Hurrican season looms – New Orleans worries

Sun May 20, 8:58 AM ET

This National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration satellite image, taken August 28, 2005 and released August 28, 2006, shows Hurricane Katrina as the storm’s outer bands lashed the Gulf Coast the day before landfall. Katrina hit on August 29, 2005 and killed more than 1,500 people in four states, flooding 80 percent of New Orleans, where entire neighborhoods are still nearly empty. In a New Orleans still recovering from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the city safety plan for the next storm can be summed up best in two words: Get out.

By Russell McCulley and Haitham Haddadin
Sun May 20, 8:58 AM ET

In a New Orleans still recovering from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the city safety plan for the next storm can be summed up best in two words: Get out.

As the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season begins, New Orleans officials say the city is better prepared than it was before Katrina, but cannot assure people’s safety.

“When the mayor tells the citizens to evacuate, the citizens should listen and heed the mayor’s warning,” said Jerry Sneed, director of the city’s office of emergency preparedness.

Jesse St. Amant, emergency preparedness director for Plaquemines Parish southeast of New Orleans, agreed. “I would rather have somebody say ‘I was inconvenienced’ (by evacuating) than to have to recover their body.”

Last year’s hurricane season passed without a storm hitting Louisiana, which gave the city much needed time to continue its slow rebuilding.

But this year, forecasters predict the hurricane season, which starts on June 1, will be busy, and the U.S. Gulf Coast could well be hit.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has spent at least $1 billion strengthening levees that failed so miserably when Katrina hit on August 29, 2005, but experts say it will take billions more to secure the city, which is mostly below sea level.

The result, said Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center in Baton Rouge, is that another hurricane like Katrina could do just as much damage.
Katrina, a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale when it hit New Orleans, flooded 80 percent of the city when its storm surge swamped the surrounding levees. A Category 3 storm has maximum winds of 130 miles per hour (209 kph).

The storm killed at least 1,300 people and did an estimated $81 billion in damage, the most by a natural disaster in the United States.

‘IT WILL COMPLETELY FLOOD EVERYTHING’

“If we got a slow-moving Category 3, it will completely flood everything,” van Heerden told Reuters at a recent hurricane conference.

Louisiana Insurance Commissioner James Donelon said he believed the city’s protection was strong enough to stand up to another Katrina, but beyond that, there were no guarantees.
“We have never, ever … in the history of New Orleans been better protected against strong surge from hurricanes than we are today,” he said in an interview. But “a Category 4 or 5 hurricane on the critical path, that I can’t answer.”

The issue is moot to local officials, who say that if a storm of any strength heads toward New Orleans, people should leave.

They do not want a repeat of the anarchy after Katrina when people who did not evacuate died in the flooded city while crime and chaos reigned in the streets and in public shelters.

Officials said there will be no shelters open for the next storm because they do not want to encourage people to stay. Nor do they want them trying to ride it out in their homes.

The lessons of Katrina have not been lost on New Orleans residents, many of whom have refused to return to a city they still view as a sitting duck for hurricanes.

The latest population estimates show that about 255,000 people live in New Orleans now, compared to 480,000 before the storm.

Those who are back worry about what this hurricane season will bring.

Ina Keelen, a 21-year-old hotel employee who rode out Katrina in the city, said that next time she will leave, adding “I can’t take another chance with my life.”
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