice there though...
Then of course there's a need for food, ongoing meds, clean/dry clothes
to change into... he said if you wanted to send something other than
money, what's needed is shoes! All kinds, any kinds, they just don't
have 'em... got drenched, swept away... can't go barefoot...
He went down there feeling cleverly prepared, extra socks and things to
change into for each of the days... gave 'em all away. Came home
wearing what he went down there in. Gave away all his packets of
snacks, too. How could you not, he said, after all, you're so-o-o aware
that *you* only have to deal with it for four days or so... and then
you've got a real home waiting for you.
Top Functional Problem
The biggest functional problem is communication. There just isn't any.
You're cut off. Victims & workers alike... no tv, no cellphones
(towers down)... so it's hard to communicate beyond your own group, and
you don't know what's being broadcast at all. The victims certainly
don't! They're not getting any bulletins telling them what to do.
He said he now knows for a fact that he can move 14 firemen at a time
sitting up on the beds in his ambulance!
As near as he could tell, race did NOT enter into it. His area was full
of all sorts, he said, black, white, mexican, every combination... he
said the only group he noticed missing was asian... he just didn't see
any there. DT's a nice mixture himself. Black/norwegian/english
extraction... a lot of people figure him for Latino. I've always
suspected with a tinge of envy that this melange is a decided
advantage... he can deal completely comfortably with everyone.
And DT himself is fine. They were bunked down in a big dorm and a
catering company fed them all they could eat... good stuff, he said,
catfish, fries, spaghetti... I mentioned he didn't seem to have noticed
anything green; should've known better... this is DT, the original
non-veggie kid... but he assured me those were there too, and that
everything was pretty well prepared (translation probably = "with
He said the first night was the only time you were actually hungry
though... after that you ate just enough to settle your stomach and
then laid your body down to get what sleep you could (a nap) before
someone came in calling your group number and telling you where you were
He actually managed to get several decent hours sleep before the trip
home, tho' he'd only gotten to sleep in two to three hour snatches for
the three full days he was down there (Wednesday night to Saturday
His mom was afraid he would come back changed. I'd questioned that,
saying, he's in his thirties and has seen it all before anyhow, but, as
she pointed out, not in such quantity all at once -- this is *mass*
casualty. Naturally I pestered him for input on that. He says he's not
changed - just tremendously aware of how lucky he is to be able to come
home to our usual comforts - shower, hot meals, clean clothes,
comfortable chair, tv... but, he says, the residents down there *are*
He doesn't know if he's going back or not but that's not due to any
reluctance on his own part, it's company policy on rotation, and in any
event he won't be needed for at least a couple weeks yet, when they'll
shift to transport mode (shuffling patients between various hospitals).
I asked what if anything --besides sending money of course-- we could
do if we were to go down there... clerking at least? Not yet, he said.
There are more volunteers coming in than they know what to do with
(except docs... those they know what to do with, but even doctors are
dreadfully limited without facilities and power)... Non-trained types
had so little to do that some of them took to washing the ambulances!
... he came out to his and found it all shiny and even sweet smelling
I asked him what, besides "send money" (& shoes), he'd like me to
say to or ask of all of you... he didn't hesitate much, said just
pray... said it was all you can really do, and they need it... they
Disaster Relief, Firsthand
Thursday, September 08, 2005
By Brunilda Nazario, MD
WebMD Medical Editor Brunilda Nazario, MD, spent three days at shelters in the Atlanta area – and was shocked at the inadequate resources. America is not prepared for disaster, she says.
I’m not associated with the Red Cross. But when evacuees began pouring into the Atlanta area, I volunteered to see patients at a temporary Red Cross shelter set up just south of Atlanta.
At that time there were no doctors at the center to see the patients; this was only the first stage for many of the arrivals here. Many evacuees were elderly and had special needs; they left their homes prior to the hurricane with the expectation of returning soon.
The medical needs at the center initially included assisting older people and helping to arrange daily medications and routine medical care. Basic needs like calling in prescriptions for chronic medical conditions became a tremendous task.
Sharing my experience in the aftermath of Katrina may highlight glaring examples of a serious lack of preparedness in this country.
Many basic first aid supplies, such as over-the-counter disinfectants for superficial wounds and scrapes, a container for needle disposal, and accessible telephone lines were unavailable. In one makeshift shelter, televisions, radios, and newspapers weren’t available to help keep the victims informed about the disaster. While the rest of the world stayed glued to the media coverage of the disaster, the victims themselves were left with questions about what was going on.
Despite the power of medical advances in this country, we did not have sufficient medical manpower mobilized to handle this major natural disaster.
As the days passed, a very different group of individuals were being seen in the shelter; a local hospital facilitated medical care during day hours. Nighttime hours, however, were without medical care.
Stories of individuals caught in the hurricane were heard everywhere. Bruises, blisters, scrapes, and extreme emotional and physical fatigue were surfacing.
