Please note that nothing on this website is official information.


A current view of the marshes just north of Venice, La. 
Center, rain already has begun to etch deep gullies in a section of the MR-GO levee rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina (from Times-Picayune).
Scientists have long said the only way to restore Louisiana's vanishing wetlands is to undo the elaborate levee system that controls the Mississippi River. NEWER HERE; In 2006, they were reconsidering. Scientists are now recommending that the river be diverted.

NEW ORLEANS' REVIVAL: NEW - Oil spill impact;  (2009) global business/legal bad news:  background on the web here - 

After another failure, BP scrambles a new plan to keep oil from flowing into Gulf of Mexico
Hartford Courant
BEN NUCKOLS, Associated Press Writer
9:34 AM EDT, May 30, 2010

ROBERT, La. (AP) — With BP declaring failure in its latest attempt to plug the uncontrolled gusher feeding the worst oil spill in U.S. history, the company is turning to yet another mix of risky undersea robot maneuvers and longshot odds to keep crude from flowing into the Gulf.

Six weeks after the catastrophe began, oil giant BP PLC is still casting about for at least a temporary fix to the spewing well underneath the Gulf of Mexico that's fouling beaches, wildlife and marshland. A relief well that's currently being drilled — which is supposed to be a better long-term solution — won't be done for at least two months. That would be in the middle of the Atlantic hurricane season, which begins Tuesday.

President Barack Obama said it is "as enraging as it is heartbreaking" that the most ambitious bid yet for a temporary solution failed. BP said Saturday that the procedure known as the "top kill" failed after engineers tried for three days to overwhelm the crippled well with heavy drilling mud and junk 5,000 feet underwater.  Now, BP hopes to saw through a pipe leading out from the well and cap it with a funnel-like device using the same remotely guided undersea robots that have failed in other tries to stop the gusher.

Robert Dudley, BP's managing director, said on "Fox News Sunday" that company officials were disappointed that they "failed to wrestle this beast to the ground."

Engineers will use remotely guided undersea robots to try to lower a cap onto the leak after cutting off part of a busted pipe leading out from the well. The funnel-like device is similar to a huge containment box that failed before when it became clogged with icelike slush. Dudley said officials "learned a lot" from that failure and will pump warm water through the pipes to prevent the ice problems.

The spill is the worst in U.S. history — exceeding even the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster — and has dumped between 18 million and 40 million gallons into the Gulf, according to government estimates. The leak began after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in April, killing 11 people.  Suttles said BP is already preparing for the next temporary fix. The company plans to cut off the damaged riser, and then try to cap it with a containment valve. The effort is expected to take between four and seven days.

"This scares everybody, the fact that we can't make this well stop flowing, the fact that we haven't succeeded so far," BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said Saturday. "Many of the things we're trying have been done on the surface before, but have never been tried at 5,000 feet."

He said cutting off the damaged riser isn't expected to cause the flow rate of leaking oil to increase significantly.  Experts have said that a bend in the damaged riser likely was restricting the flow of oil somewhat, so slicing it off and installing a new containment valve is risky.

"If they can't get that valve on, things will get much worse," said Philip W. Johnson, an engineering professor at the University of Alabama.

Johnson said he thinks BP can succeed with the valve, but added: "It's a scary proposition."

News that the top kill fell short drew a sharply worded response from President Obama on Saturday, a day after he visited the Gulf Coast to see the damage firsthand.

"It is as enraging as it is heartbreaking, and we will not relent until this leak is contained, until the waters and shores are cleaned up, and until the people unjustly victimized by this manmade disaster are made whole," Obama said.

In the days after the spill, BP was unable to use robot submarines to close valves on the massive blowout preventer atop the damaged well, then two weeks later, ice-like crystals clogged a 100-ton box the company tried placing over the leak. Earlier this week, engineers removed a mile-long siphon tube after it sucked up a disappointing 900,000 gallons of oil from the gusher.

Frustration has grown as drifting oil closes beaches and washes up in sensitive marshland. The damage is underscored by images of pelicans and their eggs coated in oil. Below the surface, oyster beds and shrimp nurseries face certain death. Fishermen complain there's no end in sight to the catastrophe that's keeping their boats idle.  In the latest try, BP engineers pumped more than 1.2 million gallons of heavy drilling mud into the well and also shot in assorted junk, including metal pieces and rubber balls.

The hope was that the mud force-fed into the well would overwhelm the upward flow of oil and natural gas. But Suttles said most of the mud escaped out of the damaged pipe that's leaking the oil, called a riser.  Word that the top kill had failed hit hard in fishing communities along Louisiana's coast.

"Everybody's starting to realize this summer's lost. And our whole lifestyle might be lost," said Michael Ballay, the 59-year-old manager of the Cypress Cove Marina in Venice, La., near where oil first made landfall in large quantities almost two weeks ago.  Johnny Nunez, owner of Fishing Magician Charters in Shell Beach, La., said the spill is hurting his business during what's normally the best time of year — and there's no end in sight.

"If fishing's bad for five years, I'll be 60 years old. I'll be done for," he said after watching BP's televised announcement.

The top official in coastal Plaquemines Parish said news of the top kill failure brought tears to his eyes.

"They are going to destroy south Louisiana. We are dying a slow death here," said Billy Nungesser, the parish president. "We don't have time to wait while they try solutions. Hurricane season starts on Tuesday."

How about seizing one of these?  No one would ever notice!

Lawyers: Chinese drywall makers may ignore suits
By CAIN BURDEAU Associated Press Writer
Updated: 09/28/2009 02:14:34 PM EDT

NEW ORLEANS—Lawyers representing homeowners and homebuilders who used drywall suspected of causing corrosion and possible health risks say they expect Chinese companies that made the wallboard to ignore hundreds of lawsuits filed against them in U.S. courts.

So, who's going to be on the hook for any damages courts might award?

That's the pivotal question for lawyers as they pursue about 300 lawsuits in U.S. District Court in New Orleans that allege a flood of defective Chinese drywall was sent into the United States after a string of hurricanes in 2004 and 2005. The material is known to decay, creating corrosive chemicals and fumes.

Among tactics lawyers are considering are suits against U.S. investment bankers who financed the Chinese companies, and seizing ships that brought the drywall to the United States.

This would not be the first time Chinese companies have ignored U.S. liability suits, said Russ Herman, a lead plaintiffs lawyer in the drywall litigation.

"They've done that with toxic edibles, with toys, with (blood thinner) heparin, milk, you name it," Herman said.

Kerry Miller, lead lawyer for the defendants, agreed. He represents U.S. homebuilders, drywall installers, distributors and Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co., the only Chinese company that's recognized the lawsuits so far. The defendants want Chinese manufacturers to respond in court because they, too, are seeking damages from the drywall makers.

Miller said Chinese companies are able to dodge service in U.S. courts.  Last week, U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon found one Chinese company, Taishan Gypsum Co., in contempt of court for ignoring the suits.  The lawyers said Chinese companies are virtually insulated against liability in U.S. suits because suing them through international court is costly and time-consuming and civil judgments in U.S. courts are not enforced in China.

Jonathan C. Drimmer, a partner with Steptoe & Johnson LLP, a Washington, D.C., law firm that specializes in international litigation, said that historically plaintiffs lawyers have avoided suing foreign manufacturers. Lawyers "won't pursue an action if they don't see a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," Drimmer said.

"This is not a typical U.S. drug problem case, a U.S. environmental case, this is different. We're all being forced to think outside the box," Miller said. "It's very difficult to resolve this complex situation when you only have a fraction of the parties in the court."

Herman said plaintiffs' lawyers were up to the challenge. "I think we can bust the dam in this case," he said.

He said making that happen could involve attempts to obtain damage payments by seizing vessels that brought the drywall to the United States if they return to U.S. ports and even going after Wall Street investment banks with a share of ownership in the Chinese companies.

"We've got financial institutions in the United States that have substantial investments in these companies that caused these problems," Herman said. He couldn't say which U.S. financial institutions could be sued for damages.

Miller said lawyers are considering asking courts to seize vessels that delivered the drywall.

"It's an interesting concept and if it can work to get the attention of these other Chinese companies, that's what needs to be done," he said. "Getting the missing parties to the table" was paramount, he said.

But seizing vessels—known as an "in rem" action, which often involves filing a lien against a vessel—and going after shareholders would hardly be easy, said Mark Ross, a Lafayette, La., lawyer who specializes in maritime law and civil litigation.

"My gut reaction is that that could be a bit of a stretch. In rem could be seen as a severe action, seizing a vessel, tying it up for a day," Ross said.

"How do you go about identifying what vessels to seize?" Ross said. "How do you seize a vessel for merely transporting cargo, which they might have been required to take by law."

A ship owner could sue if the seizure were deemed too aggressive, Ross said.

As for going after investors, Ross said that too was far-fetched. "Smart money says that's not going to work. A shareholder? Probably not. I don't know if that exposes them to liability."

Still, Herman remains sanguine.

"You're talking about billions of dollars" at stake, Herman said. "We're going to find some ways to make them responsive."

HURRICANES: the basics from I-BBC:

New  Orleans:
New Orleans Commission to Seek Overhaul of Schools and Transit
Published: January 11, 2006

NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 10 - The commission devising a blueprint to reconstruct the city will propose on Wednesday a complete reorganization of the troubled school system, the elimination of a 76-mile shipping channel that was a prime cause of flooding after Hurricane Katrina and the creation of a new jazz district downtown...

The most controversial proposal, reported on Sunday by The New York Times, would have allowed residents to return soon to all sections of the city but within a year would close those neighborhoods that did not achieve a critical mass of residents. A leader of the commission, Joseph C. Canizaro, said Tuesday that members had modified that proposal over the last two days and now believed that no one should be allowed back into the most damaged neighborhoods until June.

City services will probably be more readily available then, Mr. Canizaro said, and the extra time will allow the city to identify who wants to return and set up planning teams for each neighborhood.

"My concern," he said, "is for people who have the money and we let fix up a place and then they find themselves sitting all by themselves without any neighbors around."

By Aug. 20, under the plan, the city should begin the neighborhood reconstruction and should begin acquiring property for public projects like expanding parks. Some low-lying neighborhoods may become parks or marshland if they do not attract enough housing development.

One measure of whether a neighborhood will succeed will be whether it has enough residents to justify a high school and two primary schools.

An essential element, Mr. Canizaro said, is forming the Crescent City Recovery Corporation, through which federal funds would flow. The corporation would have the power to buy and sell property for redevelopment, including the use of eminent domain, and could issue bonds.

Board members of the recovery corporation, to number seven to 15 under the plan, would be appointed by the president, the governor, the mayor and the City Council.

"If we don't get a reconstruction authority in place right away, we won't have a chance with implementation," Mr. Canizaro said.  To create such an agency, however, the city needs to amend its charter, he and others said...

Plan Would Open All New Orleans for Rebuilding
Published: January 8, 2006

NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 7 - The city's official blueprint for redevelopment after Hurricane Katrina, to be released on Wednesday, will recommend that residents be allowed to return and rebuild anywhere they like, no matter how damaged or vulnerable the neighborhood, according to several members of the mayor's rebuilding commission.

The proposal appears to put the city's rebuilding panel on a collision course with its state counterpart, which will control at least some of the flow of federal rebuilding money to the city....full story here.

Architects Envision New Orleans Rebuilding
By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press Writer
Sun Nov 13, 6:07 AM ET

NEW ORLEANS - Michael Willis has designed an airport terminal in San Francisco and a 750 million-gallon water treatment plant in Los Angeles, but nothing on the architect's resume gives him a blueprint for rebuilding New Orleans.

Not since the Nazi blitz of London or the bombing of Hiroshima have architects and urban planners seen a project on par with resurrecting this hurricane-ravaged city, according to Willis.

