"Katrina's Fury" - Primetime Special 48 Hours
Mon Sep 5, 2005 13:32

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: CBS News To Air Primetime Special 48 Hours, "Katrina's Fury"
Date: Wed, 31 Aug 2005 14:52:41 -0400

New Orleans: An American city at the breaking point.

Tonight, at 8 p.m. ET/PT, a special half-hour edition of 48 Hours focuses on the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the desperate search for survivors in New Orleans, a city that is struggling, literally, to survive. is updating this catastrophic story continuously with the latest news, video, pictures and help information. We've launched a Katrina Disaster Blog you can easily stay on top of the latest news as it breaks. And we've put all the latest, most compelling videos of the tragedy in one easy to use place.

You'll find the latest information on our blog:

The latest video coverage can be found at:

For information on how you can help the recovery efforts:

And for complete coverage, go to 

Tens of thousands of Americans have been sentenced to death as Bush devotes the majority of his national addresses to the oil companies!


FEMA officials wouldn't listen; The scenario was dubbed Hurricane Pam:
America's ordeal,6903,1562298,00.html

One of those quoted was Dr Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University's Hurricane Centre. In a worst-case situation, he said, with incomplete evacuation: 'We could have up to 45,000 killed and 400,000 trapped on roofs, with 700,000 evacuees who would now be homeless.'

He was more right than wrong. It was not only van Heerden and the New York Times that were sounding the warning. Over the years, because of its urban development and unique geography, it had become clear New Orleans was an accident waiting to happen, a city that had eaten up its natural marsh defences over the years, and that was sinking under its own the weight.

Indeed, prior to 9/11, the Federal Emergency Management Agency - one of the bodies that has drawn the most criticism for the inadequacy of its response in the last week - had listed a major storm surge on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast as one of the three most likely catastrophic events it might have to cope with, along with a major earthquake on the West Coast and a terrorist attack on New York.

At local level, too, the threat to the New Orleans had long been understood. In July last year, federal and state officials ran a simulation exercise to work out what would happen if a category 3 hurricane hit New Orleans.

The prognosis was not good: it would result in billions of dollars' worth of damage. Something had to be done. In 2000, a trial was conducted using a fictional 'Hurricane Zebra'. Again, the warnings were dire. But neither simulation factored in what would happen if the levees failed in addition to water pouring over their tops.

The fact is, New Orleans was always heading for disaster. Built in a bowl of reclaimed marshland with Lake Pontchartrain to the north and bisected by the Mississippi, the only surprising thing is how long New Orleans has been spared. The entire area is built on shifting silt. During the 18th century, the French authorities oversaw the roll out of an extensive system of levees in an attempt to shore up the banks of the Mississippi, an approach that has been followed by subsequent governors and administrators over the ensuing centuries.

But, as the levees stop the silt from shifting, the region's ability to absorb storm waves using its natural resources becomes dramatically reduced. Silt islands that used to form in the area and acted as a first line of defence are now much smaller than they were several decades ago.

And as the city has expanded it has reclaimed marshland that has accelerated the drying of the delta. As it has dried, so New Orleans has sunk.

All of this was well known long before Katrina boiled up in the Caribbean, so much so that the American Red Cross, three years ago, declared it was not prepared to provide hurricane shelters in the city because of the risk to staff and the general public of the shelters being flooded.

In the Natural Hazards Observer in November 2004, Shirley Laska, director of the Centre for Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology at the University of New Orleans, predicted a direct hit could produce 'conditions never before experienced in a North American disaster' and said evacuation problems would be severe.

Most chilling of all, perhaps, was the estimation by scientists, that in any given year the risk of a storm like Katrina hitting the city head on - with all the awful consequences - was less than 100-1.

None of which explains why, far from gearing up for a potential catastrophe on a massive scale, America swept the problem of New Orleans under the carpet.

Far from funding urgent studies on how to save the city in the event of a disaster, budgets were pulled following 9/11, according to former members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), the body charged with clearing up the mess and sorting out insurance claims.

The lack of money for further studies is perplexing: as late as this year, Fema officials had conducted a tour of tsunami devastated south-east Asia earlier in the year. It caused them to worry. 'We were obsessed with New Orleans because of the risk,' Michael D Brown, a Fema director, told the New York Times

And yet nothing happened to prevent disaster. Last week the inevitable occurred.

