Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Lord Have Mercy

I profoundly wish my last post had been accurate about New Orleans' close brush with catastrophe. As I'm sure you know, today has brought forth scenes of ever-growing horror in the Crescent City, as a large breach in the levees protecting the city from a swollen Lake Pontchartrain developed, pouring water into the Central Business District at a rate that is overwhelming the city's pumping system. Mayor Ray Nagin estimated earlier today that 80 percent of the city is already flooded, and it's not clear how efforts to plug the levee gap are progressing.

This levee breach is exactly the "doomsday" scenario that so many in New Orleans have long feared. The only good news is that it happened after about four out of every five residents were evacuated. But that still leaves well over a hundred thousand people there as waters rise and food and water supplies begin to run out--more than 10,000 of them, including patients from flooded hospitals, taking shelter in the Superdome, fast becoming a sweltering nightmare. Yesterday's widespread looting led to a declaration of martial law in three parishes in the area, though I would guess today's flooding has put the kibosh on all but the hardiest thieves.

Even if the levee breach is plugged, and the waters subside without major loss of life, New Orleans' will be in trouble for some time, given the huge health hazards associated with contaminated water, toxic wastes and disease. Having once worked on a flood recovery project in Georgia (of a much smaller dimension), I can tell you that floods are the nastiest of natural disasters, and that public health problems really emerge when the big water's all gone.

All we can do now is watch, pray, and send what we can to the Red Cross.
When it's all over, we should all renew our faith in this wonderful city, even if it's just by heading down there and helping revive its heavily tourism-based economy. If nothing else, perhaps those who just think of New Orleans as the French Quarter and jazz clubs will understand this is a living, breathing city with problems as immense as its charm.

UPDATE, late Tuesday night: another levee breach has developed; efforts to close the first one have so far failed; and in general, the situation in New Orleans continues to deteriorate. The best single source of first-hand reports from the city is the blog-style coverage being offered by the Times-Picayune, which has provided sporadic but vivid stories of the disaster and its effects on people and their neighborhoods.
-- Posted at 2:12 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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