"The scale of it overwhelms the normal city planning process," he said Saturday during a break at the Louisiana Recovery and Rebuilding Conference, a state-sponsored event organized by the American Institute of Architects to discuss the city's future.

Hundreds of civic and business leaders, elected officials and planning experts have been weighing the options during the three-day conference that wrapped up Saturday. The goal: come up with written agenda to help guide the massive rebuilding effort.

"Before you can plan something like this, you have to get the fundamentals. You've got to work the principles out," said Ron Faucheux, head of government affairs for the Washington-based AIA. Several architects, including Willis, urged civic leaders to avoid a "one-size-fits-all" approach. This is a unique opportunity to create "walkable," densely populated neighborhoods with a rich texture of demographic and architectural diversity, said David Dixon, a principal at the Boston-based Goody, Clancy architectural firm.

"New Orleans can go one of two directions: It can be Las Vegas, a city based on entertainment," he said, "or it can be America's greenest, most walkable city." Preserving historic architecture must be a guiding principle for any approach, Willis said.

"At the end of the day, it's got to look and feel like New Orleans," he said. For the audience, though, the cost of rebuilding was a major concern, and Dixon's suggestion that state and local officials share the financial burden with the federal government didn't go over well.

"We don't have money. We have zero revenue at the moment," said city Councilwoman Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson, who represents the French Quarter. The mayor already cut the city's work force by half, the state is facing a nearly $1 billion deficit, and hundreds of businesses and homes that supported the city's tax base have been destroyed.

Tom Reese, who works at Tulane University and has researched contemporary architecture, said the architects were "selling dreams" when they urged city leaders to embrace planning concepts like "smart growth," "green architecture" and mixed-use developments.

"There is so little discussion about the economic realities of this region," he said. "If you don't know that, you can't begin to create any kind of solution."

Royals see storm-hit New Orleans
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall have met survivors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

They visited the lower Ninth Ward, one of the areas worst hit, and climbed a levee to view the storm's destruction.

When asked by a reporter what struck him most, the prince said: "Incredible resilience, despite awful loss. Where there's life, there's hope."

The royal couple, on the fifth day of their US tour, also went to a Catholic school in the French Quarter.  The couple travelled to the lower Ninth Ward in a convoy of 17 vehicles and 14 police motorbikes.  There were many uprooted trees, damaged homes and upturned cars in the area one resident described as "New Orleans' Ground Zero".

BBC News royal correspondent Peter Hunt said: "It was a grim vista wherever they looked."  The royal couple met emergency workers and the Jones family, who lost their home in the hurricane.  The family are among people temporarily living in one of two cruise ships brought in to provide emergency accommodation.

On top of the windy levee the prince was shown photographs of the destruction immediately after Katrina struck and how the barrier was repaired by the US Army Corps of Engineers.  Red Cross worker Frances Barker told reporters at the levee: "They were really gracious people. He just said 'keep up the good work'".

Mardi reminder

At the school, Cathedral Academy, they were greeted by a crowd of around 500 people.  The couple were given traditional colourful Mardi Gras beads which they wore around their necks for the visit.  Earlier, their flight from Washington was greeted by an airport ceremony.  The royal visit is seen as helping to focus international attention on the recovery effort following Katrina, which killed around 1,200 people.

About 80% of New Orleans was left underwater after August's hurricane.  On Thursday, Prince Charles donated $25,000 (£14,000) from an architecture prize he received in Washington to help in the reconstruction of hurricane-hit towns.  The couple's US visit has included a stop at Ground Zero in Manhattan where they honoured victims of the 11 September attacks.

They will later fly to San Francisco where their tour will end.

FEMA to evict Florida's 2004 hurricane victims
By Audrey Hudson
August 20, 2006

Hurricane victims living in temporary housing more than two years after four devastating storms struck Florida's coast must find permanent homes by the end of next month.  More than 90 percent of the hurricane victims have moved out of the travel trailers and mobile homes, which were meant to be used as a short-term solution to the immediate crisis, said Jim Homstad, spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Long-Term Recovery Office in Florida.

However, more than 1,500 people continue to live in the low-cost housing after FEMA extended its deadline in February beyond the federal requirement of 18 months. Those who remain have been paying rent based on income and other special needs. Their new deadline to leave the temporary housing is Sept. 26.

"FEMA housing assistance should not be considered a permanent housing solution, and it should not be expected to solve local housing shortages that are in place even before a disaster," Mr. Homstad said. "As more homes are rebuilt and rental units come back online, more applicants are finding permanent housing."  The emergency temporary housing provided by FEMA in Florida had been the largest in the agency's history until Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast last year. At the peak of the crisis, the agency housed 17,245 storm victims.

Florida was hit with four hurricanes in a 40-day period in August and September 2004. Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 storm, struck the coast on Aug. 13, followed by three hurricanes in September -- Francis, a Category 2 storm; and Ivan and Jeanne, both Category 3 storms.

"The last time one state was hit with four hurricanes in one season was more than 100 years ago in Texas," Mr. Homstad said.  FEMA officials said they are using lessons they learned in Florida to deal with housing more than 100,000 who remain homeless one year after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit.

"We learned that we were capable of accomplishing an extraordinary, unheard of, at the time, housing mission," Mr. Homstad said.  But he said that helping those left homeless by hurricanes is a job that requires cooperation from a variety of sources.  Communities prone to hurricanes must address affordable-housing issues before a disaster strikes. And state and local governments, as well as the private sector and faith-based organizations, are considered essential to recovery efforts.

"No single agency has all the resources to assist in disaster victims' return to permanent housing. It takes a collaborative and creative effort to make it happen," Mr. Homstad said.

With No Tax Money, Gulf Coast Locked In Painful Loop;  The storm devastated the tax base of an entire metropolitan area
Published on 10/22/2005

Baton Rouge, La. — In better times, before Hurricane Katrina washed away its tax base, the St. Bernard School District employed 1,200 people.

Now, with no money to make its payroll, the district has fewer than 12 employees, and this weekend, the parish government is expected to lay off a large share of its firefighters and emergency workers.

Next door in New Orleans, the school district has already laid off virtually every last employee — more than 7,000 people. The city has laid off half its work force, and the state university system is preparing for thousands of layoffs and serious cutbacks in services.

After weeks of coping with the initial shock of the hurricane and trying to help residents with immediate emergencies, local and state governments around the Gulf Coast are starting to grapple with the staggering size of their financial peril. The natural has produced what some are calling the worst municipal finance crisis in the nation's history.

“We've never seen anything like this, at least not in our lifetime,” said Roy Bahl, dean of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University and an expert in public finance.

“You think about the hurricanes that hit Florida last year,” Bahl said. “They were bad, but they didn't devastate the tax base of an entire metropolitan area. They didn't devastate the tax base of an entire region like happened here.”

Without money, governments cannot run buses so that residents without cars can search for jobs. They cannot educate the children of families that might try to return. They cannot pick up garbage or begin the detailed planning and engineering necessary to bring a city back to life. And so they are locked in a painful loop, unable to lure back exiled residents without services, but unable to provide the services without a tax base.

That has already become apparent in St. Bernard Parish, the one county in the state that was entirely engulfed in the storm. Already officials there have laid off more than half its work force of 650, including road crews and others they desperately need for restoration work, and by this weekend they may need to slash scores more.

“I can't ask people to work another two weeks,” said Larry J. Ingargiola, the parish director of emergency preparedness, “if I know there's a good chance I'm not going to be able to pay them. If you call this weekend and get no answer, you'll know why.”

The two hurricanes cost local municipalities in southern Louisiana at least $3.3 billion in lost taxes and fees, according to the state legislative office that audits the books of local governmental bodies. Local governments are desperately hoping for a bailout from the state and federal governments, but they have not been pleased by what they have received so far.

The state has problems of its own, and the federal assistance provided so far has strings and payback requirements that many localities consider onerous. 

By statute, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse government entities 75 cents on the dollar for costs associated with rebuilding and repairs, forcing cities to come up with a 25 percent contribution they currently cannot afford.

Search for Bodies Ends in New Orleans

By AMY FORLITI, Associated Press Writer
Tue Oct 4, 4:28 AM ET

NEW ORLEANS - Officials ended their door-to-door sweep for corpses finding far fewer bodies than once feared and school children returned to classes as New Orleans revved up efforts to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

The search for Katrina victims ended in Louisiana with a death toll at 964, substantially less than the 10,000 victims some officials feared. A private company hired by the state to remove bodies was on call if any others were found.

The death toll probably will continue to rise, but authorities have said sweeps yielded fewer bodies than feared, and that the toll was likely to be well below the dire projections. Mayor Ray Nagin said soon after Katrina struck that New Orleans alone could have 10,000 dead.

"There might still be bodies found — for instance, if a house was locked and nobody able to go into it," said Bob Johannessen, a spokesman with the state Department of Health and Hospitals. Mississippi's death toll remained at 221.

There were signs of normalcy in the city Monday — five weeks to the day since Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. St. Andrew the Apostle elementary school in the reopened Algiers neighborhood was the first Roman Catholic school to resume in New Orleans.

"My heart is just bursting," said teacher Jewell McCartney, fighting back tears as she welcomed her class of sixth-graders. "I just want to give them all a hug."

Archdiocese officials said their schools also were reopening in areas outside the city. Some public schools in nearby parishes also opened Monday, but public schools in New Orleans remain closed. Some may resume by November.

On Tuesday, former President
Bill Clinton was to travel to Louisiana to meet with hurricane survivors at a Baton Rouge shelter, get a briefing from officials on the relief effort and tour New Orleans' largely destroyed Ninth Ward. Clinton and former President George H.W. Bush are heading up the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, which has raised $100 million to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues pumping water out of the lower Ninth Ward and efforts to rebuild the levees that breached, causing water to cascade into the city, remained under way.

However, two canals near the area were closed Monday as a precaution, because of stronger-than-normal winds and higher tides, spokesman Alan Dooley said. As of late Monday afternoon, a steady stream of water leaked through the repaired levees.

Electricity had been restored to about 36 percent of New Orleans customers and to about 99 percent of the customers in neighboring Jefferson Parish, said Entergy Corp. spokesman Chanel Lagarde.

And as another sign that the city was coming back to life, nine ships, including four container vessels, were scheduled to call on the Port of New Orleans this week, port officials announced

Hurricane Simulation Predicted 61,290 Dead

By RON FOURNIER and TED BRIDIS, Associated Press Writers
Sep 9, 12:17 PM EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- As Katrina roared into the Gulf of Mexico, emergency planners pored over maps and charts of a hurricane simulation that projected 61,290 dead and 384,257 injured or sick in a catastrophic flood that would leave swaths of southeast Louisiana uninhabitable for more than a year.

These planners were not involved in the frantic preparations for Katrina. By coincidence, they were working on a yearlong project to prepare federal and state officials for a Category 3 hurricane striking New Orleans.

Their fictitious storm eerily foreshadowed the havoc wrought by Category 4 Katrina a few days later, raising questions about whether government leaders did everything possible - as early as possible - to protect New Orleans residents from a well-documented threat.

After watching many of their predictions prove grimly accurate, "Hurricane Pam" planners now hope they were wrong about one detail - the death toll. The 61,290 estimate is six times what New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin has warned people to expect.

"I pray to God we don't see those numbers," Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "My gut is ... we don't. But we just don't know."

The known Katrina death toll was less than 400 on Friday, but officials expect it to skyrocket once emergency teams comb through 90,000 square miles of Gulf Coast debris. Fears are particularly acute in New Orleans, where countless corpses lie submerged beneath a toxic gumbo that engulfed the city after levees gave way.

