Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Katrina: At least 55 killed in one county alone, New Orleans levees breached, water rising, looting, martial law declared

So, Katrina becomes a tropical storm and then a tropical depression, fading away to the northeast. The French Quarter of New Orleans seems safe.

But a couple of hours ago, news arrived that a levee separating Lake Pontchartrain from the city had been breached:

Failed pumps and at least two breaches in levees sent water from Lake Pontchartrain coursing through the streets in the Big Easy, which sits mostly below sea level.

In downtown New Orleans, streets that were relatively clear in the hours after the storm now are filled with water.

Canal Street is literally a canal and officials say water is lapping at the edge of the French Quarter.

The water is fouled with gasoline, debris and floating islands of red ants.

Residents were urged to avoid drinking the water in New Orleans.

Hemmed in by other levees elsewhere, the water has nowhere to go but into the city, and with pumps underwater and out of action it will continue to rise until it equalises with the level of the lake. Areas of the city are already under 10 feet of water, and this will rise as lake water pours in. (If you search Google Maps for “New Orleans”, zoom in and switch to photo view you will see just how much water the city has to absorb from the lake.)

Nobody is going to be allowed back into the city until at least a week passes, and even then only with identification. Looters have already started their goulish work: martial law has been declared and police have orders to shoot on sight.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has been dispatched to the city because of fears that breached gas and oil lines may be contaminating the water. With no division between sewer water, river water and utility water, the problem will be compounded. The fact that bodies continue to be seen floating in the water simply adds to the suffering and the mounting death toll for the storm as a whole.

Further east, alone the Gulf Coast, Mississippi has suffered, if anything, even more than Louisiana. When the hurricane hit, its eye passed over the coastal areas of Gulfport and Biloxi — it is in Biloxi that most of the official death toll for the storm as a whole has been counted. In addition, Biloxi is a major gambling venue and the state of Mississippi will lose an average of $500,000 for each day that the casinos are closed.

Get further updates via Google News, WWLTV, NOLA, WDSU, and Wikipedia’s Hurricane Katrina page (constantly edited). Updated image galleries of the damage are here and here, as well as photos posted to flickr from members of the public in all areas.

Update 1

Scary stuff on this blog. The water looks to be rising apace.

Update 2

The levee breaks, blogged in detail, with ‘before and after’ images. An excellent post. Also, constant interesting updates here, at WWL’s blog, and at the Times-Picayune’s updates page.

Update 3

The death toll has risen to a total of 126 direct deaths from the hurricane, of which 100 are in Harrison county. In New Orleans, looting is widespread, efforts are being made to plug the levee breaks (although this is more a question of levee structure than hoping to stop an already disastrous influx of water) and the city is now 80% underwater. All along the coast, rescue efforts continue, but bodies are being left where they are in favour of bringing the living to safety.

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