In the path of Katrina

Before, during and after -- TTers weigh in on what went wrong, and what could have been prevented.

Published September 2, 2005 1:52PM (EDT)

News and the Media

Hurricane Katrina

rianswriter - 10:14 p.m. Pacific Time - Aug. 28, 2005 - #48 of 137

While what is going to happen to the city of New Orleans and to the surrounding area is devastating, the disaster preparedness geek in me is really thinking about what happens next ...

Between 30 percent and 40 percent of the imported oil that the U.S. uses comes in through the port of New Orleans. If Katrina does any damage to the Mississippi Delta (and that is pretty much a given right now -- how much, not if, is the question) that will slow if not stop oil coming in there and slow the other major ports that can handle oil tankers. NOLA has the 5th highest amount of crude tanker traffic in the U.S., exceeded only by Port Arthur, Freeport and Texas City in Texas and the Philadelphia/Delaware River cities in Pennsylvania. An additional two ports on the Gulf Coast of La. are likely to be closed or slowed; their traffic equals that of NOLA.

Of the top 10 crude tanker ports, there's NOLA, four are in Texas, one is in Alaska (where it sends oil south, but does not do much refining), two are in California, one in Pennsylvania and, of course, NYC. The remainder of the ports in the U.S. that can handle crude tankers do not equal the 10 above, and if the three Louisiana ports are closed or curtailed, it takes the next 15 to equal their capacity, and they're all East or West Coast. (We have to assume that Texas, Mississippi and Florida will be at 100 percent capacity if NOLA closes.) The Midwest has depended on the Mississippi for far more of our transportation than most of us realize, and if we can't get oil up the Mississippi, then the Midwest is in serious trouble because we no longer have the rail infrastructure to compensate. (Thanks, Bush comma.) Much of the production capacity in the Gulf is currently closed, and probably damaged by Katrina's passage. That capacity will have to be repaired before it can ramp back up. We need to look at at least a year for that, if it can be done at all. The Mississippi may shift; it's happened before.

Between 20 percent and 30 percent of the nation's oil refinery capacity is in and around New Orleans. A reduction of that size in the refining capabilities will seriously damage the trucking-based infrastructure of the U.S. and will cause significant damage to the car-based transportation systems. Again, this is a case of how much damage, not if it is damaged. Even a Cat 4 hurricane that glances off the area will cause a significant amount of damage through wind, rain and flooding. Even if we are very lucky and those facilities survive, if the Mississippi is too damaged, getting the oil to the facilities may not be possible. Further, pipelines are in peril.

The Strategic Petroleum reserves are stored in Louisiana and Texas; not in the direct path of Katrina, but too close given that I-10 is going to be severely damaged. (A map of the reserves is here: ) Getting to the oil is going to be difficult and getting it out won't be easier. Further, it barely covers a week's worth of need, so it's pretty insignificant.

As Katrina moves inland and weakens, rain, wind, small tornadoes and hail are likely in the central Midwest ... At the end of August and beginning of September. This is harvest season, and corn and soy are not quite ready to reap, but according to my family's farm manager (I talked to his wife this evening; she wanted to let me know how my great-grandfather was doing) reap is seven to 10 days away for dent corn and sileage, 12 to 16 days for soybeans. Some farmers are reaping now, most will be ready to start just about the time that the rain hits. Wet corn and soy can't be put in silos, but it also can't be left in the fields to dry. Our farm manager is seriously worried that this year's crops may be ruined (and he's not at all paranoid or nervous... he's really steady.) If that's the case, we're looking at a tough year, since Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee provide about 20 percent of the nation's soy and corn. (So no, biodiesel is not the answer here ... much to my chagrin...)

When oil/gas goes up, so does the cost of everything. Food is likely to get very expensive, especially fresh vegetables and fruits and anything dependent on fertilizers, pesticides or refrigerated transport. If Katrina remains Cat 5 and hits NOLA squarely, I would expect that coffee, bananas, lettuce, apples and potatoes are going to get expensive in most of the country, and all produce scarce after mid-late October. Now might be a good time to stock up on shelf-stable staples and frozen fruit and vegetables. Now is also the time to fill your car's tank and buy a bus pass. Get your bike in shape, too. Against our will, this may be the cure to the national obesity issue ...