The death toll is just one of the many chilling details in a 412-page report obtained by the AP from a government official involved in the Hurricane Pam project. Written in ominous present-tense language, the report predicts that:

-Flood waters would surge over levees, creating "a catastrophic mass casualty/mass evacuation" and leaving drainage pumps crippled for up to six months. "It will take over one year to re-enter areas most heavily impacted," the report estimated.

-More than 600,000 houses and 6,000 businesses would be affected, more than two-thirds of them destroyed. Nearly a quarter-million children would be out of school. "All 40 medical facilities in the impacted area (are) isolated and useless," it says.

-Local officials would be quickly overwhelmed with the five-digit death toll, 187,862 people injured and 196,395 falling ill. A half million people would be homeless.

The report calls evacuees "refugees" - a term now derided by the Bush administration - and says they could be housed at college campuses, military barracks, hotels, travel trailers, recreational vehicles, private homes, cottages, churches, Boy Scout camps and cruise ships.

"Federal support must be provided in a timely manner to save lives, prevent human suffering and mitigate severe damage," the report says. "This may require mobilizing and deploying assets before they are requested via normal (National Response Plan) protocols."

On the defensive, White House officials have said Louisiana and New Orleans officials did not give FEMA full control over disaster relief. The so-called Hurricane Pam plan, which was never put into effect, envisions giving the federal government authority to act without waiting for an SOS from local officials.

Under FEMA's direction, federal and state officials began working on the $1 million Hurricane Pam project in July 2004, when 270 experts gathered in Baton Rouge, La., for an eight-day simulation. The so-called "tabletop" exercise focused planners on a mock hurricane that produced more than 20 inches of rain and 14 tornadoes. The drill included computer graphic simulations projected on large screens of the hurricane slamming directly into New Orleans.

"We designed this to be a worst-case but plausible storm," said Madhu Beriwal, chief executive of Innovative Emergency Management Inc. of Baton Rouge, hired by FEMA to conduct the exercise.

The experts completed their first draft report in December 2004.

A follow-up workshop on potential medical needs took place in Carville, La., on Aug. 23-24 of this year, bringing together 80 state and federal emergency planning officials as well as Beriwal's team.

They produced an update on dealing with the dead and injured, and submitted it to FEMA's headquarters in Washington on Sept. 3. By then, Katrina had hit and the Bush administration, state and city officials were under heavy criticism for a sluggish response.

The report was designed to be the first step toward producing a comprehensive hurricane response plan, jointly approved and implemented by federal, state and city officials. But a lack of funding prohibited planners from quickly following up on the 2004 simulation.

"Money was not available to do the follow-up," Brown said.

Hurricane Pam planning was prescient in many ways, predicting the flooding would exceed 10 feet and create a putrid mix of corpses, chemicals and human waste.  The report is remarkably detailed in spots. It includes diagrams for makeshift loading docks to distribute water, ice and food to storm victims - color-coded to show where pallets, traffic cones and trash bins would be placed.

In other places it's obvious that the report is a working document; it doesn't specify what hospitals or airports would be used.

The report missed the mark in some cases. Planning for a weaker but slower-moving storm than Katrina, the Hurricane Pam report did not predict that levees would break as happened in real life. However, state and federal official have long known that the levees were not built to withstand a Category 4 storm or higher.

Hurricane Pam slammed into New Orleans. Katrina's eye hit to the east.

The report did not mention looting and lawlessness, which was rampant in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. It did call for at least one security guard at each shelter.  In another burst of foresight, the planners sought creative ways to house evacuees. Among other ideas, they instructed Louisiana parishes to find large vacant lots that could house makeshift trailer parks at a moment's notice.

New Orleans flooding caused by soil failure in two main levees
10/7/2005, 2:22 p.m. CT
The Associated Press         

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Engineers said Friday the flooding in New Orleans' upscale Lakeview neighborhood was caused by failure of levee embankments — not by water topping two of the main floodwalls.

The question of what caused the flooding at the 17th Street Canal and the London Avenue Canal has been debated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — was it storm surge or levee failure? Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29 and the massive flooding in the Lakeview and Mid City neighborhoods followed on the next day when waters from Lake Pontchartrain backed into canals and blew through openings in the levees.

The American Society of Civil Engineers said Friday that an independent inspection this week showed the levees gave way.

"We found no evidence of overtopping the levees," the statement said. "There is, however, evidence that a section of the levee embankment that supported the floodwall moved approximately 35 feet laterally."

The engineers said inspectors also found evidence of the dirt levee moving at the London Avenue breach.

"The evidence also indicates that stormwater did not exceed the height of the levees," the statement said.

The engineers said they saw some levees that had been damaged by the hurricane and were simply overwhelmed. However, many miles of levees worked as they should, even though the water got over their tops.

The engineers said there was no evidence the levees were built improperly.

The engineers' statement matched the findings of LSU hurricane specialists, who reported in the weeks after Katrina that there was no evidence that water overtopped the London Avenue or 17th Street canal levees, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had initially said.

Ivor Van Heerden, an LSU hurricane specialist, has said overtopping of the levees would have left debris on the top of those floodwalls. He and other LSU scientists found no such debris, van Heerden said.

The engineers said a comprehensive report will be issued in about a month.

About 10 percent of the New Orleans-area levee system was damaged. The city is bowl-shaped, and getting the water pumped out of the city took weeks.

The levees that broke were built to withstand Category 3 hurricanes, which have winds up to 130 mph. Hurricane Katrina's winds were about 145 mph — a Category 4 — when the storm hit Louisiana.

Katrina fuels global warming storm

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent 12 minutes ago

OSLO (Reuters) - Hurricane Katrina has spurred debate about global warming worldwide with some environmentalists sniping at President George W. Bush for pulling out of the main U.N. plan for braking climate change.

Experts agree it is impossible to say any one storm is caused by rising temperatures. Numbers of tropical cyclones like hurricanes worldwide are stable at about 90 a year although recent U.S. research shows they may be becoming more intense...

Australia's Greens and even Sweden's king said the disaster, feared to have killed thousands of people in the United States, could be a portent of worse to come.

"As climate change is happening, we know that the frequency of these disasters will increase as well as the scope," European Commission spokeswoman Barbara Helfferich said.

"If we let climate change continue like it is continuing, we will have to deal with disasters like that," she said. She said it was wrong to say Katrina was caused by global warming widely blamed on emissions from cars, power plants and factories. Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf told reporters he was deeply shaken by the damage and suffering of millions of people.

"It is quite clear that the world's climate is changing and we should take note," he said. "The hurricane catastrophe in the United States should be a wake-up call for all of us." Climate change policies sharply divide Bush from most of his allies which have signed up for caps on emissions of greenhouse gases under the U.N.'s  Kyoto protocol. Bush pulled out of Kyoto in 2001, saying it was too expensive and wrongly excluded developing nations from a first round of caps to 2012...


U.N. studies say a build-up of greenhouse gases is likely to cause more storms, floods and desertification and could raise sea levels by up to a meter by 2100.

Sea level rise could expose coasts vulnerable to storms because levees would be swamped more easily. Some scientists dispute the forecasts and the United States is investing more heavily than any other nation on climate research.

In Australia, the opposition Greens party said Katrina was aggravated by global warming and criticized Bush for pulling out of Kyoto. The United States, the world's biggest polluter, and Australia are the only rich nations outside Kyoto.

"It demonstrates the massive economic, as well as environmental and social penalties, of George Bush's policies," Greens leader Bob Brown told Reuters. He did not believe Bush would shift to embrace Kyoto-style caps on emissions. Concerns were also voiced in Germany.

"The U.S. must be more involved," Gerda Hasselfeldt, a leading German candidate to become environment minister if the conservative opposition wins the September 18 election, told n-tv television. In the United States, the focus has been far more on tackling the human disaster than on links to climate change.

"People are still reeling from the tragedy," said Katie Mandes, a director at the Washington-based Pew Center, a climate change think-tank. "Politically it's too early to tell what it will mean for Americans' views." Ian Johnson, the World Bank's top environmental official, said Katrina could also be a wake-up call for developing nations, many of which are vulnerable.

An opinion survey published this week showed that 79 percent of Americans feel global warming poses an "important" or "very important" threat to their country in the next 10 years. Worries among Europeans were even higher. Taken before Katrina in June, the Transatlantic Trends survey showed that Americans felt more threatened than Europeans by terrorism, Islamic extremism, weapons of mass destruction and economic downturn.

Some individual climatic disasters in the past have changed perceptions about climate change. Steve Sawyer, climate change director at Greenpeace, said that ice storms in Canada in the late 1990s had dramatically raised public concerns. Greenpeace called Katrina a "wake-up call about the dangers of continued global fossil fuel dependency."

Recent research by Kerry Emanuel, a leading U.S. hurricane researcher, shows the intensity of hurricanes -- the wind speeds and the duration -- seems to have risen by about 70 percent in the past 30 years.

"Globally a new signal may be emerging in rising intensity," said Tom Knutson, a research meteorologist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Higher water temperatures in future may lead to more storms. Hurricanes need temperatures of about 26.5 C (80F) to form.

(Additional reporting by Michael Perry in Sydney, Elaine Lies in Tokyo, Jeff Mason and Paul Taylor in Brussels, Iain Rogers in Berlin, Timothy Gardner in New York)

City had evacuation plan but strayed from strategy

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Sept. 8, 2005, 10:15AM
Cancer patient Earl Robicheaux, his immune system depleted by radical chemotherapy, lay in a hospital bed as Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans.  Trying to leave, he thought, seemed suicidal.  

But after four days in the hospital's reeking darkness, he escaped via a Black Hawk helicopter that landed on the roof of the University Hospital under heavy guard because of the threat of sniper fire.

It was not the evacuation plan authorities had envisioned for its sick, its elderly and its poor. As the floodwaters recede, serious questions remain about whether New Orleans and Louisiana officials followed their own plans for evacuating people with no other way out.

The mayor's mandatory evacuation order was issued 20 hours before the storm struck the Louisiana coast, less than half the time researchers determined would be needed to get everyone out.

City officials had 550 municipal buses and hundreds of additional school buses at their disposal but made no plans to use them to get people out of New Orleans before the storm, said Chester Wilmot, a civil engineering professor at Louisiana State University and an expert in transportation planning, who helped the city put together its evacuation plan.

Instead, local buses were used to ferry people from 12 pickup points to poorly supplied "shelters of last resort" in the city. An estimated 50,000 New Orleans households have no access to cars, Wilmot said.

State and local plans both called for extra help to be provided in advance to residents with "special needs," though no specific timetable was prepared. But phone lines for people who needed specialized shelters opened at noon Saturday — barely 30 hours before Katrina came ashore in Louisiana.

Many people from New Orleans ended up staying home or using a "last resort" special needs shelter state authorities and the city health department set up at the Superdome. Those who made it out of town initially found limited space. The state of Louisiana provided shelter in Baton Rouge and five other cities for a total of about 1,000.

In the city of New Orleans alone, more than 100,000 of the city's residents described themselves as disabled in a recent U.S. census.

Early mistakes

Hospitals were exempted from the mayor's mandatory evacuation order. But at least two public hospitals, loaded with more than 1,000 caregivers and patients, had their generators in their basements, which made them vulnerable in a flood. That violated the state's hurricane plan but had gone uncorrected for years because the hospitals did not have the money to fix the situation, a state university hospital official told the Chronicle.

The consequences came to bear in the images hours and days later: Elderly people dying outside shelters and hospitals that were losing power and, finally, their patients. Now, hurricane evacuation experts around the country are asking why New Orleans failed to prepare for the flood scenario from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane.

"Everybody knew about it. There's no excuse for not having a plan," said Jay Baker, a Florida State University associate professor who is an expert in hurricane evacuations and is familiar with New Orleans hurricane studies.

