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The Warnings Were There

While the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., could not be reasonably foreseen until after the fact, despite the existence of credible intelligence, the devastation that a major hurricane like Katrina could cause to New Orleans was known. With better planning, enhanced building codes, building code training and enforcement, an organized evacuation plan, and reasonable funding for levee repairs and reinforcement, the New Orleans damage (at least $31 billion) and death toll (1577) could have been lower. In a way, New Orleans was fortunate that Katrina veered slightly sparing the City a direct hit and had weakened just before making landfall.

Although there can be no certainty on how much damage might have been avoided, the existence and activation of a cohesive mandatory evacuation plan when Hurricane Katrina, EarnWithSocial at the time a dangerous Category 5 storm, was bearing down on the City could have significantly reduced the loss of life. Instead, mandatory evacuations were not carried out when they should have been.

Just prior to the Katrina’s arrival on August 29, 2005 a mandatory evacuation utilizing every available mode of transportation (e.g. buses, cabs, and automobiles) had not been ordered even though there had been ample warning since the National Hurricane Center (NHC) and National Weather Service (NWS) had been issuing bulletins a full two days before the hurricane struck. Instead residents were given the option to leave, to remain in their residences at their own risk or to be sheltered within the city in unsafe areas, most notably The New Orleans Convention Center and the Superdome. Neither was immune to potential destruction as was forewarned.

To compound matters, rescuers were slow to arrive (also forewarned) since resources were not deployed closer to the City as Katrina approached, in preparation for the search, rescue and relief operations that would be needed in its aftermath. As a result, it took four days before much needed necessities (e.g. food, water, clothing, and medicines) and personnel began arriving. Five days after Katrina had struck with winds between 135-145 MPH, people were still stranded on roofs. Accordingly additional lives were lost directly because the initial relief efforts were ineffective and disorganized. At the same time anarchy and chaos gripped the City.

When speaking at a press conference, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff stated, “…planners had anticipated that water would rise above the levees containing Lake Pontchartrain, but that the levees would not be breached. We didn’t merely have the overflow. We actually had the break in the wall. And I will tell you that really that perfect storm of combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of planners and maybe anybody’s foresight.” He also added, “Nature was unhelpful” in terms of giving sufficient warning.[1]

Actually there were plenty of warnings. Below are the bulletins issued by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) and National Weather Service (NWS), some graphic and detailed about the potential for severe flooding, damage, and loss of life:

HURRICANE KATRINA ADVISORY NUMBER 17
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
10 AM CDT SAT AUG 27 2005

…CATEGORY THREE KATRINA MOVING WESTWARD IN THE SOUTHEASTERN GULF OF MEXICO…EXPECTED TO TURN WEST-NORTHWESTWARD AND STRENGTHEN…

AT 10 AM CDT…1500Z…A HURRICANE WATCH IS IN EFFECT FOR THE SOUTHEASTERN COAST OF LOUISIANA EAST OF MORGAN CITY TO THE MOUTH OF THE PEARL RIVER…INCLUDING METROPOLITAN NEW ORLEANS AND LAKE PONCHARTRAIN. A HURRICANE WATCH MEANS THAT HURRICANE CONDITIONS ARE POSSIBLE WITHIN THE WATCH AREA…GENERALLY WITHIN 36 HOURS.

HURRICANE KATRINA ADVISORY NUMBER 21
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
4 AM CDT SUN AUG 28 2005

…DANGEROUS CATEGORY FOUR HURRICANE KATRINA CONTINUES WEST-NORTHWESTWARD BUT EXPECTED TO TURN NORTHWARD… …NEW TROPICAL STORM WARNINGS ISSUED FOR NORTHERN GULF COAST…

A HURRICANE WARNING IS IN EFFECT FOR THE NORTH CENTRAL GULF COAST FROM MORGAN CITY LOUISIANA EASTWARD TO THE ALABAMA/FLORIDA BORDER…INCLUDING THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS AND LAKE PONTCHARTRAIN. A HURRICANE WARNING MEANS THAT HURRICANE CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED WITHIN THE WARNING AREA WITHIN THE NEXT 24 HOURS. PREPARATIONS TO PROTECT LIFE AND PROPERTY SHOULD BE RUSHED TO COMPLETION.

BULLETIN
HURRICANE KATRINA ADVISORY NUMBER 23
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
10 AM CDT SUN AUG 28 2005

…POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC HURRICANE KATRINA…EVEN STRONGER…HEADED FOR THE NORTHERN GULF COAST…

A HURRICANE WARNING IS IN EFFECT FOR THE NORTH CENTRAL GULF COAST FROM MORGAN CITY LOUISIANA EASTWARD TO THE ALABAMA/FLORIDA BORDER…INCLUDING THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS AND LAKE PONTCHARTRAIN.

