Traffic Jam As Thousands Flee Katrina

Hardbeatnews, NEW YORK, N.Y., Mon. Aug. 29, 2005: New Orleans, home to over 4,000 West Indian nationals, according to the U.S. Census, was fast emptying out yesterday as Hurricane Katrina bore down on the city, known for its Mardi Gras.

Many in the metropolitan area of about a million, took to the roads, to flee the storm, raging in the Gulf of Mexico last night as a very dangerous category five on the Saffir Simpson scale. But the evacuation, ordered by both President Bush and reinforced by city and weather officials, resulted in a traffic nightmare.

Last night, one New Yorker told HBN that relatives he spoke with were still on the road, trying to get to Houston or Alabama. The two-hour drive had turned into a horrendous eight-hour haul as thousands rushed to higher grounds.  Tolls on roadways were suspended, government officials stated.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, told CNN that as of last night, some 75 to 80 percent of residents had evacuated or left the city.  Some 30,000 people were taken to the Louisiana Superdome, which is serving as a shelter, along with several schools and local centers. 

“This is a once in a lifetime event,” the mayor said. “The city of New Orleans has never seen a hurricane of this magnitude hit it directly.” New Orleans is below sea level and relies on levees and pumps to keep the water out. A direct hit could wind up submerging the city in several feet of water. The mayor said that in a worst-case scenario, a gigantic storm surge would flood the city with 18 feet of water. “It would take weeks to pump all of the water out, he said.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said that New Orleans could expect a complete loss of electricity and water services as well as intense flooding.

Ivor van Heerden, director of the Louisiana State University Public Health Research Center in Baton Rouge, painted a more depressing fate. He told CNN the possible hit could be “our Asian tsunami,” adding that floodwaters from the east will carry toxic waste from the “Industrial Canal” area, while flood waters from the west, would flow through the Norco Destrehan Industrial Complex, which includes refineries and chemical plants.

“These chemical plants are going to start flying apart, just as the other buildings do. So, we have the potential for release of benzene, hydrochloric acid, chlorine and so on,” he said, adding, that could result in severe air and water pollution.

Last night, Max Mayfield, the National Hurricane Center director, warned that the biggest threats were not wind or rain, but rising Gulf waters. He warned residents, via CNN, to get out even as Katrina drew closer.

At 11 p.m. last night, the storm, dubbed “potentially catastrophic,” was located about 160 miles south-southeast of New Orleans and moving toward the north-northwest near 10 mph with maximum sustained winds near 160 mph with higher gusts expected.

The storm’s center is forecasted to be very near the northern gulf coast this morning.  Coastal storm surge flooding of 18 to 22 feet above normal tide levels and as high as 28 feet can be expected near and some levees in the greater New Orleans area could be overtopped, NHC forecasters said. Rainfall totals of 5 to 10 inches are expected along the path of Katrina, across the Gulf Coast and the Tennessee Valley. 

Isolated tornadoes are also possible Sunday across southern portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, forecasters said.

The storm has sent oil prices in the Gulf rising to a record $70 per barrel which will only mean rising gas prices for U.S. customers. –