The End of New Orleans: Diaspora Begins
First, the good news: the Times-Picayune reports that water has stopped flooding into the city from Lake Pontchartrain:
At midday, Maj. Gen. Dan Riley, chief of engineers for the Army Corps of Engineers, estimated the floodwaters had receded by as much as 2 feet overnight and would continue to flow out of the city at a rate of about a half-inch per hour — a process that could be slowed, if not temporarily reversed, by the next high tides.
The continuing magnitude of the flooding, with some neighborhoods buried under as much as 20 feet of water, was made clear in Riley’s added estimate that it would be at least 30 days before the saucer-shaped city would be pumped out.
And now, everything else…
It’s beginning to sink in across the country just how huge the disaster that has befallen New Orleans truly is.
irst they have to pump the flooded city dry, and that will take a minimum of 30 days. Then they will have to flush the drinking water system, making sure they don’t recycle the contaminants. Figure another month for that.
The electricians will have to watch out for snakes in the water, wild animals and feral dogs. It will be a good idea to wear hip boots and take care of cuts and scrapes before the toxic slush turns them into festering sores. The power grid might be up in a few weeks, but many months will elapse before everybody’s lights come back on.
By that time, a lot of people won’t care because they will have taken the insurance money and moved away — forever. Home rebuilding, as opposed to repairs, won’t start for a year and will last for years after that.
Even then, there may be nothing normal about New Orleans, because the floodwater, spiked with tons of contaminants ranging from heavy metals and hydrocarbons to industrial waste, human feces and the decayed remains of humans and animals, will linger nearby in the Gulf of Mexico for a decade.
“This is the worst case,” Hugh B. Kaufman, a senior policy analyst at the Environmental Protection Agency, said of the toxic stew that contaminates New Orleans. “There is not enough money in the gross national product of the United States to dispose of the amount of hazardous material in the area.”
In the city itself, evacuation of all remaining residents continues. Tens of thousands of people are awaiting evacuation in the Superdome; the current plan is to move them by bus to Houston, where they will be housed in the Astrodome. Tensions in the Superdome are running high due to the nightmarish conditions in that facility:
“It’s worse than a prison,” said Mr. Childs, who knew something about the subject, having spent three months in the Orleans Parish Prison on a drunken-driving charge. “In prison you have a place to urinate, a place for other bathroom needs. Here you get no water, no toilets, no lights. You get all that in prison.”
As the evacuation proceeded today, some helicopters had to turn back from the Superdome because they were being shot at.
Attempts to rescue survivors by boat in some of the more heavily flooded parts of the city have also been fired upon, leading to the indefinite suspension of small-boat rescue operations in those areas.
Even as authorities struggle to transport the 25,000 refugees from the Superdome to Houston, others have been arriving on their own in small groups, only to be turned away upon reaching the Astrodome. The city of San Antonio has volunteered to take in 25,000 more refugees from Louisiana to help ease the burden on Houston.
Another shelter area, the New Orleans Convention Center, is reportedly “a scene of anarchy“:
I don’t think I really have the vocabulary for this situation.
We just heard a couple of gunshots go off. There’s a building smoldering a block away. People are picking through whatever is left in the stores right now…
As we drove by, people screamed out to us — “Do you have water? Do you have food? Do you have any information for us?”
We had none of those.
Probably the most disturbing thing is that people at the Convention Center are starting to pass away and there is simply nothing to do with their bodies.
The problem of disposing of the remains of the dead is becoming increasingly urgent as untold numbers of corpses continue to litter the city. Mayor Ray Nagin estimates the death toll to be “minimum hundreds, most likely thousands“.
The hurricane wrought devastation on oil refineries across the Gulf Coast, leading to sudden spikes in gasoline prices. In some parts of the South gas is now at $6 per gallon. Gasoline futures reached a record-high $2.80 per gallon at the New York Mercantile Exchange on Wednesday, leading systems-disruption expert John Robb to predict a dive back into recession for the U.S. economy after several years of sluggish recovery.
Facing all this, President Bush took decisive action and called his dad for help.
And so went the beginning of the great diaspora from New Orleans. The great question, of course, is whether any of these people will ever be able to come back home…