Tami Frazier, a spokeswoman for Mayor C. Ray Nagin, currently working out of Houston, refused to comment on direct questions this week or to answer several written questions sent via e-mail. She cited the need to focus on rescuing citizens and recovering bodies.

Robicheaux, the cancer patient who was trapped in a downtown New Orleans hospital, said he thought the city "decided basically to let it ride."

"When you're in a city like New York and there's a big snowstorm, you expect them to have plows. That's not the way it is here. There are no resources to stockpile supplies."

Saturday evening, Hurricane Katrina had intensified to Category 4, with the possibility that it could strike land as a killer Category 5 storm. About 8 p.m., Mayor Nagin fielded an unusual personal call at home from Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, who wanted to be sure Nagin knew what was coming.

Still, Nagin waited to issue a mandatory evacuation, apparently because of legal complications, said Frazier. She said the city attorney was unavailable for an interview to explain. But Kris Wartelle, spokeswoman for the attorney general of Louisiana, said state law clearly gives the mayor the authority to "direct and compel the evacuation of all or part of the population from any stricken or threatened area."

"They're not confused about it. He had the authority to do it," Wartelle said. The mandatory evacuation order came at 10 a.m Sunday.

Former Kemah Mayor Bill King, who has spent years trying to boost funding and organization for hurricanes planning in the Houston-Galveston area, said Nagin's decision to wait to order people out compounded the tragedy.

"To call an evacuation on Sunday morning when the storm was going to hit on Monday morning at 6 a.m. is just ... negligence," King said. "If he'd called it better than that he would have saved lives."

Special-needs evacuation

The Chronicle reviewed Louisiana's Emergency Operations Plan, adopted in 2000. It calls for the establishment of specialized shelters for people with special medical needs. It also recommends that cities use public transportation to evacuate residents if necessary.

The city of New Orleans Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan suggested people develop their own way to get out. "The potential exists that New Orleans could be without sufficient supplies to meet the needs of persons with special considerations, and there is significant risk being taken by those individuals who decide to remain in these refuges of last resort," it says.

People who called for information on special needs shelters Saturday were directed to sites in Alexandria and in Monroe, La. — cities 218 and 326 miles away. The state scrambled to find 20 ambulances and some specialized vans to pick up fragile residents who needed rides.

"There were transportation systems in place to take people out of New Orleans, which was the preferred solution," said Kristen Meyer, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Hospitals. But she's not sure how many got out.

Some, including Lower 9th Ward resident Lois Rice, a paraplegic, became trapped in their homes when the floodwaters rose. She was rescued after using her air mattress to float into her attic.

Florida, by contrast, for two decades has required counties to establish and maintain permanent databases of "special needs citizens," and arrange rides for people with no transportation. The state also has shelters established for myriad medical conditions.

Florida emergency officials agree that last-minute planning simply doesn't work.

"Unless you planned in advance, it would be a catastrophe," said Guy Daines, a retired Florida emergency manager who is considered an expert in specialized evacuations.

In New Orleans, many people with special medical needs ended up at the last resort shelter in the Superdome.

New Orleans' own special needs evacuation plan, however, says that shelter is "NOT TO BE INTERPRETED AS A GUARANTEE OF SAFETY, and the City of New Orleans is not assuring anyone protection from harm within the facilities that are being offered or opened for this purpose."

"When I saw them loading special needs people into the Superdome the day before the storm, my heart was breaking," said Patti Moss, a Texas nursing professor who has developed a tracking system for such vulnerable citizens here. "They were in the path of the storm."

Two of the city's hospitals dedicated to serving the city's poor, University and Charity hospitals, quickly lost power, according to Leslie Capo, a spokesman for the Louisiana State University health sciences department.

After days in the dark, it took the National Guard, the U.S. Army and a Black Hawk to rescue Robicheaux.

"We had been kind of left on our own and I thought, 'This is a fine thank you,' " he said.

Planning for the poor

In storm-vulnerable Jefferson Parish and New Orleans, the American Red Cross worked before the storm to promote a "buddy system" to encourage everyone without cars to find rides through churches and other organizations.

But in an interview published July 18 in New Orleans City Business, Jefferson Parish hurricane planner Walter Maestri insisted New Orleans needed to do much more for those who didn't have cars.

"New Orleans has a significantly larger population without means of transportation, so it's a much bigger problem for the city. ... The answer is very simple — evacuation," he said.

As Hurricane Katrina approached Sunday morning, New Orleans officials advertised city buses would be used to pick people up at 12 sites to go to the "last resort" shelters.

It's unclear how many buses were used. Planners decided not to use any of the New Orleans school buses for early evacuation, Wilmot said.

Photographers recorded images of them lined up in neat rows and submerged — though one was commandeered by Jabbar Gibson, 20, who ferried 70 passengers to safety in the Reliant Astrodome.

ORDERED OUT:  Remaining N.O. residents told to leave because of risk of fire, disease
By Bruce Nolan,
Staff writer
Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Mayor Ray Nagin on Tuesday ordered all remaining New Orleans residents out of the city to escape sporadic fires and the growing threat of disease from standing water contaminated by toxic chemicals and rotting corpses.  Meanwhile, an Army Corps of Engineers official said it could take 80 days to pump out the billions of gallons of water that Hurricane Katrina poured into the New Orleans area Aug. 29.

Low-lying Chalmette might be the last to emerge, while eastern New Orleans will take about 24 days to dry out, said the Corps' Dan Kitchens at the Louisiana emergency operations center in Baton Rouge.  The water level in most parts of Orleans Parish has receded 6 inches to a foot, Nagin said after a helicopter fly-over Tuesday morning. That means that some submerged areas, such as the lakefront campus of the University of New Orleans, have drained substantially, he said.

The Corps said two of the city's 148 drainage pumps were online, supplemented by dozens of smaller pumps brought into the city.

Hanging in there

Nagin's evacuation order apparently could sweep several hundred hardy residents out of the French Quarter.  Although nearly empty, the Quarter remained high and dry - and home to pockets of insouciant die-hards who have supported each other in a defiant celebration of the city's determined, carefree spirit.  But in a short meeting with reporters on the steps of City Hall, Nagin said the city is increasingly unsafe, its crumpled public safety systems unable to protect its residents.

Another major fire broke out Tuesday, gutting a mansion in the Lower Garden District. Authorities fought it the only way possible: Helicopters ferried huge buckets of water overhead and doused it from above.

Oil spills

More than fire threatened the city, however. Foul water presented a growing danger.

Mike McDaniel, the state secretary of environmental quality, told CNN floodwaters had swirled through wrecked sewerage plants and were fouled by natural gas and petrochemical leaks all over south Louisiana.  He said crews found an oil spill of 68,000 barrels at a Bass Enterprise storage depot in Venice, and another of 10,000 barrels from the Murphy Oil facility in Chalmette.

"Everywhere we look there's a spill. It all adds up," he said. "There's almost a solid sheen over the area right now."  Besides the petrochemicals and human waste, officials said, the water was surely polluted by a variety of other pollutants, including pesticides and a catalogue of industrial solvents.  And there was another dreadful component: the bodies of uncounted dead humans and animals that rescuers have seen in a week of frantic life-saving efforts, but pushed aside to do higher priority work.

Officials said they did not know whether ejecting billions of gallons of foul pollutants would trigger a massive environmental disaster in the state's wetlands.

City Council may meet

Against that deteriorating backdrop, New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas said he hoped to call the first post-Katrina council meeting, perhaps Thursday at Louis Armstrong International Airport.  And as the water levels began to fall, utility crews continued repairs to the area's damaged electrical grid.

Stores and gas stations in Covington and other parts of St. Tammany opened one by one, either powered by generators or as repairs reached them.

Power returning

Parts of the Central Business District and the Warehouse District had power Tuesday, said Dan Packer, president and chief executive officer of Entergy New Orleans.

He said he hoped to have the entire CBD up in a few days. Authorities worked to get hotels up and running to house hundreds of workers who will be faced with the daunting task of helping rebuild the city.  Algiers could have power by Thursday, Packer said.

Bell South said it had restored telephone service to about half of 1.7 million customers knocked out by Katrina, but that it will be most of the month - longer in New Orleans - before service is fully restored to most areas.

Joe Chandler, a BellSouth spokesman, said he was "not going to guess."  "It depends on when the flood waters leave and crews can get back in."  Work crews will begin repairing the Interstate 10 bridges between New Orleans and Slidell as soon as next week, said Gordon Nelson, assistant secretary of operations for the state Department of Transportation and Development.

Eastbound lanes of the twin spans might be open for two-way traffic in four to six weeks, he said.

Schools scrambling

Educators struggled to restore their systems as well.

The state Department of Education said public schools in St. Bernard Parish, which was completely flooded, will be closed for the remainder of the year. The same is feared for most of New Orleans.  In St. Tammany, educators were hoping to open for classes Oct. 3, said Superintendent Gayle Sloan.
Six of nine schools in Plaquemines Parish may open this year.

Jefferson Parish officials were still checking their 84 schools Tuesday. Twenty-four were determined to be useable or had sustained "isolated" damage, the system said. Six were badly damaged ,and 54 remained to be checked.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans said it hoped to have its schools open by January, using existing schools and temporary or satellite campuses out of the city, the Rev. William Maestri said.

Bush to seek aid package

In Washington, President Bush said he intends to seek $40 billion for the next phase of hurricane relief, not only for New Orleans, but also for the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coasts, where Katrina demolished cities including Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula.  Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the total bill may surpass $150 billion.

Bush resisted demands for an inquiry into what went wrong in federal relief in first few days after Katrina hit. He said it was more important to focus on human rescue for now.

"I think one of the things people want us to do is play the blame game," he said.  He said it is important to understand what went wrong to improve federal, state and local coordination in the event of a terrorist attack.  Bush said Vice President Dick Cheney would visit the disaster area Thursday to assess relief efforts and cut any red tape keeping rescuers from survivors.

With the worst of last week's horrifying days of despair and looting apparently behind New Orleans' police officers, officials began withdrawing them from the city for rest. Many are psychologically traumatized by stress and exhaustion, Police Superintendent Eddie Compass said. Many will be sent to Atlanta and Las Vegas for city-paid "rest and relaxation."

Staff writers Paul Bartels, Jeff Duncan, Gwen Filosa and Jan Moller and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Recapturing the city's flavor is not a given
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
Sept. 4, 2005, 1:38AM

It is drowned in a filthy flood. Vibrant neighborhoods, the incubators of its soul, are lost. Its economy, largely dependent on tourists seduced by its quirky, decadent charm, is in ruins. It has been abandoned by its people, tens of thousands of whom may never return.

Can New Orleans, one of only a handful of unique American cities, survive? Could any major city, anywhere, survive such a calamity?

Galveston did after the 1900 hurricane swept it away, even though it never fully recovered. Chicago underwent an architectural renaissance after the Great Fire of 1871. San Francisco came back from the 1906 earthquake and fire that virtually leveled it.

Experts who have studied those and other urban disasters said that New Orleans, too, probably will rise again from its sodden ruins.

But it will be a different New Orleans, one that may not be recognizable to those who know it best.

New Orleans, to a degree matched by few other American cities, is about much more than bricks, mortar and materialism. What sets it apart is its indomitable spirit, its cultural gumbo, its intangibles that emanate in significant measure from its poorest neighborhoods. Many of these communities, their music halls, their barbershops, their mom-and-pop Creole restaurants, could be irretrievably lost.

Fats Domino's house and his entire neighborhood are gone. A park in the historic Treme neighborhood named for Louis Armstrong is flooded. The Lower 9th Ward, home of the trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, is under water.