People were now coming from New Orleans and Mississippi, and different emotions were beginning to emerge -- denial (as a way to deal with this reality) and anger directed at the staff were reactions being expressed. Elderly victims expressed confusion, teens revealed depression, and parents attempted to provide reassurance with few social resources to help them.
The lack of this country’s preparedness is completely unacceptable.
I also want to share stories of people I met at the shelters -- especially one New Orleans nurse who braved the rising waters in a children’s hospital before driving hours and hours to Atlanta. In her, I saw the mental distress we will find in many more survivors. She made it through the storm but now must deal with a painful replay of memories.
Total Chaos at Shelter
When I showed up at the refugee center on Sept. 1, there was a lot of chaos outside as well as inside the facility. There were probably 800 refugees at that center. The parking lot that was jam-packed, and the outpouring of donations was more than the facility staff could handle. People were milling around.
People were dropping off lots of donations; there were clothes bags, food and water even on the sidewalk outside. No one could identify who escaped the disaster and who was here to volunteer.
Some people from the nearby neighborhoods were walking in and taking the donations. The situation not only was chaotic, it was dangerous. Officers and security initially were nowhere to be seen. No single team was set up to control or coordinate this effort.
The positive aspects of this shelter: There were several televisions, which allowed people to congregate -- to watch the coverage, and talk about their experiences. The sleeping area and cots were grouped together to form little communities. I think it helped people feel more comfortable.
There was a nurse’s office that was an adequate size to see patients. But one big problem surfaced quickly -- there was no phone jack. We had many elderly people who had run out of medications and needed new prescriptions called in, but we had no phone! We had my cell phone, but my battery was pretty drained.
One patient had a history of seizures from a previous gunshot wound to the head; he hadn’t taken medication for several days. The problem with seizure medications is that you have to maintain a certain blood level, so not having taken his medications for a few days made him a high-risk patient that the medical personnel needed to be aware of. He was awaiting the arrival of his medications, which would take a few days.
A second high-risk patient had diabetes. She also had open heart surgery just a week before I saw her. She didn’t have her insurance papers, so we couldn’t get insulin for her. But she came with relatives, so she was sharing some of their insulin. Her surgical incision was clean but oozing. The stress of the disaster situation and her lack of insulin would increase the risk of infection to her wound. The shelter’s initial first aid kit had no form of antiseptic – no betadine, no iodine, no hydrogen peroxide. I was shocked and angry at this lack of basic first aid supplies. It is completely unacceptable.
Trauma Among Refugees
Over the next two days, we began seeing those who weathered the storm but were able to get out of New Orleans. A mother said she had just started walking with her children. They had minor bruises, cuts, scrapes, foot blisters, sores, as well as fungal skin infections and rashes from walking in the dirty water.
These were fairly healthy people, with no acute medical crises. But we were beginning to see significant psychological stress. I saw the most significant case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a nurse who had been working at the children’s hospital. She went through the whole storm, seeing patients, seeing the water rising, hearing the rioting, and had been scared for her life.
She and her family had planned to spend Labor Day weekend in Atlanta with her father. They knew the storm was coming, and her husband took the kids and headed for Atlanta. She was to follow later. At the last minute, they switched cars -- she got the larger car, which she didn’t want because it was harder to park. She had $12 in her purse when she left the house that morning.
She and her co-workers (and patients) rode out the storm. They were lucky, she said. They had a lot of generators there, plenty of water, plenty of food -- although it certainly wasn’t good-tasting food. She had a pretty good sense of humor as she started the story. But as she continued, and the memories replayed the trauma in her mind, she broke down. Her eyes showed despair, and she shook uncontrollably as she recounted her story of survival. She was getting into a traumatic state – really reliving everything that happened, all her fears.
There were a couple of kids they had to airlift out, but there was nowhere for the helicopters to land. The hospital staff cut down a few bamboo trees around the hospital to help stabilize the ground and created a stable walkway. They got a child with cerebral palsy onto a gurney and down the bamboo pathway to where the helicopter could pick him up and transfer the child to a safe care facility.
In their nursing unit, the staff felt safe. They were listening to the news, to the warnings of armed looters. Anytime they went into the hall, they had no idea who was there, she told me. At one point, she and her co-workers were told they had to evacuate. They pooled their money together -- $7 from one, $3 from another; she had $12. Luckily, she discovered, she also had a full tank of gas in that big car.
As they drove off, a man approached the car. They just froze and didn’t know if he was going to hijack the car or what. She was in mission mode, and kept driving, kept driving, kept driving. She said it was a quiet ride up to Atlanta. They made one stop on the way up, at an IHOP or something. Someone overheard them talking and said she wanted to pray with them.
At this point in telling her story, the woman began to break down. She began to realize what she had been through. She remembered the 18-wheelers coming by with generators, the helicopters, the shooting. She remembered the image in her rear-view mirror of the scene she left behind, like a war zone. She also remembered the smell.