Mike Silah was entitled to believe he'd seen it all. Just after 9pm last Sunday, however, the 'hurricane pilot' swooped into the 25-mile-wide eye of Katrina and gasped. Her size was astounding; towering columns of cumulonimbus stretched six miles above his plane; on all sides swirled a thick wall of cloud holding energy equivalent to more than 10,000 nuclear warheads. He radioed Florida's hurricane centre and said a monster was heading towards New Orleans, by now just 100 miles away.

Silah told The Observer: 'I warned there was going to be a very long night ahead. It looked beautiful, but then you remember people on the ground are going to have to survive this.'

But the authorities had heard it all before. Six weeks ago the London-based Benfield Hazard Research Centre told the US to expect 200 per cent more hurricane activity this summer and demanded 'vigilance on the part of the government'.

Precisely a month ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) told US authorities that the Atlantic coast should be braced for one of the most ferocious hurricane seasons on record. Meteorologists briefed government officials that it was imperative 'hurricane-vulnerable communities have a hurricane preparedness plan in place'.

They predicted a 100 per cent chance of above-normal hurricane activity. Scientists had noticed something unusual in the distant waters off the west coast of Africa. Sea temperatures off Ghana were at an historical high, significantly above the 27C required to form a hurricane.

Hot air wafting off the vast pool of warm tropical ocean became the fuel that first fed Katrina. As the wet, warm air rose it cooled and condensed into huge thunderclouds that would eventually form an ominous anvil shape towering seven miles above the Atlantic. Silah recalls looking up from his plane at 10,000ft and gazing in awe at the hurricane's eyewall looming another 30,000 ft above.

Meteorologists too had noticed another crucial factor that helped ensure Katrina's size and ferocity. A configuration of the African easterly jet wind would push her neatly west from the warm African waters. In fact she would be ushered right along 'hurricane alley' - the corridor of tropical seas that runs from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico and eventually to the coast of Louisiana.

Katrina was formed off west Africa around a fortnight ago, its increasing form spun by the trade winds as it crept at 25mph towards the US. As she sucked the warm moist air from the Atlantic so she steadily grew. New charts from the NOAA reveal sea temperatures of 33C were recorded off the coast of Louisiana when she struck; Katrina's ferocity would have escalated sharply until the moment she struck land.

By the time Silah 'penetrated' Katrina hours before she struck New Orleans, she had become the perfect hurricane; vast banks of turbulent cumulonimbus slowly revolving around a cylinder of still air. She was category 5; the most dangerous of all.

'There was a party going on in Bourbon Street the night before the hurricane struck,' said Rosemary Rimmer Clay, a Quaker from Brighton who was visiting the city with her two sons, after escaping the immediate disaster area.

'One man stood up and said: "I don't want to die."There was a real sense of impending doom,' Rimmer-Clay said. Trapped in the Park St Charles hotel, in the city's central business district, she sensed the party atmosphere evaporate as Katrina's 140mph winds approached.

First came the stories of the 25ft waves surging across Lake Pontchartrain. Then the toilets packed up in the hotel and the lights failed.

'The atmosphere felt incredibly dangerous. It was like a war zone. But at the same time parts of it were incredibly boring, just sitting in the dark listening to crashing sounds,' Rimmer-Clay recalls.

Then, after eight hours of meteorological violence, came silence. Katrina had torn across the city, dropping to a category 4 just before she roared in, but still the strongest hurricane to hit New Orleans for decades.

The fifth of the city's population who had chosen to stay - or had no choice - breathed a collective sigh of relief and waited for the lights to come back on, unaware that the storm surges had fatally weakened the levees protecting the city. After the wind, a new and more deadly force was about to be unleashed - the waters of the Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain.

Even before New Orleans could start to assess the damage the bad news started to leak out. Literally. Two levees had burst, sending huge waves washing down the city streets, turning them into canals. Outside, as roads and building disappeared under water, chaos ensued in an orgy of looting.

'The police told us they were authorised to beat or shoot looters. I saw one man carrying a huge box of tampons; it was surreal,' Rimmer-Clay said. Witnesses told how they saw a mail van being held up and its contents ripped out.