We may be forced off the oil teat the hard way. The long-term ramifications of crippling by a third our oil production capability has long been one of FEMA's biggest fears (FEMA considers a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane in NOLA to be the 3rd worst case scenario for the U.S.).

This storm has long-term effects for all of us, not just those in New Orleans. While they're in my thoughts tonight, it's the whole nation who will be my concerns for the next few months.

White House

Disasters: Natural and Otherwise

Aunt Snow - 09:28 a.m. Pacific Time - Aug. 31, 2005 - #667 of 703

I'm a little tired at the sanctimonious media anchors talking about the looting. That annoying Rita Cosby (what's up with her, anyway?) was going on and on about people going to stores and "just taking things that didn't belong to them!"

Well, I find the looting disturbing, too, and even bizarre, like seeing people wading through stinking water to come away with boxes of shoes --- like, what good are fancy shoes to you now? And TVs and video games and footballs --- who's playing football now?

But I am trying to put myself in the shoes (!) of the people doing it, and I can't help but think what it must be like.

OK, first and foremost, you're poor, so you don't have a lot of cash on your person, and you probably don't have credit cards.

Second -- the last time you probably had a good, complete meal is Sunday midday. The power went out Sunday night. Any perishable food you had is no good by Monday morning.

If you spent the night in your home, and were lucky enough not to be flooded, you got to eat another meal on Monday.

If you were unlucky, and were flooded and stranded on your roof, you've eaten and drank nothing until you were rescued, and brought to the Superdome, which, by that time, was in horrible conditions.

Tuesday the waters began to rise. For most homeowners, if you saved anything, it's probably gone by the end of the day Tuesday.

You're hungry and thirsty, your family is too, your clothes are soaked and stinky, your shoes are soaked, your babies need clean diapers.

There's a Wal-Mart. People are taking stuff. There's no one to give money to. Wouldn't you feel like a fool if you didn't get the boxes of cereal, the crackers, the sodas, the water, the Pampers, the clean clothes your family needs?

Think about what it's like to go from Sunday day to Tuesday afternoon with minimal food and water, no place of comfort, fouled clothing, in the sweltering heat. And no communication from authorities, no visible sign of any help.

Plus, all of that stuff is written off. The perishables are no good. Any food item inside any flooded business will NEVER, and I mean NEVER, go on the retail market. On the day the hurricane hit, the owner of the souvenir shop on Canal St. had no hopes of salvaging the feather masks and cheesy felt hats and pennants and shot glasses and plastic beads with shiny coatings.

The TVs sitting in a flooded Canal St. electronics shop have a dollar worth of ZERO, at this point.

It's sad, it's disturbing, it is a terrible view of human behavior, but for heaven's sake, I wish the sanctimonious shits on the tube would put themselves in others' place for once.

White House

Disasters: Natural and Otherwise

LetterMan - 11:52 p.m. Pacific Time - Aug. 31, 2005 - #910 of 914

What worries me most about all this, aside from the utter, criminal incompetence and sheer idiocy of Chimperor Maximus Ignoramus and the rest of the merry crew of thieves in his maladministration during this catastrophe, an entirely preventable and avoidable catastrophe compounded by said incompetence and idiocy, is that this mess is far, far from over.

I am specifically worried of late about the condition and stability of the levees that separate New Orleans from the Mississippi.

If any of those levees were damaged, weakened, or otherwise affected by the hurricane and its aftermath, we could potentially be looking at a much, much worse disaster.

Hurricane Katrina dumped a lot of water into the upper watershed of the Mississippi and its tributaries. That water will all come down the river to what is left of New Orleans.

If the levees in New Orleans are damaged and/or weakened further by the floodwaters already in the city, the river may decide to punch its way through them and carve itself a new channel into the Gulf.

If that happens, there's not a whole lot we can do about it except to salvage what we can out of the wreckage of what had been one of America's greatest and oldest cities.

I hope it will not come to that and I hope those levees are still functional, because if they aren't we may not be able to save New Orleans.

And in the meanwhile, Chimperor Maximus Ignoramus strums his guitar while New Orleans burns.

Gotta keep those priorities straight.

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