When she arrived in Atlanta, she ate some macaroni and cheese, probably the most unhealthy thing you can eat. But she had been so tired of eating Jell-O and the hospital food. The comfort food tasted really good to her.
Within a couple of days, this New Orleans nurse and the other refugees had to be transferred to a different shelter -- a sports dome at Georgia Tech University in downtown Atlanta. That change stirred up real problems. The Georgia Tech volunteers initially looked at this strictly as a shelter and would not allow the same services to be given to the victims, including medical services.
The facility itself was the worst set-up for these people, most of whom were elderly. They had to go down steep stairs into the playing field, where cots were set up barracks-style. These cots were very low to the ground -- just a few inches off the ground. I could see instantly that elderly people would have a hard time lying down on them and getting back up. They could easily trip and fall on these cots, because they were set so close together.
Eventually they took some of the better cots from a shelter at the natatorium, but it took some convincing. Even though it had been chaotic in the natatorium, at least it felt more like a home and we were allowed to handle medical problems.
Refugees in Shock, Anger
Also, many of the volunteer staff did not understand the emotional state that occurs when a disaster of this nature occurs. There are stages you expect people to go through. The first stage is usually denial. These people were still in shock. The next stage is anger. If you’re a volunteer, you have to be prepared for people to be angry at you. It’s not that they’re angry at you -- they’re angry at the situation. You have to accept that and let them vent, because it’s part of the healing process.
The evacuees were told they had to shut off TVs at 11 p.m., that they had to go to bed. One woman said, “I’m not turning off that TV. I lost five children.” She, like the others, was feeling anger, shock, and was beginning to realize what had happened. You could see it on their faces: “Now [we] have nothing – yet this is what’s being done to us.”
I visited another shelter later on – a camp with buildings for housing 400 people. This shelter was staffed with a few nurses, a psychiatrist, a pediatric doctor, and a primary care doctor. The next day, a cardiologist was there. That shelter was the best-prepared from an organizational standpoint.
My bottom-line message is this: This country is not prepared. We don’t have enough medical personnel to help people in a major disaster. Even when doctors try to help, there is no one in charge to facilitate the process. We need to roll up our sleeves and do what needs to be done.
Brunilda Nazario, MD, is a medical editor for WebMD.
Her opinions and conclusions are her own.
A New Orleans based Blog of Katrina & Recovery
There are 3 employees, the president & VP
for operations & head of security, of DirectNIC in NO who are holed
up in their building on Poydras, which is downtown, not far from
Charity Hospital. Mike, the head of security, has been running a blog
the whole time.
They have a generator, they have fuel, food, etc. They hunkered down
for the long haul. These are probably the most technologically adept
people in all of NO.
They have two OC-3 lines running at the moment and another they'll get
up this week. They've worked on getting the phones working at City
Hall. They've kept their web hosting services up and running throughout
all of last week.
They have a video cam running 24-7 on the streets of NO. They've done
interviews...yesterday it was MSNBC and an Orlando radio station(which
I heard last evening via streaming audio).
They run an IRC chat channel & I've spent hours on there the last
They organized a transcription service of all the police & FEMA
scanners (which you can hear online 24-7) for the sake of history and
assessment when reconstruction has begun.
They are the best source for information before it hits the major news
If you wish to read Mike's blog, it can be found at http://www.livejournal.com/users/interdictor
Go back to the beginning and read all of it. Don't worry about the
comments section, just read his stuff. There are even a ton of pics that
Sig has taken around the city. This is the gutsiest thing I've ever
seen and these guys know what they're doing.
--Celia in Raleigh
New Orleans: A Geopolitical Prize
By George Friedman
The American political system was founded in Philadelphia, but the American
nation was built on the vast farmlands that stretch from the Alleghenies to the
Rockies. That farmland produced the wealth that funded American industrialization:
It permitted the formation of a class of small landholders
who, amazingly, could produce more than they could consume. They could sell
their excess crops in the east and in Europe and save that money, which eventually
became the founding capital of American industry.
But it was not the extraordinary land nor the farmers and ranchers who alone
set the process in motion. Rather, it was geography -- the extraordinary system
of rivers that flowed through the Midwest and allowed them to ship their surplus
to the rest of the world. All of the rivers flowed into one -- the Mississippi
-- and the Mississippi flowed to the ports in and around one city: New Orleans.
It was in New Orleans that the barges from upstream were unloaded and their
cargos stored, sold and reloaded on ocean-going vessels. Until last Sunday, New
Orleans was, in many ways, the pivot of the American economy.
For that reason, the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815 was a key moment in
American history. Even though the battle occurred after the War of 1812 was over,
had the British taken New Orleans, we suspect they wouldn't have given it back.
