September 11, 2005
KATRINA: Not So Fast?
Polipundit carried some very optimistic predictions on Friday, from a veteran National Guardsman serving there at the moment, about Katrina's death toll and New Orleans' recovery. A sample:
3. The Mardi Gras Carnival Parade will go on "as scheduled" for February 28, 2006.
4. Within thirty days, electricity will be restored to a majority of NOLA.
5. Within thirty days, 90% of the city will by dry enough to access by civilian SUV.
6. Dependent on the restoration of water/sewer service, of which I have no first hand knowledge to comment, large numbers of NOLA residents will be going home by Thanksgiving.
7. Ninety percent, or more, of the residents that were displaced in NOLA will eventually return to the city in search of the now greatly expanded employment prospects in construction.
Read the whole thing. If you look solely at the questions of pumping water out of the city and rebuilding, the optimistic view may well be the better bet; it can be all too easy to underestimate the human, and specifically American, capacity for rebuilding when people need to get resettled. But stories like this one, from Thursday, make me wonder:
Four persons have died in what federal health officials think was likely a bacterial infection circulating in Hurricane Katrina's contaminated floodwaters in New Orleans, and new EPA tests show the water is full of sewage and lead.
Environmental Protection Agency Director Stephen L. Johnson said yesterday that the amount of E. coli and coliform, a bacterium found in sewage, in the water was at least 10 times EPA's recommended levels. Lead levels in the water also were elevated, he said.
Sure, the water can be pumped out of the city. But the 1-2-3 punch of bacterial infections, chemical contamination, and mold could make the city uninhabitable in practice for much longer. It took a long time to knock out all the buildings contaminated by mold in lower Manhattan after September 11, and Manhattan isn't surrounded by humid swamps (recall that even before Katrina, Governor Blanco was forced to abandon the Louisiana Governor's Mansion for the summer due to a tenacious mold problem). That problem will be multiplied by the need to inspect virtually every building still standing in the city to see which ones need to be knocked down. I want to be optimistic, but I'm not holding my breath.
The "toxic sludge" angle has been overplayed. What N.O. will need once the pumps are up and running is a good rainstorm.
One environmental expert on CNN was being pressed by the anchor to say it would be an environmental disaster but he wouldn't buy it. He said the bacteria are in all soils everywhere and they would die once they dried up.
N.O. will be OK. Have you every been on Bourbon Street on a Sunday morning or maybe after Mardi Gras, now that's a toxic sludge.
BTW-The Governors mansion was a known problem when Edwin Edwards was governor 20 years ago. Blanco just wanted to stay in a friend's home at $5K per month.
I don't really have a handle on just how daunting the problem of getting drinkable tap water is - that seems to be the largest obstacle to rebuilding. But aside from that, I think that reopening the port of New Orleans is the most critical issue. That is(other than tourism) the engine behind the city's existence, and once it is functioning again, the city will begin to naturally recover. Government programs can and should help the process, but there is also no real substitute for a good economic reason for people to be in the city., and the port is the easiest one to put back in place.