For me, the moment I discovered that the New Orleans levees had catastrophically failed is one of those moments that I will never forget. The night before (Aug. 29th), I went to bed a little after midnight, thinking that New Orleans had survived the worst of Katrina, and that the city's luck had held.
The next morning, as I usually do, I woke up at quarter after six* to head off to the gym. I usually check the NOAA website to see what the weather will be before heading out, and, on a whim, I looked to see what was happening in New Orleans. I simply couldn't believe what I read, but I clicked over to a couple of news sites, and it was confirmed. As far as I can tell, I was one of the earllier bloggers to report this, largely because I get up really early and live in the EST (and wasn't hit by the storm). Here's what I posted that morning:
Last night, the levee appeared to be holding, and it appeared New Orleans had survived. Then the levee broke. 80% of New Orleans is underwater; the water supply is destroyed. The public infrastructure is essentially gone; here's one example:
In New Orleans' central business district, Karen Troyer Caraway, vice president of Tulane University Hospital, said water at the facility was initially rising at the rate of a foot an hour and had already reached the top of the first floor.
"It's dumping all the lake water in Orleans Parish," Caraway said. "It's essentially running down Canal Street. We have whitecaps on Canal Street."
"We now are completely surrounded by 6 feet of water, and are about to get on the phone with FEMA to start talking about evacuation plans," Caraway said. "The water is rising so fast, I can't even begin to describe how fast it is rising."
Caraway said she didn't know whether any pumps had been turned on to pump the water, but said, "they're not going to be able to compete with Lake Pontchartrain."
Tulane hospital has moved its emergency room to the second floor, Caraway said. It has been on emergency generator power for the last 24 hours, but if water continued rising rapidly, that power will be lost, swamping the power source.
Those medical personnel are heroic. Unfortunately, heroism can only do so much against utter catastrophe:
Nagin said both both New Orleans airports are underwater and there would be no electricity in the city for four to six weeks. Natural gas leaks have been reported throughout town, he said.
"Now is not the time to return to the city," Nagin said to those who had evacuated ahead of Katrina, saying they would have to wait weeks, if not months.
Gilliard was right, this is like a nuclear bomb without the firestorm or fallout.
To this day, I am still shocked when I read accounts that Bush administration officials had no idea for so long that the situation was so awful. I was just another guy with a blog[link], and I knew about this roughly three hours after it had occurred. Murderous incompetence at best; murderous intent at worst.
*Really. I am the Mad Biologist after all....
I remember hearing early Monday afternoon. We have some levee damage, but the Bureau of Rec is confident they can be repaired. So I went home feeling we had dodged the bullet!