Without New Orleans, the entire Louisiana Purchase would have been valueless to
the United States. Or, to state it more precisely, the British would control the
region because, at the end of the day, the value of the Purchase was the land
and the rivers - which all converged on the Mississippi and the ultimate port
of New Orleans. The hero of the battle was Andrew Jackson, and when he became
president, his obsession with Texas had much to do with keeping the Mexicans
away from New Orleans.
During the Cold War, a macabre topic of discussion among bored graduate students
who studied such things was this: If the Soviets could destroy one city
with a large nuclear device, which would it be? The usual answers were Washington
or New York. For me, the answer was simple: New Orleans. If the Mississippi River
was shut to traffic, then the foundations of the economy would be shattered. The
industrial minerals needed in the factories wouldn't come in, and the
agricultural wealth wouldn't flow out. Alternative routes really weren't
available. The Germans knew it too: A U-boat campaign occurred near the mouth
of the Mississippi during World War II. Both the Germans and Stratfor have stood
with Andy Jackson: New Orleans was the prize.
Last Sunday, nature took out New Orleans almost as surely as a nuclear strike.
Hurricane Katrina's geopolitical effect was not, in many ways, distinguishable
from a mushroom cloud. The key exit from North America was closed. The petrochemical
industry, which has become an added value to the region since Jackson's days, was
at risk. The navigability of the Mississippi south of New Orleans was a question
mark. New Orleans as a city and as a port complex had ceased to exist, and it
was not clear that it could recover.
The Ports of South Louisiana and New Orleans, which run north and south of the
city, are as important today as at any point during the history of the republic.
On its own merit, POSL is the largest port in the United States by tonnage and
the fifth-largest in the world. It exports more than 52 million tons a year, of
which more than half are agricultural products -- corn, soybeans and so on. A
large proportion of U.S. agriculture flows out of the port. Almost as much
cargo, nearly 17 million tons, comes in through the port -- including not only
crude oil, but chemicals and fertilizers, coal, concrete and so on.
A simple way to think about the New Orleans port complex is that it is where the
bulk commodities of agriculture go out to the world and the bulk commodities of
industrialism come in. The commodity chain of the global food industry starts
here, as does that of American industrialism. If these facilities are gone, more
than the price of goods shifts: The very physical structure of the global economy
would have to be reshaped. Consider the impact to the U.S. auto industry if steel
doesn't come up the river, or the effect on global food supplies if U.S. corn and
soybeans don't get to the markets.
The problem is that there are no good shipping alternatives. River transport is
cheap, and most of the commodities we are discussing have low value-to-weight
ratios. The U.S. transport system was built on the assumption that these
commodities would travel to and from New Orleans by barge, where they would be
loaded on ships or offloaded. Apart from port capacity elsewhere in the United
States, there aren't enough trucks or rail cars to handle the long-distance
hauling of these enormous quantities -- assuming for the moment that the
economics could be managed, which they can't be.
The focus in the media has been on the oil industry in Louisiana and Mississippi.
This is not a trivial question, but in a certain sense, it is dwarfed by the
shipping issue. First, Louisiana is the source of about 15 percent of U.S.-produced
petroleum, much of it from the Gulf. The local refineries are critical to American
infrastructure. Were all of these facilities to be lost, the effect on the price
of oil worldwide would be extraordinarily painful. If the river itself became
unnavigable or if the ports are no longer functioning, however, the impact to
the wider economy would be significantly more severe. In a sense, there is more
flexibility in oil than in the physical transport of these other commodities.
There is clearly good news as information comes in. By all accounts, the Louisiana
Offshore Oil Port, which services supertankers in the Gulf, is intact. Port
Fourchon, which is the center of extraction operations in the Gulf, has sustained
damage but is recoverable. The status of the oil platforms is unclear and it is
not known what the underwater systems look like, but on the surface, the damage -
though not trivial -- is manageable.
The news on the river is also far better than would have been expected on Sunday.
The river has not changed its course. No major levees containing the river have
burst. The Mississippi apparently has not silted up to such an extent that massive
dredging would be required to render it navigable. Even the port facilities,
although apparently damaged in many places and destroyed in few, are still there.
The river, as transport corridor, has not been lost.
What has been lost is the city of New Orleans and many of the residential suburban
areas around it. The population has fled, leaving behind a relatively small number
of people in desperate straits. Some are dead, others are dying, and the magnitude
of the situation dwarfs the resources required to ameliorate their condition.
But it is not the population that is trapped in New Orleans that is of geopolitical
significance: It is the population that has left and has nowhere to return to.
The oil fields, pipelines and ports required a skilled workforce in order to operate.
That workforce requires homes. They require stores to buy food and other supplies.
Hospitals and doctors. Schools for their children. In other words, in order to
operate the facilities critical to the United States, you need a workforce to do it
-- and that workforce is gone. Unlike in other disasters, that workforce cannot
return to the region because they have no place to live. New Orleans is gone, and
the metropolitan area surrounding New Orleans is either gone or so badly damaged
that it will not be inhabitable for a long time.