So, too, is Bywater, and the 7th Ward, and other neighborhoods that were home to countless jazz and blues greats, the Mardi Gras Indians and some of the world's best and oldest Po' Boy emporiums.

If the new New Orleans is to resemble the old New Orleans, these communities will have to be rebuilt in their own image. Above all, the ingredients that made them what they were must be included in the recipes of their future.

"The spirit of New Orleans is all about the people," said Jacob Wagner, a professor of urban planning at the University of Missouri at Kansas City who studied the relationship between memory and place in New Orleans. "If the people come back and rebuild, the spirit will survive. If they don't, fragmentation of local culture could occur. Maintaining the local character of the city must be part of the discussion about how to rebuild."

Poor most vulnerable

A sad but almost universal truth about major urban disasters, experts said, is that the poorest communities are almost always the most vulnerable. If their neighborhoods are destroyed, too often they are rebuilt with more affluent tenants in mind. The poor get displaced and often go elsewhere.

Others might decide that rebuilding their lives on the delta of one of the world's great rivers, in a city that must try to tame it to survive, is not worth the risk.

When New Orleans comes back, a sizable portion of its residents will not.

"It's never going to be the same city," said Mary Comerio, an architecture professor at the University of California at Berkeley who has conducted extensive research into how urban areas recover from disasters. "It will be a functioning city. But you are going to lose a segment of your population, and this means New Orleans will be a smaller city."

The French Quarter, the literal and figurative heart of the city, appears to have escaped the full impact of the flooding but not the looters.

Its survival is vital to New Orleans' future because it is the principal reason tourists and convention planners flock to the city.

"The French Quarter has to survive, the conventions have to come back," said Chuck Taggart, a New Orleans native who lives in Los Angeles, where, among other things, he hosts a Cajun music show on public radio and runs a Web site devoted to Louisiana cuisine. "If it does, then the ultimate survival of the city and its culture will depend on the drive and commitment of its people to put it back together."

Few cities struggling to recover from major catastrophe ever are exactly the same as they were before.

Galveston was poised to become a major Texas city until the great hurricane wiped it out. And reconstruction takes time and a huge amount of money, Comerio said.

Based on the experiences of other cities in such crises — Kobe, Japan, after the devastating earthquake in 1995, or San Francisco and the Oakland area after the Loma Prieta quake in 1989 — Comerio predicts that New Orleans' recovery could take 10 years and cost as much as $50 billion.

It is still way too early to tell just how many structures in New Orleans will have to be rebuilt after the waters recede. But with hundreds, maybe thousands, of houses flooded to their roofs, many will have to rebuilt from the ground up.

Comerio and other experts warned against seeing this as an opportunity for "urban renewal."

Redevelopment must take into account the geographic factors that contributed to the disaster in the first place. It also must cater to the poor.

"The big issue is to be very careful in the process of rebuilding and build with nature in mind," said Susan Cutter, a professor of geography at the University of South Carolina and a recognized expert in hazard and risk management. "What would have happened if all those houses had been elevated? They also have to include affordable public housing in their plans and keep in mind the racial and ethnic diversity of the city."

Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans' economy was only slightly less stagnant than the water that has covered the city. Tourism and conventions are a vital component of its economy, but so too are oil and gas production and the port, one of the busiest in the nation and a hub for the movement of a host of commodities.

Much of that commerce will return. But it is safe to say that many smaller businesses will not survive, and some will consider leaving the city.

Jon Seals, editor of Disaster Recovery Journal, a St. Louis-based magazine, said it is widely considered a rule of thumb that only two of five businesses survive a disaster of the magnitude that engulfed New Orleans.

Ironically, a mere three days before the city fell to Hurricane Katrina, Mayor C. Ray Nagin declared real estate was "hot" in the city after Donald Trump signed on to build a 70-story building on a downtown parking lot, the first high-rise in the city in more than 25 years.

The deal was hailed as a sign that the city's sluggish real estate market was showing signs of life.

It is not yet known whether Trump intends to move forward with the deal, but it is highly possible that the flood could stop the real-estate boom in its tracks.

"Outsiders are going to have second thoughts about investing in the city," said John Maginnis, a longtime Louisiana political commentator, journalist and author.

Ultimately, while New Orleans will have to rely heavily on "outsiders" — the federal government, private donations, investors — to come back from the brink of extinction, it will be the spirit of the people who love the city and will never leave that will determine whether it is the New Orleans of old.

As Jack Fines, a 78-year-old trumpet player and leader of the Palmetto Bug Stompers, said in a television interview last week as he sat in his house with a bottle of gin and watched the waters rise:

"Anything's possible in New Orleans. Anything."

Saturday is the day for St. Louis to receive the crest.  Upriver, Gulfport, Illinois intersection, center;  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suit to begin, at right.

He Was Supposed to Be Competent:  The spill is a disaster for the president and his political philosophy.
The Wall Street Journal
MAY 29, 2010

I don't see how the president's position and popularity can survive the oil spill. This is his third political disaster in his first 18 months in office. And they were all, as they say, unforced errors, meaning they were shaped by the president's political judgment and instincts.

There was the tearing and unnecessary war over his health-care proposal and its cost. There was his day-to-day indifference to the views and hopes of the majority of voters regarding illegal immigration. And now the past almost 40 days of dodging and dithering in the face of an environmental calamity. I don't see how you politically survive this.

The president, in my view, continues to govern in a way that suggests he is chronically detached from the central and immediate concerns of his countrymen. This is a terrible thing to see in a political figure, and a startling thing in one who won so handily and shrewdly in 2008. But he has not, almost from the day he was inaugurated, been in sync with the center. The heart of the country is thinking each day about A, B and C, and he is thinking about X, Y and Z. They're in one reality, he's in another.

The American people have spent at least two years worrying that high government spending would, in the end, undo the republic. They saw the dollars gushing night and day, and worried that while everything looked the same on the surface, our position was eroding. They have worried about a border that is in some places functionally and of course illegally open, that it too is gushing night and day with problems that states, cities and towns there cannot solve.

And now we have a videotape metaphor for all the public's fears: that clip we see every day, on every news show, of the well gushing black oil into the Gulf of Mexico and toward our shore. You actually don't get deadlier as a metaphor for the moment than that, the monster that lives deep beneath the sea.

In his news conference Thursday, President Obama made his position no better. He attempted to act out passionate engagement through the use of heightened language—"catastrophe," etc.—but repeatedly took refuge in factual minutiae. His staff probably thought this demonstrated his command of even the most obscure facts. Instead it made him seem like someone who won't see the big picture. The unspoken mantra in his head must have been, "I will not be defensive, I will not give them a resentful soundbite." But his strategic problem was that he'd already lost the battle. If the well was plugged tomorrow, the damage will already have been done.

The original sin in my view is that as soon as the oil rig accident happened the president tried to maintain distance between the gusher and his presidency. He wanted people to associate the disaster with BP and not him. When your most creative thoughts in the middle of a disaster revolve around protecting your position, you are summoning trouble. When you try to dodge ownership of a problem, when you try to hide from responsibility, life will give you ownership and responsibility the hard way. In any case, the strategy was always a little mad. Americans would never think an international petroleum company based in London would worry as much about American shores and wildlife as, say, Americans would. They were never going to blame only BP, or trust it.

I wonder if the president knows what a disaster this is not only for him but for his political assumptions. His philosophy is that it is appropriate for the federal government to occupy a more burly, significant and powerful place in America—confronting its problems of need, injustice, inequality. But in a way, and inevitably, this is always boiled down to a promise: "Trust us here in Washington, we will prove worthy of your trust." Then the oil spill came and government could not do the job, could not meet need, in fact seemed faraway and incapable: "We pay so much for the government and it can't cap an undersea oil well!"

This is what happened with Katrina, and Katrina did at least two big things politically. The first was draw together everything people didn't like about the Bush administration, everything it didn't like about two wars and high spending and illegal immigration, and brought those strands into a heavy knot that just sat there, soggily, and came to symbolize Bushism. The second was illustrate that even though the federal government in our time has continually taken on new missions and responsibilities, the more it took on, the less it seemed capable of performing even its most essential jobs. Conservatives got this point—they know it without being told—but liberals and progressives did not. They thought Katrina was the result only of George W. Bush's incompetence and conservatives' failure to "believe in government." But Mr. Obama was supposed to be competent.

Remarkable too is the way both BP and the government, 40 days in, continue to act shocked, shocked that an accident like this could have happened. If you're drilling for oil in the deep sea, of course something terrible can happen, so you have a plan on what to do when it does.

How could there not have been a plan? How could it all be so ad hoc, so inadequate, so embarrassing? We're plugging it now with tires, mud and golf balls?

What continues to fascinate me is Mr. Obama's standing with Democrats. They don't love him. Half the party voted for Hillary Clinton, and her people have never fully reconciled themselves to him. But he is what they have. They are invested in him. In time—after the 2010 elections go badly—they are going to start to peel off. The political operative James Carville, the most vocal and influential of the president's Gulf critics, signaled to Democrats this week that they can start to peel off. He did it through the passion of his denunciations.

The disaster in the Gulf may well spell the political end of the president and his administration, and that is no cause for joy. It's not good to have a president in this position—weakened, polarizing and lacking broad public support—less than halfway through his term. That it is his fault is no comfort. It is not good for the stability of the world, or its safety, that the leader of "the indispensable nation" be so weakened. I never until the past 10 years understood the almost moral imperative that an American president maintain a high standing in the eyes of his countrymen.

Mr. Obama himself, when running for president, made much of Bush administration distraction and detachment during Katrina. Now the Republican Party will, understandably, go to town on Mr. Obama's having gone only once to the gulf, and the fund-raiser in San Francisco that seemed to take precedence, and the EPA chief who decided to skip a New York fund-raiser only after the press reported that she planned to attend.

But Republicans should beware, and even mute their mischief. We're in the middle of an actual disaster. When they win back the presidency, they'll probably get the big California earthquake. And they'll probably blow it. Because, ironically enough, of a hard core of truth within their own philosophy: when you ask a government far away in Washington to handle everything, it will handle nothing well.

(Correction: The EPA chief skipped the New York fund-raiser. An earlier version of this column said that she had attended it.)

Obama: New Orleans will be better than ever
October 15, 2009

NEW ORLEANS – President Barack Obama promised New Orleans residents Thursday that his administration would never forget the city that was devastated by a hurricane and floods four years ago.

During a town hall at the University of New Orleans, Obama noted that sewers and roads damaged by Hurricane Katrina still need to be repaired. Houses and hospitals are still vacant, he said. And schools and neighborhoods are waiting to thrive again.

"I promise you this," Obama said during his first visit to the city as president, "together we will rebuild this region and we will build it stronger than before."

He announced a new working group to coordinate restoration projects across the Gulf Coast.

Obama has accused the Bush administration of standing by "while a major American city drowns." He said Katrina was not just a natural disaster, but also a failure of government.

The president touted the progress made in the city since he became president: Reconstruction projects have moved forward that had stalled due to disagreements over whether the state or federal government would foot the bill. And his administration has sent more than $1.4 billion in additional federal aid toward repairing and rebuilding Louisiana.

Obama answered questions about rebuilding the city after visiting a school that he said was doing much better than four years ago.

Destroying Levees in a State Usually Clamoring for Them
June 20, 2009

In the 1960s, a group of businessmen bought 16,000 acres of swampy bottomland along the Ouachita River in northern Louisiana and built miles of levee around it. They bulldozed its oak and cypress trees and, when the land dried out, turned it into a soybean farm.

Now two brothers who grew up nearby are undoing all that work. In what experts are calling the biggest levee-busting operation ever in North America, the brothers plan to return the muddy river to its ancient floodplain, coaxing back plants and animals that flourished there when President Thomas Jefferson first had the land surveyed in 1804.