On top of the long-term failures to protect the city, a new and deadly series of failures were about to be revealed. Confronted with America's worst natural disaster, its inability to cope would shamingly be revealed.

There is presently only one way out of the city by car, and that is to the south. To the north, Interstate 10 disappears into a vast expanse of water 11 miles from the centre. It is a surreal juxtaposition of Tarmac and swampland: man subsumed by nature. On the city's outskirts, at the junction with La Place, where 24-hour burger joints now stand strangely empty and road signs lie twisted at the road's edge, scores of school buses wait ready to transport the homeless out of the city into the welcoming arms of church groups across Louisiana.

At the week's end, to get onto one of the buses is the equivalent of winning the Louisiana state lottery as huge queues have formed to escape. The elderly and children get priority. Occasionally, someone in the crowd faints and has to be carried out by the soldiers of the National Guard who finally have poured into this beleaguered city. Few people now say much. Some shout at the television cameras: 'We're dying', 'I haven't had water or eaten for three days', 'Doesn't anyone care?' But most are too tired to talk.

Instead they clutch their plastic bag bundles close to them like children. The high drama, the antediluvian excitement of surviving Katrina, has been replaced by a dull hatred of the red brown swamp that now surrounds and imprisons them.

Only the motels and the pawn-shops outside the city are doing brisk business. Inside everything is closed, destroyed or looted. A few New Orleans' residents have driven out of the south side and returned through the police road-blocks with shotguns in their trunks, determined to protect their properties from the gangs of looters.

With no clear advice coming from the emergency services, thousands headed for the centre of the city and ended up at the Superdome, the giant sporting arena, which had part of its synthetic roof ripped off in the storm.

As the numbers poured in, food and water quickly started to run out. Staff were forced to ration supplies, using handstamps to indicate who had received provisions. One man committed suicide, throwing himself off a ledge of the dome. A further 5,000 found themselves in the conference centre where, if anything, the situation quickly became even worse.

There were reports of gunshots at the two venues, although the authorities attacked the media for circulating what they called unfounded rumours. Inside the dome and the conference centre the bodies of the frail and elderly were left where they fell.

And for the vast the majority of Americans, it has not been the destructive power of nature, compounded by human failings that has been so shocking, but the perception that so many of the city's most frail and vulnerable - almost exclusively poor black Americans - were effectively abandoned.

The strain on the city's major hospitals soon became critical as their diesel-powered generators, necessary for sustaining the lives of people on ventilators and other medical equipment, began to run out of fuel. Plans were made to relocate the 350 patients and 1,000 doctors and nurses at Charity and University hospitals to facilities outside the city. Looters attempted to hijack a bus bringing drugs to the hospitals.

In the panic that followed, people desperately haggled with taxi drivers to get them out on the few dry roads south of the city. Why, residents are demanding to know, did the authorities not order a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans until Sunday? And why wasn't there adequate transportation laid on to help those who could not afford to travel, and the sick and elderly, to flee?

It is a question that was asked most powerfully in an editorial in New Orleans' own newspaper, publishing online as its presses have sunk under the water.

'The lack of a law enforcement presence is stunning. It is apparent that no one - neither New Orleans Police Chief Eddie Compass nor state and federal officials - were prepared for what would come after Katrina had passed through,' the paper roared in an editorial last week. 'Virtually everyone involved in public safety has failed the people left in New Orleans who are trying desperately to survive.'

And it is not just the press whose anger is boiling over. 'We can send massive amounts of aid to the tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans,' stormed Terry Ebbert, New Orleans' own homeland security chief.

For if the failure to adequately protect one of the United States' most vulnerable cities from an avoidable disaster that has dwarfed 9/11 will be the subject for long-term Congressional investigation, the failures of leadership on all sides in the aftermath of Katrina are already being laid vividly bare. The blame-game that has begun has already drawn in everyone from local officials to senators in the affected states, to even President Bush himself in a round of mutual recriminations.

The criticism - both explicit and implicit - has seen partisan loyalties break down, as even local senior Republicans have let slip their frustration

Main Page - Monday, 9/05/05

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