It is possible to jury-rig around this problem for a short time. But the fact is
that those who have left the area have gone to live with relatives and friends.
Those who had the ability to leave also had networks of relationships and resources
to manage their exile. But those resources are not infinite -- and as it becomes
apparent that these people will not be returning to New Orleans any time soon,
they will be enrolling their children in new schools, finding new jobs, finding
new accommodations. If they have any insurance money coming, they will collect it.
If they have none, then -- whatever emotional connections they may have to their
home -- their economic connection to it has been severed. In a very short time,
these people will be making decisions that will start to reshape population and
workforce patterns in the region.
A city is a complex and ongoing process - one that requires physical infrastructure
to support the people who live in it and people to operate that physical infrastructure.
We don't simply mean power plants or sewage treatment facilities, although they
are critical. Someone has to be able to sell a bottle of milk or a new shirt.
Someone has to be able to repair a car or do surgery. And the people who do those
things, along with the infrastructure that supports them, are gone -- and they
are not coming back anytime soon.
It is in this sense, then, that it seems almost as if a nuclear weapon went off
in New Orleans. The people mostly have fled rather than died, but they are gone.
Not all of the facilities are destroyed, but most are. It appears to us that New
Orleans and its environs have passed the point of recoverability. The area can
recover, to be sure, but only with the commitment of massive resources from
outside -- and those resources would always be at risk to another Katrina.
The displacement of population is the crisis that New Orleans faces. It is also a
national crisis, because the largest port in the United States cannot function
without a city around it. The physical and business processes of a port cannot
occur in a ghost town, and right now, that is what New Orleans is. It is not
about the facilities, and it is not about the oil. It is about the loss of a
city's population and the paralysis of the largest port in the United States.
Let's go back to the beginning. The United States historically has depended on
the Mississippi and its tributaries for transport. Barges navigate the river.
Ships go on the ocean. The barges must offload to the ships and vice versa.
There must be a facility to empower this exchange. It is also the facility where
goods are stored in transit. Without this port, the river can't be used. Protecting
that port has been, from the time of the Louisiana Purchase, a fundamental national
security issue for the United States.
Katrina has taken out the port -- not by destroying the facilities, but by rendering
the area uninhabited and potentially uninhabitable. That means that even if the
Mississippi remains navigable, the absence of a port near the mouth of the river
makes the Mississippi enormously less useful than it was. For these reasons, the
United States has lost not only its biggest port complex, but also the utility
of its river transport system -- the foundation of the entire American transport
system. There are some substitutes, but none with sufficient capacity to solve
It follows from this that the port will have to be revived and, one would assume,
the city as well. The ports around New Orleans are located as far north as they
can be and still be accessed by ocean-going vessels. The need for ships to be able
to pass each other in the waterways, which narrow to the north, adds to the problem.
Besides, the Highway 190 bridge in Baton Rouge blocks the river going north.
New Orleans is where it is for a reason: The United States needs a city right there.
New Orleans is not optional for the United States' commercial infrastructure. It
is a terrible place for a city to be located, but exactly the place where a city
must exist. With that as a given, a city will return there because the alternatives
are too devastating. The harvest is coming, and that means that the port will
have to be opened soon. As in Iraq, premiums will be paid to people prepared to
endure the hardships of working in New Orleans. But in the end, the city will
return because it has to.
Geopolitics is the stuff of permanent geographical realities and the way they
interact with political life. Geopolitics created New Orleans. Geopolitics caused
American presidents to obsess over its safety. And geopolitics will force the
city's resurrection, even if it is in the worst imaginable place.
Stratfor is "relied upon by multinational corporations,
private investors, hedge funds, and even
Government's own spy agencies"
Gone with the Water
By Joel K. Bourne, Jr.
Photographs by Robert Caputo and Tyrone Turner
The Louisiana bayou, hardest working marsh in America, is in big
trouble—with dire consequences for residents, the nearby city of New
Orleans, and seafood lovers everywhere.
It was a broiling August afternoon in New Orleans,
Louisiana, the Big Easy, the City That Care Forgot. Those who ventured
outside moved as if they were swimming in tupelo honey. Those inside
paid silent homage to the man who invented air-conditioning as they
watched TV "storm teams" warn of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.
Nothing surprising there: Hurricanes in August are as much a part of
life in this town as hangovers on Ash Wednesday.
But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city.
As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million
people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however—the
car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New
Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party.
The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing
a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the
top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over.
Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight
feet below in places—so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed
over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of
the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District,
until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like
the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters)
over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.
Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by
sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood
later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be
rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big
Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people
were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster
in the history of the United States.
When did this calamity happen? It hasn't—yet. But the doomsday scenario
is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a
hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the
nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist
attack on New York City. Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane
shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great.
