Sunday, March 21, 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The New Orleans Flooding Disaster


By Richard P. Holm MD
Some say that the measure of a society is how it learns from its mistakes.




What did we learn from the flooding of Hurricane Katrina, which affected New Orleans and a wide swath of southeastern Louisiana in late August of 2005?  Eighty percent of New Orleans was flooded in up to 15 feet of very dirty water. 
From the 1940s through the ‘60s the city waterways were closed, levees were built, and the land dropped by eight feet with drying and compaction of previous swampland. We knew already by the 1990’s that about 50% of New Orleans was below sea level.  After Hurricane Georges (ZHY-ORZH) in September 1998 engineers called the poor condition of levees a catastrophe ready to happen, and yet they were still unprepared when Katrina hit.


After Katrina for many weeks southeast Louisiana lost most forms of communication with downed towers and lines, although text messaging was left, as it requires little signal power.


Most area hospitals were flooded and lost electricity while looters and drug seekers attacked in boats. One hospital indicated that many people died due to lack of supplies and simply the overwhelming need to provide care without enough help.
Civil disobedience also involved extensive looting and even sniper fire, while one third of the New Orleans Police Department had deserted the city in the days before the storm.  Major health problems that followed in the hours and days after the flooding mostly involved not having a safe water supply. 
Be prepared is the lesson.  Structures for flood prevention should be in top shape; a chain of command for rescuers and maintenance of law and order should be ready; a failsafe method of communicating to include text messaging needs to be available; and effective evacuation plans should be available.  Each family should store a safe water supply, non-perishable food, and a portable crank radio and flashlight.  Finally we should all learn to text message.


Our local, state, and national society can and should learn from past mistakes.