Apparently it’s a lot worse than it first appeared.
Katrina Crisis Worsens;
Superdome to Be Evacuated
By KRIS HUDSON and RICK BROOKS
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
August 30, 2005 5:37 p.m.
Rescuers fanned out throughout New Orleans in a makeshift flotilla of boats in a race to rescue people stranded by Hurricane Katrina as floodwaters unleashed by the massive storm continued rising.
With conditions rapidly deteriorating, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Tuesday that the tens of thousands of people now huddled in the Superdome and other city rescue centers would have to be evacuated. Because of two levees that broke Tuesday, the city was rapidly filling with water, the governor said.
She also said the power could be out for a long time, and the storm broke a major water main, leaving the city without drinkable water.
“The situation is untenable,” Ms. Blanco said at a news conference. “It’s just heartbreaking.”
Many areas remained marooned by floodwaters that made it impossible for rescuers, utility crews and other desperately needed resources to begin reaching New Orleans by road.
Phone service was disrupted all along the Gulf Coast for a second day as power outages and flooding kept call-routing equipment, network cables and cellular transmitters out of commission.
Louisiana and local officials pleaded with desperate residents who fled Katrina as it zeroed in on the region last weekend to stay away, vowing to turn back anyone who attempted to reach hard-hit areas. Officials in Jefferson Parish, just west of New Orleans, reportedly said that residents might be allowed back in next week, but only to retrieve enough essentials to sustain them for a month.
The death toll remained impossible to assess. “We have no counts whatsoever, but we know many loves have been lost,” a shaken Gov. Blanco said at a press conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s state capital. About 700 people were rescued and brought to dry ground overnight.
Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the agency’s deep-water search-and-rescue team was on its way to New Orleans from California. Meanwhile, hundreds of boats from state and local wildlife, law-enforcement and emergency agencies scattered across the area in hopes of freeing more people who fled to attics and roofs when water levels rose around them.
It wasn’t clear how or when the levee breaks could be plugged or how much higher floodwaters might rise in New Orleans, about 70% of which is below sea level. But one area of concern was the Superdome, where thousands of residents remained after riding out the storm and some of those rescued were brought.
Mr. Nagin said the New Orleans government was struggling to get back on its feet and trying to deliver electricity to city hall by generator “so we have a place where we could run government.” New Orleans is likely to need substantial loans and other financial assistance “to keep this city operational,” he told the New Orleans television station, WWL-TV. “We’re going to need everything,” he said.
The damage brought by Katrina extended far beyond the New Orleans area and Louisiana.
Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi said there were unconfirmed reports of up to 80 deaths in Harrison County – which includes devastated Gulfport and Biloxi – and the number was likely to rise. At least five other deaths across the Gulf Coast were blamed on Katrina.
President Bush will cut short his vacation to return to Washington on Wednesday to help monitor federal efforts to assist victims, the White House said Tuesday. "We have got a lot of work to do,’’ Mr. Bush said in his speech Tuesday, referring to the damage wrought by the hurricane.
Along the Gulf Coast, tree trunks, downed power lines and trees, and chunks of broken concrete in the streets prevented rescuers from reaching victims. Swirling water in many areas contained hidden dangers. Crews worked to clear highways. Along one Mississippi highway, motorists themselves used chainsaws to remove trees blocking the road.
More than one million people from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle were without power, and authorities said it could be two months before electricity is restored to everyone.
Katrina Still Packs Punch
By Tuesday, Katrina was downgraded to a tropical depression, with winds around 35 mph. It was moving northeast through Tennessee at around 21 mph.
Forecasters said that as the storm moves north over the next few days, it could swamp the Tennessee and Ohio valleys with a potentially ruinous 8 inches or more of rain. On Monday, Katrina’s remnants spun off tornadoes and other storms in Georgia that smashed dozens of buildings and were blamed for at least one death.
Tens of thousands of people will need shelter for weeks if not months, said FEMA’s Mr. Brown. And once the floodwaters go down, “it’s going to be incredibly dangerous” because of structural damage to homes, diseases from animal carcasses and chemicals in homes, he said.
Hundreds of boats from state and local wildlife, law-enforcement and emergency agencies scattered across the affected areas in hopes of freeing more people who fled to attics and roofs when water levels rose around them.
More than 1,600 Mississippi National Guardsmen were activated to help with the recovery, and the Alabama Guard planned to send two battalions to Mississippi.
Looting broke out in Biloxi and in New Orleans, in some cases in full view of police and National Guardsmen. On New Orleans’ Canal Street, the main thoroughfare in the central business district, looters sloshed through hip-deep water and ripped open the steel gates on the front of several clothing and jewelry stores.
The rising water forced one New Orleans hospital to move patients to the Superdome, and prompted the staff of New Orleans’ Times-Picayune newspaper to abandon its offices, authorities said.
Downtown streets that were relatively clear in the hours after the storm were filled with 1 to 1 1/2 feet of water Tuesday morning. Water was knee-deep around the Superdome. (See related article.) Canal Street was literally a canal. Water lapped at the edge of the French Quarter. Clumps of red ants floated in the gasoline-fouled waters downtown.