"The killer for Louisiana is a Category Three storm at 72 hours before
landfall that becomes a Category Four at 48 hours and a Category Five
at 24 hours—coming from the worst direction," says Joe Suhayda, a
retired coastal engineer at Louisiana State University who has spent 30
years studying the coast. Suhayda is sitting in a lakefront restaurant
on an actual August afternoon sipping lemonade and talking about the
chinks in the city's hurricane armor. "I don't think people realize how
precarious we are,"
Suhayda says, watching sailboats glide by. "Our technology is great
when it works. But when it fails, it's going to make things much
The chances of such a storm hitting New Orleans in any given year are
slight, but the danger is growing. Climatologists predict that powerful
storms may occur more frequently this century, while rising sea level
from global warming is putting low-lying coasts at greater risk. "It's
not if it will happen," says University of New Orleans geologist Shea
Penland. "It's when."
Yet just as the risks of a killer storm are rising, the city's natural
defenses are quietly melting away. From the Mississippi border to the
Texas state line, Louisiana is losing its protective fringe of marshes
and barrier islands faster than any place in the U.S. Since the 1930s
some 1,900 square miles (4,900 square kilometers) of coastal wetlands—a
swath nearly the size of Delaware or almost twice that of
Luxembourg—have vanished beneath the Gulf of Mexico. Despite nearly
half a billion dollars spent over the past decade to stem the tide, the
state continues to lose about 25 square miles (65 square kilometers) of
land each year, roughly one acre every 33 minutes.
A cocktail of natural and human factors is putting the coast under.
Delta soils naturally compact and sink over time, eventually giving way
to open water unless fresh layers of sediment offset the subsidence.
The Mississippi's spring floods once maintained that balance, but the
annual deluges were often disastrous. After a devastating flood in
1927, levees were raised along the river and lined with concrete,
effectively funneling the marsh-building sediments to the deep waters
of the Gulf. Since the 1950s engineers have also cut more than 8,000
miles (13,000 kilometers) of canals through the marsh for petroleum
exploration and ship traffic. These new ditches sliced the wetlands
into a giant jigsaw puzzle, increasing erosion and allowing lethal
doses of salt water to infiltrate brackish and freshwater marshes.
While such loss hits every bayou-loving Louisianan right in the heart,
it also hits nearly every U.S. citizen right in the wallet. Louisiana
has the hardest working wetlands in America, a watery world of bayous,
marshes, and barrier islands that either produces or transports more
than a third of the nation's oil and a quarter of its natural gas, and
ranks second only to Alaska in commercial fish landings. As wildlife
habitat, it makes Florida's Everglades look like a petting zoo by
Such high stakes compelled a host of unlikely bedfellows—scientists,
environmental groups, business leaders, and the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers—to forge a radical plan to protect what's left. Drafted by
the Corps a year ago, the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) project was
initially estimated to cost up to 14 billion dollars over 30 years,
almost twice as much as current efforts to save the Everglades. But the
Bush Administration balked at the price tag, supporting instead a plan
to spend up to two billion dollars over the next ten years to fund the
most promising projects. Either way, Congress must authorize the money
before work can begin.
To glimpse the urgency of the problem afflicting Louisiana, one need
only drive 40 minutes southeast of New Orleans to the tiny bayou
village of Shell Beach. Here, for the past 70 years or so, a big,
deeply tanned man with hands the size of baseball gloves has been
catching fish, shooting ducks, and selling gas and bait to anyone who
can find his end-of-the-road marina. Today Frank "Blackie" Campo's
ramshackle place hangs off the end of new Shell Beach. The old Shell
Beach, where Campo was born in 1918, sits a quarter mile away, five
feet beneath the rippling waves. Once home to some 50 families and a
naval air station during World War II, the little village is now "ga'an
pecan," as Campo says in the local patois. Gone forever.
Life in old Shell Beach had always been a tenuous existence. Hurricanes
twice razed the community, sending houses floating through the marsh.
But it wasn't until the Corps of Engineers dredged a 500-foot-wide
(150-meter-wide) ship channel nearby in 1968 that its fate was sealed.
The Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, known as "Mr. Go," was supposed to
provide a shortcut for freighters bound for New Orleans, but it never
caught on. Maybe two ships use the channel on a given day, but wakes
from even those few vessels have carved the shoreline a half mile wide
in places, consuming old Shell Beach.
Campo settles into a worn recliner, his pale blue eyes the color of a
late autumn sky. Our conversation turns from Mr. Go to the bigger issue
affecting the entire coast. "What really screwed up the marsh is when
they put the levees on the river," Campo says, over the noise of a
groaning air-conditioner. "They should take the levees out and let the
water run; that's what built the land. But we know they not going to
let the river run again, so there's no solution."
Denise Reed, however, proposes doing just that—letting the river run. A
coastal geomorphologist at the University of New Orleans, Reed is
convinced that breaching the levees with a series of gated spillways
would pump new life into the dying marshes. Only three such diversions
currently operate in the state. I catch up with Reed at the most
controversial of the lot—a 26-million-dollar culvert just south of New
Orleans named Caernarvon.
