12 September, 2005

Category 4

There's a sad bemusement in watching people point fingers over the disaster in New Orleans. There may be blame to spread around, but I wonder how many people really understand what a category 4 hurricane is. (It's still not clear to me whether Katrina was category 4 or 5, but 5 would be worse.)

Two or three years ago, hurricane Isabel smashed into the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Take a look at what it did to Hatteras Island. In the photo, you see three gashes through the island that didn't exist before. The road itself disappeared (NC highway 12, another photo with this article).

Isabel was a category 2 hurricane. That's child's play in comparison to Katrina.

Now take a look at this photo. This is what Katrina did to US highway 90 in Mississippi. This is not the result of a shoddily-built bridge; before the hurricane, it reliably carried an immense amount of traffic across the water. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what a category 4/5 hurricane does to well-built roads. Imagine what it will do to a levee built to withstand nothing stronger than a category 3 storm. Since Katrina was at least a category 4, and a strong one at that, New Orleans was doomed.

People who think that this disaster is the fault of the Bush administration, the governor of Louisiana, or the mayor of New Orleans, should look at such photos for a long time and ask themselves if they really understand the power of a category 2 hurricane, to say nothing of a category 4. The two authors of this tragedy are God and man: God designed the weather, and man built a city that was several feet below sea level. According to a diagram by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the height of the levees for the hurricane floodwall was 17.5 feet. Hurricane Katrina had a 30 foot surge in some places, and while I'm not sure what the surge was in New Orleans, you can add 15 feet (Katrina's minimum surge) to the city's depth below sea level, and see what a disaster was in the making.

Here in Carolina, we're looking at Ophelia. The Outer Banks are in danger yet again, but this is par for the course during hurricane season.

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