URGENT – WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA
1011 AM CDT SUN AUG 28 2005

…DEVASTATING DAMAGE EXPECTED…

HURRICANE KATRINA…A MOST POWERFUL HURRICANE WITH UNPRECEDENTED STRENGTH…RIVALING THE INTENSITY OF HURRICANE CAMILLE OF 1969.

MOST OF THE AREA WILL BE UNINHABITABLE FOR WEEKS…PERHAPS LONGER. AT LEAST ONE HALF OF WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WILL HAVE ROOF AND WALL FAILURE. ALL GABLED ROOFS WILL FAIL…LEAVING THOSE HOMES SEVERELY DAMAGED OR DESTROYED.

THE MAJORITY OF INDUSTRIAL BUILDINGS WILL BECOME NON FUNCTIONAL. PARTIAL TO COMPLETE WALL AND ROOF FAILURE IS EXPECTED. ALL WOOD FRAMED LOW RISING APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL BE DESTROYED. CONCRETE BLOCK LOW RISE APARTMENTS WILL SUSTAIN MAJOR DAMAGE…INCLUDING SOME WALL AND ROOF FAILURE.

HIGH RISE OFFICE AND APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL SWAY DANGEROUSLY…A FEW TO THE POINT OF TOTAL COLLAPSE. ALL WINDOWS WILL BLOW OUT.

AIRBORNE DEBRIS WILL BE WIDESPREAD…AND MAY INCLUDE HEAVY ITEMS SUCH AS HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES AND EVEN LIGHT VEHICLES. SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES AND LIGHT TRUCKS WILL BE MOVED. THE BLOWN DEBRIS WILL CREATE ADDITIONAL DESTRUCTION. PERSONS…PETS…AND LIVESTOCK EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL FACE CERTAIN DEATH IF STRUCK.

POWER OUTAGES WILL LAST FOR WEEKS…AS MOST POWER POLES WILL BE DOWN AND TRANSFORMERS DESTROYED. WATER SHORTAGES WILL MAKE HUMAN SUFFERING INCREDIBLE BY MODERN STANDARDS.

THE VAST MAJORITY OF NATIVE TREES WILL BE SNAPPED OR UPROOTED. ONLY THE HEARTIEST WILL REMAIN STANDING…BUT BE TOTALLY DEFOLIATED. FEW CROPS WILL REMAIN. LIVESTOCK LEFT EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL BE KILLED.

AN INLAND HURRICANE WIND WARNING IS ISSUED WHEN SUSTAINED WINDS NEAR HURRICANE FORCE…OR FREQUENT GUSTS AT OR ABOVE HURRICANE FORCE…ARE CERTAIN WITHIN THE NEXT 12 TO 24 HOURS.

ONCE TROPICAL STORM AND HURRICANE FORCE WINDS ONSET…DO NOT VENTURE OUTSIDE!

HURRICANE KATRINA ADVISORY NUMBER 24
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
4 PM CDT SUN AUG 28 2005

…POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC HURRICANE KATRINA HEADED FOR THE NORTHERN GULF COAST…

A HURRICANE WARNING IS IN EFFECT FOR THE NORTH CENTRAL GULF COAST FROM MORGAN CITY LOUISIANA EASTWARD TO THE ALABAMA/FLORIDA BORDER…INCLUDING THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS AND LAKE PONTCHARTRAIN. PREPARATIONS TO PROTECT LIFE AND PROPERTY SHOULD BE COMPLETED THIS EVENING.

It should be noted that The National Hurricane Center (NHC) describes a “catastrophic hurricane” in the following way:

”Storm surge generally greater than 18 feet above normal. Complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings. Some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. All shrubs, trees, and signs blown down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Severe and extensive window and door damage. Low-lying escape routes are cut by rising water 3-5 hours before arrival of the center of the hurricane. Major damage to lower floors of all structures located less than 15 ft above sea level and within 500 yards of the shoreline. Massive evacuation of residential areas on low ground within 5-10 miles (8-16 km) of the shoreline may be required.”

However, these were not the only warnings about the threat New Orleans faced from a major hurricane and the catastrophic harm a Category 4 or 5 storm would cause.

Back in November 2004 after New Orleans had averted a close call with Hurricane Ivan, another strong storm, The Natural Hazards Observer asked, “What if Hurricane Ivan Had Not Missed New Orleans?” The answer was startling and accurate:

 

 

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