"Caernarvon is a prototype, a demonstration of a technique," says Reed
as we motor down a muddy canal in a state boat. The diversion isn't
filling the marsh with sediments on a grand scale, she says. But the
effect of the added river water—loaded as it is with fertilizer from
farm runoff—is plain to see. "It turns wetlands hanging on by the
fingernails into something quite lush," says Reed.
To prove her point, she points to banks crowded with slender willows,
rafts of lily pads, and a wide shallow pond that is no longer land, no
longer liquid. More like chocolate pudding. But impressive as the
recovering marsh is, its scale seems dwarfed by the size of the
problem. "Restoration is not trying to make the coast look like a map
of 1956," explains Reed. "That's not even possible. The goal is to
restore healthy natural processes, then live with what you get."
Even that will be hard to do. Caernarvon, for instance, became a
political land mine when releases of fresh water timed to mimic spring
floods wiped out the beds of nearby oyster farmers. The oystermen sued,
and last year a sympathetic judge awarded them a staggering 1.3 billion
dollars. The case threw a major speed bump into restoration efforts.
Other restoration methods—such as rebuilding marshes with dredge spoil
and salt-tolerant plants or trying to stabilize a shoreline that's
eroding 30 feet (10 meters) a year—have had limited success. Despite
the challenges, the thought of doing nothing is hard for most southern
Louisianans to swallow. Computer models that project land loss for the
next 50 years show the coast and interior marsh dissolving as if
splattered with acid, leaving only skeletal remnants. Outlying towns
such as Shell Beach, Venice, Grand Isle, and Cocodrie vanish under a
sea of blue pixels.
Those who believe diversions are the key to saving Louisiana's coast
often point to the granddaddy of them all: the Atchafalaya River. The
major distributary of the Mississippi River, the Atchafalaya, if left
alone, would soon be the Mississippi River, capturing most of its flow.
But to prevent salt water from creeping farther up the Mississippi and
spoiling the water supply of nearby towns and industries, the Corps of
Engineers allows only a third of the Mississippi's water to flow down
the Atchafalaya. Still, that water and sediment have produced the
healthiest wetlands in Louisiana. The Atchafalaya Delta is one of the
few places in the state that's actually gaining ground instead of
losing it. And if you want to see the delta, you need to go crabbing
with Peanut Michel.
"Peanut," it turns out, is a bit of a misnomer. At six foot six and 340
pounds, the 35-year-old commercial fisherman from Morgan City wouldn't
look out of place on the offensive line of the New Orleans Saints. We
launch his aluminum skiff in the predawn light, and soon we're skimming
down the broad, café au lait river toward the newest land in
Louisiana. Dense thickets of needlegrass, flag grass, cut grass, and a
big-leafed plant Michel calls elephant ear crowd the banks, followed
closely by bushy wax myrtles and shaggy willows.
Michel finds his string of crab pots a few miles out in the broad
expanse of Atchafalaya Bay. Even this far from shore the water is
barely five feet deep. As the sun ignites into a blowtorch on the
horizon, Michel begins a well-oiled ritual: grab the bullet-shaped
float, shake the wire cube of its clicking, mottled green inhabitants,
bait it with a fish carcass, and toss. It's done in fluid motions as
the boat circles lazily in the water.
But it's a bad day for crabbing. The wind and water are hot, and only a
few crabs dribble in. And yet Michel is happy. Deliriously happy.
Because this is what he wants to do. "They call 'em watermen up in
Maryland," he says with a slight Cajun accent. "They call us lunatics
here. You got to be crazy to be in this business."
Despite Michel's poor haul, Louisiana's wetlands are still a prolific
seafood factory, sustaining a commercial fishery that most years lands
more than 300 million dollars' worth of finfish, shrimp, oysters,
crabs, and other delicacies. How long the stressed marshes can maintain
that production is anybody's guess. In the meantime, Michel keeps at
it. "My grandfather always told me, Don't live to be rich, live to be
happy," he says. And so he does.
After a few hours Michel calls it a day, and we head through the
braided delta, where navigation markers that once stood at the edge of
the boat channel now peek out of the brush 20 feet (six meters) from
shore. At every turn we flush mottled ducks, ibis, and great blue
herons. Michel, who works as a hunting guide during duck season, cracks
an enormous grin at the sight. "When the ducks come down in the
winter," he says, "they'll cover the sun."
To folks like Peanut Michel, the birds, the fish, and the rich coastal
culture are reason enough to save Louisiana's shore, whatever the cost.
