It seems that the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will be of much greater concern than the storm itself. Eighty percent of New Orleans is currently under water. Two levees holding back Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi have burst and water is pouring in (Here is a map from the NY Times). Since most of New Orleans is below sea level, this water cannot drain out. It will have to be pumped out. As of now, workers are still trying to repair the levees. Science writer Mark Frischetti wrote about such a possible disaster in the October 2001 issue of Scientific American. The only good news is that most of the inhabitants evacuated before the storm and water did not overwhelm the levees initially.
The nightmare scenario is that a severe storm surge will flow over the levee walls and flood the city quickly. The levees that were then designed to keep water out will now keep water in. In such a scenario, all of New Orleans would be under water up to 10 or more metres. Right now, the parts of the city above sea level like the French Quarter may be spared. I know I’m a doom and gloom kind of guy but it could take months just to make New Orleans habitable again. Half a million people could be displaced for a long time. I know the sentiment will be to rebuild the city but this will not be the last time a major hurricane will pummel the city. Wetlands that used to protect New Orleans to the south and east are diminishing at a pace of an acre very 24 minutes. The city sits directly in the path of where the Mississippi really wants to go and to top it all off it is slowly sinking. Should we seriously consider if it is worth maintaining New Orleans?