“I really did not know if I would ever see it,” said Kelby Ouchley, who retired last year as manager of the Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge, which owns the land. He pursues the project as a volunteer consultant in coordination with his brother Keith, who heads Louisiana operations for the Nature Conservancy, which helped organize and finance the levee-busting effort.

The idea goes against the grain in Louisiana, where people have battled river flooding since colonial days. European settlers were often required to build levees to establish homesteading claims; in recent decades, landowners built levees to create farmland by the hundreds of thousands of acres. Hurricane Katrina brought a clamor for more and stronger levees to protect people and buildings farther south.

Yet at the same time, there is a growing awareness that Louisiana’s levees have exacted a huge environmental cost. Inland, cypress forests and wetlands crucial for migrating waterfowl have vanished; in southern Louisiana, coastal marshes deprived of regular infusions of sediment-rich river water have yielded by the mile to an encroaching Gulf of Mexico. Some scientists have suggested opening levees south of New Orleans so the Mississippi River can flow normally into the swamps.

The parcel that the Ouchley brothers plan to restore, known as Mollicy Farms, was added in the 1990s to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service’s Upper Ouachita (pronounced WASH-it-tah) holdings in a series of purchases assisted by the Nature Conservancy and totaling $6.6 million. The brothers and their organizations have since worked on several environmental projects there, including a 10,000-acre tree-planting operation, Kelby Ouchley said.

The workers replanted cypress and tupelo in low areas, then oaks and green ash, and then sweetgum and pecans — “life-sustaining, system-supporting diversity,” as Kelby Ouchley called it in an essay.

Eventually, he predicted, the restored landscape would be home to black bear cubs, largemouth bass, fireflies, crawfish and “gobbling wild turkeys and cottonmouths with attitudes.”

Still, the brothers felt dissatisfied. A few years ago, Keith Ouchley said, “I was standing on the giant levees with my brother and I said, ‘Well, there is one thing missing here. The big challenge is restoring this floodplain.’ ”

Environmental scientists say the very notion of undoing levee construction may be the most important aspect of the Ouachita project. “The idea that we can take levees down — that’s a good thing,” said Denise J. Reed, a coastal scientist at the University of New Orleans.

Dr. Reed is also among those advocating levee-opening on the Mississippi south of New Orleans, a proposal that she says is under review by state officials. The more rivers like the Ouachita are again permitted to flood, she said, “the more they function like rivers and the more we get what we need out of them in terms of habitat.”

The Nature Conservancy has already taken part in levee-busting projects on Klamath Lake in Oregon and the Emiquon Preserve on the Illinois River in Illinois to help restore wetlands. But the Ouachita project is far larger, people involved say, both in its size — roughly 25 square miles — and the effort required to remove each levee, roughly 30 feet high and 120 feet wide at the base.

The plan, designed by hydrology experts whose work was financed in part by $250,000 from the Nature Conservancy, was originally to use bulldozers to chew away at the levees in five places and then wait for spring floods to level them gradually, said George Chandler, the project leader for Fish and Wildlife Service projects in North Louisiana.

The effort was to have begun last fall, he said, but heavy rains forced a delay until May, when unusual rains delayed it again. On May 23, the swollen Ouachita seized the initiative, breaking the levee and flooding the Mollicy acreage.

At first, Mr. Chandler said, people involved in the project feared that the flood would smother the newly planted trees with sediment from the river and dirt from the levee itself. But they emerged unscathed.

The plan now, he said, is to start bulldozing in late July or early August.

“We expect that next fall or winter whenever the river comes back up we will have normal flows of water that will return to these bottomlands out there,” Mr. Chandler said. “It will rise and fall with the rhythm of the river.”

The work is expected to cost more than $4 million.

Cristina Mestre, a spokesman for the conservancy, said her organization would monitor the site for four years. The conservancy hoped its work there would serve as a model for other restoration projects, Ms. Mestre said.

Project planners worry that the project could have unintended effects. For example, Kelby Ouchley said, it is theoretically possible that opening the levees could alter water flow enough to force the river into a new course. On the other hand, Keith Ouchley says, planners hope the project will reduce flood threats downstream “by providing more storage capacity in the river’s flood plain, like it normally would have.”

Mr. Chandler said recent events suggested that this hope was well founded. After the levee was breached in May, a flood threat to the downstream city of Monroe subsided.

In any event, Kelby Ouchley said: “If we make mistakes, other people will learn from them. It’s recognized here as a win-win thing.”

Judge: Army Corp to blame for Katrina floods
Washington Times
Thursday, November 19, 2009

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers are savoring the taste of victory after a federal judge ruled that the corps caused the flooding of St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward.

Late Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval sided with six residents and one business who argued the Army Corps' shoddy oversight of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet led to catastrophic flooding after Hurricane Katrina.

Tanya Smith, one of the plaintiffs, says the case was not so much about compensation but making the corps accountable. She says Katrina's devastation "could possibly have been avoided if something had been done" by the corps to fix the MRGO, a shipping channel dug in the 1960s as a shortcut from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans. The channel has since been closed.

Lawsuit Against Army Corps Over Katrina Begins
April 21, 2009

NEW ORLEANS — A groundbreaking civil suit begins in federal court here today to consider claims by property owners that the Army Corps of Engineers amplified the destructive effects of Hurricane Katrina by building a poorly designed navigation channel adjacent to the city.

The Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a 76-mile-long channel known locally as MR-GO and pronounced “Mister Go,” was completed in 1968 and created a straight shot to the Gulf of Mexico from New Orleans. The suit claims that the channel was flawed in its design, construction, and operation, and that those flaws intensified the flood damage to the eastern parts of New Orleans and St. Bernard parish.  If they win, the plaintiffs — a local newscaster, Norman Robinson, and five other people whose homes or businesses were destroyed by the 2005 storm — could pave the way for more than 400,000 other plaintiffs who have also filed claims against the government over Katrina’s destruction.

The government has historically enjoyed strong legal protection against lawsuits related to collapsing levees. The Flood Control Act of 1928 bars suits against the United States for damages resulting from floods or flood waters, and in January 2008 Federal District Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. ruled that the corps was immune in a different lawsuit related directly to the levee and floodwall failures during Katrina in the city’s major drainage canals.

This case, however, is different, because MR-GO is a navigation canal, not a flood control project. In March, Judge Duval allowed the suit to go forward, over repeated attempts by the Department of Justice to get him to dismiss it, based largely on a a 1971 case, Graci v. United States, that found there is no immunity for flooding caused by a federal project unrelated to flood control.  The Graci decision did warn that the lack of immunity still left a “heavy burden” on plaintiffs to prove that the government was negligent in building its projects, and that this negligence, not a hurricane, was the cause of the damage.

The government will argue that Hurricane Katrina would have devastated the region whether or not the channel had ever been dug. The government’s filings in today’s case state that the plaintiffs’ rationale for federal liability are based on “misguided and internally inconsistent arguments.”

The trial is expected to take four weeks. In his opening comments today, Judge Duval, who is hearing the case without a jury, called it “a significant case” and “the first real trial” about Katrina, the levees and the role of the federal government. He referred to the thousands of pages of depositions and expert testimony, saying “the word ‘voluminous’ doesn’t quite do it.”

The thrust of the case, he said in his opening comments, was “a question of causation” about whether the canal caused damage separate from the levee failures, and, if so, whether the government has valid legal defenses.

The canal has been controversial from the start; critics had long called it a “hurricane highway” and warned that it would help carry storm surges into the city. The suit alleges that that the channel killed the protective wetlands and cypress swamps to the east of the city by allowing the intrusion of salt water from the Gulf, and also caused the adjacent levees to subside. That amplified the effects of waves coming across the channel, the plaintiffs say.

The Corps has argued consistently that the canal’s effect during Katrina was insignificant. At the direction of Congress, however, the Corps has begun to close the MR-GO canal using 434,000 tons of rock.

The plaintiffs say they hope a victory in the case could open the door for a broader class action in which more than 400,000 claims have been filed against the government. An Army financial projection has concluded that there is a reasonable possibility that potential government losses could ultimately range from $10 billion to $100 billion.  Beyond the monetary damages, however, many in New Orleans hope the lawsuit could put an end to the search for someone to blame for the flood damage during Katrina, a quest that has haunted many who lost their homes and businesses.

Like so many in the New Orleans area, Lucille Franz, one of the plaintiffs in the case, lost everything in the storm. She and Anthony Franz, her husband, came back from their evacuation to Texas during hurricanes Katrina and Rita to find that their home on St. Claude Avenue in the Lower Ninth Ward had steeped in 18 to 22 feet of water for three weeks. The water came three feet up the walls of the home’s second floor.

“I’ve been through a lot,” she said in an interview.

The home, which the family owned outright, was deemed a total loss. The Franzes do not have the money to tear it down, much less rebuild it. Family photographs, furniture, the stuff of a lifetime in the same home were ruined, and a community of neighbors was scattered.  Mrs. Franz is 75; her husband is 80. They were uninsured — Mrs. Franz they did not have flood insurance, and the $80,000 they received from the Road Home program is not enough to start again. “You might purchase a trailer, but you can’t get a house,” she said. The money pays their rent for an apartment in Harahan, west of the city. “We need a home,” she said.

Jonathan Beauregard Andry, one of the lawyers representing the Franzes and other plaintiffs in the case, said that the Franzes are typical of those who suffered damage and show why the suit is important. “Their whole life is changed, and they should be compensated for that.”

Mr. Andry, whose father argued the Graci case in 1971, is a native of St. Bernard parish. He is one of more than 50 lawyers from 20 law firms around the nation working on the case. The people of the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish, he said “don’t want sympathy, and they don’t want something for nothing.”

Call for Change Ignored, Levees Remain Patchy
Published: June 22, 2008

CANTON, Mo. — The levees along the Mississippi River offer a patchwork of unpredictable protections. Some are tall and earthen, others aging and sandy, and many along its tributaries uncataloged by federal officials.

The levees are owned and maintained by all sorts of towns, agencies, even individual farmers, making the work in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri last week of gaming the flood — calculating where water levels would exceed the capacity of the protective walls — especially agonizing.

After the last devastating flood in the Midwest 15 years ago, a committee of experts commissioned by the Clinton administration issued a 272-page report that recommended a more uniform approach to managing rising waters along the Mississippi and its tributaries, including giving the principal responsibility for many of the levees to the Army Corps of Engineers.

But the committee chairman, Gerald E. Galloway Jr., a former brigadier general with the Corps of Engineers, said in an interview that few broad changes were made once the floodwaters of 1993 receded and were forgotten.

“We told them there were going to be more floods like this,” said Dr. Galloway, now an engineering professor at the University of Maryland. “Everybody likes to go out and shake hands on the levee now and offer sandbags, but that’s not helpful. This shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”

While the committee’s recommendations certainly would not have prevented the Mississippi and its tributaries from rising to catastrophic levels, Dr. Galloway said they could have lessened the sense of helplessness and limited some of the damage.

Among the committee suggestions that Dr. Galloway said were largely overlooked: a more systematic approach to what the 1994 report described as “a loose aggregation of federal, local and individual levees and reservoirs” on these Midwestern rivers in which, that report said, “many levees are poorly sited and will fail again in the future.”

And after Hurricane Katrina destroyed levees protecting New Orleans in 2005, Congress passed a bill setting up a program to inventory and inspect levees, but it failed to provide enough money to carry that out, Dr. Galloway said. “We don’t even know where some of these levees are,” he said.

All along the bloated Mississippi last week, the odd nature of this collection of levees — autonomous but yet connected — played out in towns like this one, Canton, about 125 miles northwest of St. Louis.

