India fades into the background as all thoughts turn to home. One of the top emerging news stories is that a potentially huge hurricane will be bearing down on New Orleans. Evacuations are already mandatory in the outlying areas of New Orleans and the mayor of New Orleans is urging everyone to get out. My family wrote yesterday to say they had packed up valuables and prepared the pet carriers to flee to a safe place.
When I was a kid we never evacuated for hurricanes. There weren't any big enough to make everyone run. With hurricane strength measured on a scale of 1-5, most hurricanes that threatened us were the weakest categories, only 1's or 2's. But the storms have gotten stronger. In the last seven years, I think my family has had to pick up and get out of danger's way three or four times. Luckily for New Orleans, the storm has always turned and gone somewhere else. It's a strange feeling to be wishing a orm away, knowing that if it isn't battering your loved ones, it is hitting someone else's.
Every place seems to have it's worst-case disaster fears. In California there is The Big One, the earthquake that will slide Los Angeles into the sea. In parts of China, it is the massive flood that would result from the dams failing in the Three Gorges project. In Naples, it is the idea of another Vesuvius erruption...
For New Orleans, the worst case scenario is a strong hurricane (Category 3 or greater) hitting the city and following the course of the Mississippi River inland. The river would supply the hurricane with water and energy and the storm wouldn't lose strength as it should. The city, sunk in a bowl, is in many places at least 3 meters below sea level. Quickly the waters would start to rise and the city would flood. Pumps could push water some of the water into the enormous Lake Pontchatrain, but the storm would pick up the water and dump it right back. Water levels could rise as high as 20 feet. People might evacuate into highrise buildings and the Superdome as the roads leading out of the city become submerged under water. In the worst case scenario, thousands of people could die.
Absolute worst case is that the storm would contine up the Mississippi River, wrecking the Army Corps of Engineer's controls that keep the river flowing through New Orleans. The river should have changed course in the flood of 1937... but it's been held in place with man-made engineering. If the Mississippi changed course, the water currently flowing through New Orleans would silt up, and one of the largest ports in the US would literally become a backwater. But that's longterm worst-worst case. Better not to think about that.
People always hope that an approaching hurricane isn't The Big One. The storm will peter out. It will turn. There will be less rain and strom surge than predicted. The pumps will work better than expected. Everyone will evacuate in time. And so far, that's always been the case. Unfortunately today's news repots say that all simulations and computer models show the storm hitting New Orleans. The storm was just upgraded to a Category 4.
Concern is running so high that the President of the United States is telling people to evacuate. The Mayor of New Orleans is asking people to put loved ones on planes, if they can, and fly them away. Current estimates are that as many as 100,000 people have no transportation out of town. There's talk of requistioning trains and buses to get people out. Getting out isn't the only problem. What will be left of the city if the storm hits it directly poses other problems. What will people come back to?
So, on this side of the world, there is not much I can do. Hoping to hear from family and friends that they are safe. Watching the news on tv and checking the internet as the storm gets closer to shore. With a hurricane, anything can happen. Fear and prepare for the worst, but ultimately hope for the best.
Fingers crossed, the storm will weaken, pass over a sparsely populated rural area, and quickly fall apart to be nothing but dramatic thunder and lightening. I'll be sitting here with fingers crossed. Thinking of everyone at home. Hoping for the best.