Katrina may be 'our Asian tsunami'
i almost hate
to post this ... i don't even live there and it puts me in an
Sunday, August 28, 2005; Posted:
10:46 p.m. EDT (02:46 GMT)
(CNN) -- Flooding expected
from Hurricane Katrina could wreak catastrophe on New Orleans,
overwhelming its water and sewage systems, damaging its
structures and leaving survivors in a bowl of toxic soup, a
top hurricane expert said Sunday.
Landfall is expected
early Monday. (Latest report)
"We need to recognize we
may be about to experience our equivalent of the Asian
tsunami, in terms of the damage and the numbers of people that
can be killed," said Ivor van Heerden, director of the
Louisiana State University Public Health Research Center in
Some 25 feet of standing water is
expected in many parts of the city -- almost twice the height
of the average home -- and computer models suggest that more
than 80 percent of buildings would be badly damaged or
destroyed, he said. (Watch a report on the worst-case
Floodwaters from the east will carry toxic
waste from the "Industrial Canal" area, nicknamed after the
chemical plants there. From the west, floodwaters would flow
through the Norco Destrehan Industrial Complex, which includes
refineries and chemical plants, said van Heerden, who has
studied computer models about the impact of a strong hurricane
for four years.
"These chemical plants are going to
start flying apart, just as the other buildings do," he
predicted. "So, we have the potential for release of benzene,
hydrochloric PLURPLURPLURPLUR, chlorine and so on."
That could result in severe air and water pollution,
In New Orleans, which lies below sea level,
gas and diesel tanks are all located above ground for the same
reason that bodies are buried above ground. In the event of a
flood, "those tanks will start to float, shear their
couplings, and we'll have the release of these rather volatile
compounds," van Heerden added.
Because gasoline floats
on water, "we could end up with some pretty severe and large
-- area-wise -- fires."
"So, we're looking at a bowl
full of highly contaminated water with contaminated air
flowing around and, literally, very few places for anybody to
go where they'll be safe."
He went further.
"So, imagine you're the poor person who decides not to
evacuate: Your house will disintegrate around you. The best
you'll be able to do is hang on to a light pole, and while
you're hanging on, the fire ants from all the mounds -- of
which there is two per yard on average -- will clamber up that
same pole. And, eventually, the fire ants will win."
The levees intended to protect the city vary in
height, from as low as 10 feet above sea level to about 14
feet, he said. They too are vulnerable, because they are made
of earth, he said.
Disaster waiting to happen
Previous studies have suggested a catastrophic toll in
lives and property if a major hurricane were to hit the New
Orleans area, where about 1.3 million people live.
Walter Maestri, the emergency management chief in
neighboring Jefferson Parish, said Hurricane Georges in 1998
could have killed as many as 44,000 people had it struck the
"The way it's described, we describe it
here, is Lake Pontchartrain has now become Lake New Orleans,"
he told CNN in 2004.
Van Heerden said levees built to
protect New Orleans from Lake Pontchartrain could be buffeted
by waves from the lake, which is about 23 miles by 35 miles in
"You're going to have enormous waves develop on
that lake, especially with as much as 14 hours of
hurricane-force winds." Those waves will erode the levees,
raising the possibility of their collapse, he said.
"This is what we've been saying has been going to
happen for years," he said. "Unfortunately, it's coming true."
Rick Luettich, a professor at the University of North
Carolina's Institute of Marine Sciences, compared Katrina's
expected impact on areas far up the Mississippi to "grabbing
the end of the bed cover and giving it a hard snap."
That snap will push "probably in excess of 10 feet" of
floodwater up the river, he predicted. "It will propagate up
the river like a wave," past Baton Rouge, more than 70 miles
away, he said.
For 15 years, Luettich has been
developing a hydrodynamic circulation model -- called AdCirc
-- that he said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has
endorsed to help emergency managers predict storm damage.
Apologizing for the possibility that his comment could
be interpreted as somewhat ghoulish, he said, "This is, in
some ways, a little bit exciting for us, because it's a real
opportunity to test this technology we've developed and see
how well it works."