Katrina could be the most devastating hurricane in modern U.S. history. Preliminary estimates of insured losses are ranging as high as $26 billion, topping the $21 billion in insured losses from Hurricane Andrew, which killed 26 people in Florida in 1992. Uninsured losses are likely to push damages from Katrina at least several billion dollars higher.
Mississippi’s economy was also dealt a blow that could run into the millions, as the storm shuttered the flashy casinos that dot its coast. The gambling houses are built on barges anchored just off the beach, and Gov. Barbour said emergency officials had received reports of water reaching the third floors of some casinos.
It will be weeks or even months before the total damage from Katrina can be precisely calculated. Katrina is believed to have caused about $600 million to $2 billion of insured losses when it crossed southern Florida late last week as a much weaker storm. The Red Cross said its emergency response to Katrina represents the largest single mobilization of resources in the organization’s history.
Katrina shut down some oil and natural-gas production in the Gulf of Mexico and sent energy prices higher, with some experts predicting that damage to offshore platforms and refineries could hurt production for months.
Ports from New Orleans to Mobile, Ala., that are major arteries for cargo moving into and out of the U.S. remained closed, and barge traffic along the Mississippi River began backing up near Natchez, Miss., about 150 miles upriver from New Orleans.
Impact on Energy Production
Oil prices jumped by more than $3 a barrel on Tuesday, climbing above $70 a barrel, amid uncertainty about the extent of the damage to the Gulf region’s refineries and drilling platforms.
Some analysts said the storm could rattle the economy because of its impact on energy production and on commerce flowing through the normally busy ports. A spike in fuel prices could bruise consumer spending and squeeze corporate profit margins. Crude-oil futures rose again Tuesday, as traders awaited damage reports from U.S. oil and gas refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. Analysts said that even if Katrina did less harm than feared, its effects were bound to tighten the availability of already scarce refined products, thereby driving prices up further. (See related article.)
Larry Goldstein, president of the New York-based Petroleum Industry Research Foundation, said the cushion of spare inventory of heating oil that had built up in the U.S. in recent months was now going to be dissipated ahead of the peak-use winter season. “We are going to lose 15 to 20 million barrels of oil that won’t be refined,” he said.
Economists at Global Insight Inc., a Waltham, Mass., economic-research firm, said that in a worst-case scenario in which energy supplies are severely constrained for a month or more, the economy could contract in the fourth quarter. But other economists were reluctant to reduce their estimates of economic growth.
While many worry that a housing slowdown and other factors could dent growth, consumers have shown few signs of slowing their spending much in the past few months. The industrial sector also appears to be rebounding after a small inventory crunch.
Katrina also left behind serious public-health concerns, especially in New Orleans. Experts said the floodwaters could be contaminated with a toxic stew of sewage, industrial chemicals and even coffins from deluged cemeteries, and would also create a breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying infectious diseases. The immediate dangers are greatest for 100,000 or more low-income residents who don’t own a car or were otherwise unable to evacuate.
At a minimum, water supplies contaminated by flooding and heavy rains carry the potential for the spread of gastrointestinal diseases, said Ivor van Heerden, director of the Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
Entire New Orleans neighborhoods were left isolated, cut off to anyone trying to go in or get out. Damaged and uprooted pine and oak trees knocked down power lines. Wooden shacks along Lake Pontchartrain were splintered and torn from their moorings.
Katrina was a major test of the aging system of earthen barriers, pumps and flood walls, ranging in height from 13 to 17 feet and engineered to compensate for the precarious position of the city, most of which is below sea level. A full-scale collapse of the levees could have completely inundated New Orleans.
“The majority of the levee system has held,” said Johnny Bradberry, the state transportation secretary, in an interview. Maj. Gen. Bennett Landreneau of the Louisiana National Guard said some levees may not have been high enough to hold back all the water.
Various plans have been put forth to bolster the flood-protection system, including reinforcement of the city’s pumping stations with walls to prevent the backflow of water into New Orleans in case of heavy storms. But such work is very expensive, and efforts to obtain federal funding have been mixed.
Last September, when Hurricane Ivan was threatening the city, engineers with the Orleans Levee District, a state entity responsible for levees in the city, said reinforcements had been installed on only one of the three major drainage canals.
Industrial development along the Louisiana coast has contributed to the flooding risk by reducing the vast expanse of wetlands that acts as a buffer during storms. “The water has infinitely easier access to the city,” said John M. Barry, a longtime New Orleans homeowner who chronicled the major Mississippi River flood of 1927 in his book, “Rising Tide.” “A lot of the problem is man-made, and it needs to be addressed.”
Under federal energy legislation passed in July, Louisiana will receive more than $500 million over four years to fund the restoration of coastal wetlands, said Sidney Coffee, an adviser on coastal issues to Gov. Blanco. She said every 2.5 miles of wetlands reduces storm surge – waves or walls of water raised and pushed by wind – by about one foot.
–The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Write to Kris Hudson at email@example.com and Rick Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org