Walking along the top of Canton’s earthen levee on Wednesday, water up to its brim, Richard Dodd barked instructions into a walkie-talkie and scanned for leaks and bulges in it, the only thing left between the river and the heart of this city.

Mr. Dodd, an alderman, was worried, too, about the levees he could not see — along hundreds of miles, up and down the river and its tributaries. A break in one could spare other towns, he said, or send water rushing in unexpected directions, including here.

Canton’s mayor, Joe Clark, looked across the river to Meyer, Ill., where one of more than 20 levees either broke or overflowed last week. “It would sure seem better to have this all under one jurisdiction,” Mr. Clark said, “but that’s just not the way it is.” As it happened, the overflowed levee across the river from Canton may have been what spared his town from damage.

Water levels here had risen again by Saturday, but were predicted to peak over the weekend and then begin dropping. Officials were cautiously optimistic. “We’re holding our own,” Mr. Dodd said Saturday afternoon.

In just one stretch along the Mississippi, based on federal data available on Friday, at least 13 levees were overwhelmed by the river this past week, offering a window into the system.

Three of the levees where water broke through or came over the top were built and owned by local people, towns or agencies, and were not certified as meeting federal standards, records show. Four others that overflowed and then had holes break were built and maintained by towns or drainage district boards, but had been certified by federal authorities as meeting their standards.

The Army Corps of Engineers built or helped reconstruct the other six, though local authorities now own them and are responsible for their upkeep.

“There is a patchwork quilt of levee responsibility when it comes to this,” said Butch Kinerney, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “There is no federal agency which oversees levees. That doesn’t exist.”

For more than a century, people near this river have been trying to hold it back. Levees rise from these banks and the banks of its tributaries in all heights and shapes, many built decades ago by people, towns, groups of farmers.

Made of sand, clay, dirt and, in some cases, unknown materials, some levees guard towns, others protect farm fields. There are long, elaborate walls, like one here known as the Sny that runs more than 50 miles down the river. Others, tiny private levees, particularly those on the smaller tributaries of the Mississippi, have long ago been forgotten, and the federal authorities acknowledge that they are uncertain where all of them are.

People in the Upper Midwest have been wrestling with the “hodgepodge” of levees, as one Missouri geologist describes the situation, for decades, even as officials in the 1920s designed a more standardized system of protection south of here, along the Mississippi downriver of Cairo, Ill., and all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

After an enormous flood in 1927, the southern stretch of the river was deemed part of a project area, and ordered to have levees designed by the Corps of Engineers. “Those were good levees, all built to a single standard,” said John M. Barry, who wrote “Rising Tide,” a book about the 1927 flood.

But the flood had not devastated the Upper Mississippi region to the degree it had in the south, and the political atmosphere, given the enormous price of levee building, left those to the north out of the equation, Mr. Barry said. So people here kept building on their own.

In the 1960s and ’70s, there were calls for improvements: In some cases, Corps officials built or rebuilt certain levees (including Canton’s in the 1960s), then handed them back to the local authorities. Federal authorities also inspect and certify some levees as meeting corps standards, a designation that allows communities to receive subsidies if their levees fail.

But such certification is not mandatory for all levees. Of more than 200 known levees in this region alone, more than 100, many of them in the Mississippi’s tributaries, have not been certified as meeting the federal standards; they may have poor construction, signs of stress, trees growing on them, animal burrows.

All of which has left an odd assortment of levees protecting these towns, even now.

“It’s still sort of ad hoc,” said Ron Fournier, of the Rock Island district of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Even as people here battled the rising waters last week, the disconnected nature of these levees played out in complicated ways.

All around, people tried to raise their levees just a little more, just enough, they hoped, to keep them above water. Atop the levees, they piled sandbags, stone, wood. Town to town, it seemed an arms-race-like battle to go higher. Here in Canton, carpenters spent days hammering a two-foot wooden frame addition to the top of their levee, then padded that with sandbags — tricks they learned from 1993.

But a topped-off levee in one town was not without effect on others along the river, some said.

“We always flood fight and raise levees during events like this with little or no coordination or regard for the impact it will have on people upstream or across the river,” said Paul A. Osman of the Illinois Office of Water Resources. “When you raise a levee, that water has to go somewhere.”

Many experts said it was impossible to know whether a comprehensive levee system might have changed things last week in the areas where water flowed over levees, in the endless corn and soybean fields near Meyer, Ill., or in the trailers and homes near Winfield, Mo. Many of the levees overflowed — as opposed to breaking up or splitting open first; they were simply overwhelmed by a huge amount of water. Some, along open lands, were always expected to overflow at such high water levels.

Still, Dr. Galloway said a broad, comprehensive flood management plan — the one presented 14 years ago — would have helped. “Some agricultural levees would still have overflowed,” he said. “But you would substantially have reduced the damage.”

Mississippi Surges Over Nearly a Dozen Levees
Published: June 20, 2008

The swollen Mississippi River continued to spread destruction on Thursday, surging over nearly a dozen levees in the St. Louis area and flooding vast areas of farmland, as the region’s growing crisis pushed corn and soy prices toward record levels.

The runaway river claimed its latest Missouri town late Wednesday night when it broke a levee in Winfield, just outside of St. Louis, leaving a 150-foot hole, deluging the small community and sending a surge of water downstream toward the next levee. Crews of firefighters spent the night evacuating residents, in some cases by boat, as workers fought to contain the river further south.

With weather forecasters calling for as many as two inches of rain in some parts of Missouri on Thursday, crews of emergency responders, sandbags in hand, were preparing for the worst.

St. Louis is the next major town in the path of the surging river, which is expected to crest at 40 feet there on Saturday. Because the river widens in St. Louis and connects with several tributaries, the damage is expected to be minimal. Still, the threat was great enough to prompt the city to relocate its annual Independence Day fair and festival for the first time.

President Bush was expected on Thursday to visit several communities, including Cedar Rapids, where the waters have receded but 25,000 people are homeless, according to the White House.

Since the flooding began, 20 levees have been breached — 11 of them in the St. Louis area — and as many as 30 more were in peril. Estimates of the damage to farmland throughout the Midwest ranged from 2 million to 5 million acres of crops, pushing corn prices close to a record price of $8 a bushel. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is said to be planning a thorough review of the damage later this month.

On Wednesday, the surging river was gruesome news for the farmers and residents — about 100, the authorities said — near the tiny hamlet of Meyer in western Illinois. Around the small community, part of a region of endless fields of soybeans, corn and cattle, state conservation police officers rode door to door in boats to ensure that everyone had left, and flew over in a helicopter, scanning for anyone stranded.

So it went all along the Mississippi this week, through Iowa, Illinois and Missouri, north of St. Louis: People marching along levees and flood walls, scanning for the slightest puddle or hint of pressure in the sand, waiting for what might come. In Quincy, Ill., local officials raced to reinforce a levee they were worried about south of town; at stake were 100,000 acres of farmland and access to the Mark Twain Bridge. And federal authorities said they were closely monitoring more than 20 other levees they view as vulnerable, as the waters continue to rise downstream in the coming days.

Around Meyer, farmers were devastated. “That’s all been lost, and it’s not going to be replanted this season,” said Gerald Jenkins, general manager of Ursa Farmers Cooperative, not far from Meyer. One of the cooperative’s grain elevators, in Meyer, was swamped, Mr. Jenkins said, another at risk.

Worse, Mr. Jenkins said he feared that so many fields under water would mean not much grain for the cooperative to sell come the fall harvest. “It’s a very sickening feeling,” he said.

Still, the breached levees were a guilty relief for others, here in Canton and in the other towns on the Missouri side of the river or downstream, who had watched the water rise and rise, and hoped that a breach somewhere else might mean less flooding where they were.

“It’s too bad for them, but that’s the way it is,” Joe Clark, the mayor of Canton, said on Wednesday. Throughout the town, hundreds of workers scrambled to raise a three-mile-long levee still higher, with two-foot-tall wooden boards and piles upon piles of sandbags. So far, the levee here was winning, but the river’s crest — only inches short of the highest ever here — was not expected until early Thursday. Mr. Clark said he was hopeful that the town’s levee would hold, and its empty, shuttered downtown would be spared. “Now it’s a matter of waiting,” he said.

A few miles south, the waters crept waist high in some parts of LaGrange, Mo. Still, the levee failures elsewhere might lessen the blow, even in LaGrange. “Everything that’s broken other places is helping us,” said Pat Ryan, who continued to pile sandbags around his house, despite the rising waters.

In towns throughout the area, roads closed, train cars sat empty on flooded tracks, and bridges over the river were barricaded. Everywhere, sore, sweaty volunteers filled sandbags — more than 12.8 million of them have been issued so far during this flooding, by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

Despite several days of mostly dry weather here, the sheer volume of water already in the tributaries of the Mississippi had led, inevitably, to flooding along the Mississippi itself. More rain, though, may be on the way: a storm system was forecast to roll over some of the flooded areas on Thursday and Friday, bringing scattered thunderstorms, up to an inch of rain and even the possibility of large hail in parts. The storms were not expected to raise flood levels significantly, though.

South of here, in Clarksville, the water that had already swamped some homes rose nine more inches by Wednesday.

“You just see it creeping up,” Tommy Beauchamp, a volunteer firefighter, said on Wednesday.

There was one piece of good news, though: the water was expected to crest about three inches lower than had been predicted, perhaps, in part, because of upstream levee breaks. To Mr. Beauchamp, the difference did not seem measly. “We celebrate every inch that we can get,” he said.

Levee System Repairs May Imperil French Quarter; New Orleans' heart survived Katrina 

By Cain Burdeau, Associated Press Writer    
Published on 7/2/2007

New Orleans — The government's repairs to New Orleans' hurricane-damaged levees may put the French Quarter in greater danger than it was before Hurricane Katrina, a weakness planners said couldn't be helped, at least for now.

Experts say the stronger levees and flood walls could funnel storm water into the cul-de-sac of the Industrial Canal, only 2 miles from Bourbon Street, and overwhelm the waterway's 12-foot-high concrete flood walls that shield some of the city's most cherished neighborhoods.  The only things separating Creole bungalows and St. Louis Cathedral from a hurricane's storm surge are those barriers, similar in design to the walls that broke during Katrina.

“A system is much like a chain. We have strengthened some of the lengths, and those areas are now better protected,” said Robert Bea, a lead investigator of an independent National Science Foundation team that examined Katrina's levee failures.

“When the chain is challenged by high water again, it will break at those weak links, and they are now next to some of the oldest neighborhoods, including the French Quarter, Marigny, and all of those areas west of the cul-de-sac.”

J. David Rogers, another engineer with the National Science Foundation team, concurred with Bea's assessment that the French Quarter may now be in more peril than before Katrina.  Officials from the Army Corps of Engineers knew the levee repairs would heighten the risk to the French Quarter. One commander even called it the system's “Achilles' heel.”

To curb the danger, the corps reinforced the existing barriers. But engineers didn't have enough time or money to entirely replace the flood walls with higher, stronger ones.
Bea and other independent experts say those steps were insufficient.

“It wasn't, 'Get all the repairs done and then look at the rest of the system,”' said Ed Link, a University of Maryland engineer and a top adviser on the reconstruction work. “It was all being done in parallel.”

The system, he said, is stronger now, but “it's misinformation to infer that it's an unintended consequence.”

The possibility of a heightened risk came as a surprise to many residents of the French Quarter and districts such as New Marigny, where jazz great Jelly Roll Morton once lived.

“Is that what they're saying? Oh, boy, that's not good,” said Nathan Chapman, president of Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents and Associates Inc., an advocacy group that defends the quality of life in the French Quarter. “It's not on enough people's radar.”