But there is another reason, one readily grasped by every American
whose way of life is tethered not to a dock, but to a gas pump: These
wetlands protect one of the most extensive petroleum infrastructures in
The state's first oil well was punched in south Louisiana in 1901, and
the world's first offshore rig went into operation in the Gulf of
Mexico in 1947. During the boom years in the early 1970s, fully half of
the state's budget was derived from petroleum revenues. Though much of
the production has moved into deeper waters, oil and gas wells remain a
fixture of the coast, as ubiquitous as shrimp boats and brown pelicans.
The deep offshore wells now account for nearly a third of all domestic
oil production, while Louisiana's Offshore Oil Port, a series of
platforms anchored 18 miles (29 kilometers) offshore, unloads a nonstop
line of supertankers that deliver up to 15 percent of the nation's
foreign oil. Most of that black gold comes ashore via a maze of
pipelines buried in the Louisiana muck. Numerous refineries, the
nation's largest natural gas pipeline hub, even the Strategic Petroleum
Reserve are all protected from hurricanes and storm surge by
Louisiana's vanishing marsh.
You can smell the petrodollars burning at Port Fourchon, the offshore
oil industry's sprawling home port on the central Louisiana coast.
Brawny helicopters shuttle 6,000 workers to the rigs from here each
week, while hundreds of supply boats deliver everything from toilet
paper to drinking water to drilling lube. A thousand trucks a day keep
the port humming around the clock, yet Louisiana 1, the two-lane
highway that connects it to the world, seems to flood every other high
tide. During storms the port becomes an island, which is why port
officials like Davie Breaux are clamoring for the state to build a
17-mile-long (27-kilometer-long) elevated highway to the port. It's
also why Breaux thinks spending 14 billion dollars to save the coast
would be a bargain.
"We'll go to war and spend billions of dollars to protect oil and gas
Breaux says as he drives his truck past platform anchors the size of
two-story houses. "But here at home?" He shrugs. "Where else you gonna
drill? Not California. Not Florida. Not in ANWR. In Louisiana. I'm
third generation in the oil field. We're not afraid of the industry. We
just want the infrastructure to handle it."
The oil industry has been good to Louisiana, providing low taxes and
high-paying jobs. But such largesse hasn't come without a cost, largely
exacted from coastal wetlands. The most startling impact has only
recently come to light—the effect of oil and gas withdrawal on
subsidence rates. For decades geologists believed that the petroleum
deposits were too deep and the geology of the coast too complex for
drilling to have any impact on the surface. But two years ago former
petroleum geologist Bob
Morton, now with the U.S. Geological Survey, noticed that the highest
rates of wetland loss occurred during or just after the period of peak
oil and gas production in the 1970s and early 1980s. After much study,
Morton concluded that the removal of millions of barrels of oil,
trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, and tens of millions of barrels
of saline formation water lying with the petroleum deposits caused a
drop in subsurface pressure—a theory known as regional
depressurization. That led nearby underground faults to slip and the
land above them to slump.
"When you stick a straw in a soda and suck on it, everything goes
down," Morton explains. "That's very simplified, but you get the idea."
The phenomenon isn't new: It was first documented in Texas in 1926 and
has been reported in other oil-producing areas such as the North Sea
and Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. Morton won't speculate on what
percentage of wetland loss can be pinned on the oil industry. "What I
can tell you is that much of the loss between Bayou Lafourche and Bayou
Terrebonne was caused by induced subsidence from oil and gas
withdrawal. The wetlands are still there, they're just underwater." The
area Morton refers to, part of the Barataria-Terrebonne estuary, has
one of the highest rates of wetland loss in the state.
The oil industry and its consultants dispute Morton's theory, but
they've been unable to disprove it. The implication for restoration is
profound. If production continues to taper off in coastal wetlands,
Morton expects subsidence to return to its natural geologic rate,
making restoration feasible in places. Currently, however, the high
price of natural gas has oil companies swarming over the marshes
looking for deep gas reservoirs. If such fields are tapped, Morton
expects regional depressurization to continue. The upshot for the
coast, he explains, is that the state will have to focus whatever
restoration dollars it can muster on areas that can be saved, not waste
them on places that are going to sink no matter what.
A few days after talking with Morton, I'm sitting on the levee in the
French Quarter, enjoying the deep-fried powdery sweetness of a beignet
from the Café du Monde. Joggers lumber by in the torpid heat,
while tugs wrestle their barges up and down the big brown river. For
all its enticing quirkiness, for all its licentious pleasures, for all
its geologic challenges, New Orleans has been luckier than the wetlands
that lined its pockets and stocked its renowned tables. The question is
how long Lady Luck will shine. It brings back something Joe Suhayda,
the LSU engineer, had said during our lunch by Lake Pontchartrain.
"When you look at the broadest perspective, short-term advantages can
be gained by exploiting the environment. But in the long term you're
going to pay for it. Just like you can spend three days drinking in New
Orleans and it'll be fun. But sooner or later you're going to pay."
I finish my beignet and stroll down the levee, succumbing to the hazy,
lazy feel of the city that care forgot, but that nature will not.