I've been reading a few reports about the destruction wrought upon New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. Even on Tuesday, when there seemed to be some sigh of relief that the Hurricane had not done as much damage as people feared, I could see some telltale signs that things were not good at all.
If you didn't know already, New Orleans is below sea level, and has been kept dry by a series of levees to prevent water from coming in. The problem is that some of these levees have broken in the hours subsequent to the Hurricane. Water is pouring in from the nearby Lake Pontchartrain, a salt water lake that is connected to the sea to the east. Most of the city is now inundated by water, with some parts of the city completely submerged, while other parts being 2-3 feet deep.
There is absolutely no question whatsoever that the city is in a dangerously critical condition. The city can't function without the water being drained, and that can't happen until the levees are repaired or rebuilt.
I'm not sure how long it took to build the levee system, but repairing the major breeches will take time. I'm guessing months. There is no point in draining the city of the water until the source of the inundation is removed. Then there's the issue of the remaining levees - with the damage caused by the Hurricane, the entire levee system is suspect, especially if the city is subjected to another hurricane (which is a reasonable possibility). So the levees need to be totally rebuilt.
It will also takes months to remove the water from the city. The city actually has its own pumps to drain excess water during the wet season, but these pumps are unlikely to be operational. It could take a month or two to repair them and get them running again - assuming the levees are fixed.
Then there's the problem of subsidence and long term water damage. The water in New Orleans is likely to remain there for many months. During that time, wooden houses would degrade beyond useability, and the foundations of brick or concrete houses would become suspect. So even if the levees were fixed and the water removed after six months (which, to my mind, is hopelessly optimistic), I would guestimate that between 50-75% of the city's buildings would need to be demolished.
So what of the 500,000 citizens of New Orleans? Where do they go from here?
The fact is that most of these people now have neither a home nor a job to go back to. They are now refugees, unable to return to the city that they have lived in for many years. The fact is that many of these 500,000 are even now seriously considering moving to another city, or even another state. Six months is a long time to spend living in a tent next to your car, relying upon charity to pay your bills.
There is a real chance that New Orleans will no longer be a functioning city.
There's no doubt that if the levees are fixed and the water is drained and if the rubble is removed that people will come back. But I think that it would only be a fraction of what it was before Katrina hit.
Do you know what's sad? Having advertisements on this blogsite which you can click on to find a hotel in New Orleans. I'm not responsible for the content of the ads - I wish the Google adsense people had made an executive decision to remove those sorts of ads.
And you know what else is sad? These songs are going through my head:
When the Levee Breaks ("If it keeps on rainin', levee's gonna break...")
The House of the Rising Sun ("There is a house in New Orleans, they call the rising sun...")
Long before the Superdome (The Simpson's "New Orleans" song - "Long before the Superdome, where the saints of football play, lived a city that the damned call home, hear their hellish roundelay...")
From the Department of Wha's Happnin?