Adolph Bynum was unconvinced about the potential new threat to his restoration of an 1840 Creole cottage damaged by Katrina's winds in Treme, a charming neighborhood next to the French Quarter where plantation owners once housed their black mistresses.

“If the cottage floods or Treme floods, so will the French Quarter. If that happens, everything is flooded,” Bynum said.

The city's oldest neighborhoods were settled long ago because they were the only dry ground in a wilderness of swamp. When Katrina struck, flooding only reached the outer limit of the French Quarter, creeping into places such as St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the site of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau's tomb.  With their open-air markets, flamboyant artists, baroque churches and carefree lifestyle, the neighborhoods next to the Industrial Canal are some of the city's most prized real estate and give New Orleans its old-world soul.

“If we lose them, gosh, New Orleans would no longer be New Orleans,” Chapman said.

As for the new threat posed by the Industrial Canal, corps officials argue that there are other low and weak spots along the channel that might be the first to go, taking pressure off of the section near the French Quarter.

But Bea cautioned that a set of navigational locks on the French Quarter side would likely cause water to accumulate and even create a whirlpool effect. He said there is evidence the locks were a factor in the collapse of the flood wall next to the Lower 9th Ward during Katrina. The Lower 9th Ward sits on the other side of the canal from the French Quarter.  Corps officials also say that if water spilled over the walls near the Quarter, or even breached them, low-lying neighborhoods would flood first.

But Army engineers don't plan on taking any chances. They may eventually add steel plates to raise and armor the walls, block storm surge with sunken barges, and install flood gates.  However, there is no plan to beef up the protection for this year's hurricane season.  Cecil Soileau, a corps consultant and former corps engineer who designed many of the levees, said alarm over the threat to the Quarter is overblown.

“We've had people in the past saying Jackson Square would be inundated with 26 feet of water and only the steeple of the cathedral would be sticking up,” Soileau said. “And I don't think that's a realistic situation.”

Plan Would Divert The Mississippi River ;  Scientists say it would help control flooding
By Cornelia Dean, New York Times News Service 
Published on 9/19/2006
Scientists have long said that the only way to restore Louisiana's vanishing wetlands is to undo the elaborate levee system that controls the Mississippi River, not with the small projects that have been tried here and there, but with a massive diversion that would send the muddy river flooding wholesale into the state's sediment-starved marshes.

And most of them have long dismissed the idea as impractical, unaffordable, and lethal to the region's economy. Now, they are reconsidering. In fact, when a group of researchers convened last April to consider the fate of the Louisiana coast, their recommendation was unanimous: divert the river.

Far from rejecting the idea, state officials have embraced it, motivated not just by the lessons of Hurricane Katrina but also by growing fears that global climate change will bring rising seas, accelerated land loss, and worse weather.

“A major diversion in the lower part of the river is something that needs to be done,” said James R. Hanchey, deputy secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. He said the state was convening a planning meeting on the idea this fall. The diversion would be well downstream of New Orleans, in the bird-foot delta at the river's mouth. Even so, there would be tremendous engineering challenges, particularly in finding a new way for freighters to make their way into the Mississippi's shipping channel, said Hanchey, who took his job after retiring as director of engineering and technical services for the Mississippi Valley division of the Army Corps of Engineers. But he added, “I think it's within the realm of possibility.”

Ellis J. Clairain Jr., interim director of the Louisiana Coastal Area science and technology program for the Army Corps, called the idea “a possible alternative.”

'The only practical solution'

And Virginia R. Burkett, coordinator of global-change science for the U.S. Geological Survey and another participant at the April meeting, called it “the only practical solution.”

The diversion proposal was recommended by a panel of dozens of scientists and engineers from all over the world invited to Louisiana to view the state's marshy coast and to envision its future, said Denise J. Reed, a coastal geologist at the University of New Orleans who organized the meeting.

“The thing is to stop wasting 120 million tons of sediment” the river carries into the Gulf of Mexico on an average year, Reed said. Because the bird-foot delta has grown so far into the gulf, she said, the river's mouth is at the edge of the continental shelf. As a result, the sediment it carries ends up in deep water, where it is lost forever.

A diversion would send the river's richly muddy water into marshes or shallow-water areas where, Reed said, “the natural processes of waves, coastal currents, and even storms can rework that sediment and bring it up and bring it into the coast.”

“It's a lot,” she said, enough to cover 60 square miles half an inch deep every year, an amount that would slow or even reverse land loss in the state's marshes, which have shrunk by about a quarter, more than 1,500 square miles, since the 1930s. Such a program would not turn things around immediately, “but every year new land would be built,” said Joseph T. Kelley, a professor of marine geology at the University of Maine, who took part in the April meeting.

As the bird-foot delta broke up, Reed said, it would provide needed sediment to the frail strings of barrier islands that line some of the Louisiana coast.

Another potential benefit, Hanchey said, would come from the substantial nutrient runoff from inland agriculture in chemicals that contribute to the so-called dead zone of oxygen-poor water near the river's mouth. Applied to the marsh, the nutrients might encourage desirable plants, he said.

Designing such a diversion would be complex and time-consuming, and the experts who met in April did not even attempt it. Even this fall's meeting is not to plan the project, but to plan how the project should be planned, Hanchey said. Though Louisiana is rich in experts on river, wetland, and coastal science, he said, state officials hoped to recruit scientists and engineers from all over the world to tell them “what we would have to know before we could initiate work on something like this, and what we would have to do to gain that knowledge.”

In a way, the bird-foot delta is an artifact of engineering. Without the levees and other structures that keep the river in place, it probably would have taken another path.

Like many major rivers, the Mississippi has tributaries, which feed water into it, and distributaries, which carry water away from it as it nears its mouth. Its tributaries include the Missouri and Ohio Rivers; one way or another, every stream, storm drain, and parking lot from the Rockies to the Appalachians drains into the Mississippi. But about 250 miles from the gulf, near Lettsworth, La., the river stops taking water in and starts feeding it out, into the gulf through the main stem of the bird-foot delta but also in distributaries like the Atchafalaya River, which flows into Atchafalaya Bay to the west.

Until people interfered with its flow, the Mississippi's path to the gulf silted up naturally over time; water flow slowed and the river bed lost its capacity to carry a big flood. When next the big flood came, the river would suddenly turn one of its distributaries into its new main stem.

This kind of switching has occurred roughly every 1,500 years, geologists say, and since about 1950 the river has been ready for a change — to the Atchafalaya. The Corps of Engineers prevents that from happening with an enormous installation of locks, dams, and power stations near Lettsworth, north of Baton Rouge and about 100 miles northwest of New Orleans.

Simply letting the Mississippi shift to the Atchafalaya would do a lot for the sediment-starved marshes west of the Mississippi. But it would leave cities like Baton Rouge and New Orleans — and the petrochemical infrastructure between them — without fresh water or a navigable waterway.

The diversion the scientists propose would be much farther downstream, but where exactly is not at all certain. One possible location is near Davant, about 45 miles southeast of New Orleans. Another is near Empire, further down the river, where the levees could be opened. In either case, the river flows into wet and marshy areas to the west. Another way would have to be found — or constructed — for ships to reach the shipping lane, possibly something engineers call a slack-water channel.

As Clairain explained, “You divert the river, and then you create an avenue in which you are not allowing the river or the sediment to pass,” a channel or lock in which water does not move. “The ship comes up to whatever control you have” — a gate or the like — “and the ship passes through and then the control is reinstituted.”

He said he was not aware of similar installations on this scale elsewhere but said, “We have a lot of great people in the state and around the nation who are contemplating these kinds of solutions.”

Almost certainly, he and others say, such an approach would require vast new construction. Clairain said it was unlikely planners would consider using the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet as a shipping channel. Known as Mr. Go, this outlet, just southeast of New Orleans, was blamed as a path for some of the floodwaters that inundated the city during Katrina. Chief among its drawbacks as a shipping channel would be the difficulty of keeping it dredged for big ships.

Other issues include the fate of those who live south of the proposed diversion, compensation for land lost to the project, and ownership of any land created by it.

Hanchey said relatively few people would have to be relocated.

“The closest community is Venice, at the end of the levee system, about 10 miles north of Head of Passes,” where the river splays into the gulf, he said, but its population even pre-Katrina was tiny. South of that is Pilot Town, but that, he said, is little more than a place for river pilots to stay while they wait for ships.

“There might also be some oyster-lease issues, but those would be minor,” he said.

Another question has to do with land rights. Oliver Houck, a professor of environmental law at Tulane University, said fishing access and oil and gas rights are the crucial land issues in Louisiana. “Under traditional land regimes,” Houck said, newly created riverside or marsh land belongs to the abutting landowner. “The wild card here is, what if you gain it through a huge federal-state project?”

But Hanchey and Houck say those issues can also be dealt with relatively easily. Navigation is a bigger problem.

People involved in the proposal recognize that the lower Mississippi is “a working landscape” that must continue to function, said James T.B. Tripp, a lawyer for Environmental Defense and a member of the Louisiana Governor's Commission for Coastal Restoration.

“One of the major obstacles to doing any of this pre-Katrina was the navigation industry,” he said. “As a result of Katrina, everyone's thinking has become more flexible. Katrina brought all that home: how vulnerable this economic infrastructure has become. So there is a greater readiness today to think more boldly about how we can manage the river in a way that will help restore and build wetlands.”

The proposed project will be expensive. But Tripp said there were already “three or four” available financing sources, including coastal oil and gas revenues and other money already approved for coastal restoration.

Expensive, but cost-effective

“Is it practical? Yes,” he said. “Will it be expensive? Yes. But when you look at the alternatives it's very cost effective,” particularly in an era of rising sea levels.

Obviously, no one wants to make irrevocable changes in the flow of the Mississippi River only to find out they cause more problems than they solve. Could that happen? “I think it's possible,” Hanchey said.

But he added: “Our ability to understand and model river responses to actions like this has improved. The technology of hydrodynamic modeling has improved, and of course we have tremendously increased computational power we did not have before. We can run models today in a matter of hours that took weeks even 20 years ago. All of that has improved.

“Still, whether we can model the river precisely I don't know. It's going to require a lot of data. It's going to require a lot of brains. There are probably a limited number of people in the world who have worked on something as large as the Mississippi River.”

Clairain said the idea of constructing a project and then watching unanticipated consequences lead to disaster “is the kind of thing the Corps of Engineers as a whole worries about.” He continued: “We are talking about doing projects that can have huge impacts to large portions of the nation, the economy, the people. If the project does not deliver all the ecosystem benefits you are hoping it will, you can make tweaks and the ecosystem will survive. That's not true of flood control and economics.”

But there is a growing recognition that the cost of not acting will be high as well.

Along the Louisiana coast, in the delta plain along the river and the oaky woods along Chenier Plain to the west, much of the land is only a few feet above sea level. If seas rise as expected by two or three feet, or more, in the next century, and if the muddy sediments that form this landscape continue to compact and subside, land loss will only accelerate.

Given the proposal's many unknowns, it is hard to say how soon water might begin to flow from the river into the marshes. If there is a decision to go ahead, designing the project might take three or four years, Hanchey said. “And then of course to build something like this — depending on what this thing ended up looking like, it would take another five to 10 years,” he said.

Meanwhile, Reed said, participants in the April meeting are going to produce “a scholarly report” outlining their views in more detail.

“We want to get the citations and the context and the substance behind the arguments,” she said. Reed said she was “invigorated” by the support the idea had received. “My job is to try to carry it through,” she said, “and make sure people don't forget about it.”


Canal, Levee Design Faulted:  Experts: Errors Led To New Orleans Flooding

October 24, 2005

NEW ORLEANS -- Within a space of 15 hours on Aug. 29, three massive, concrete floodwalls in separate parts of the city suddenly fractured and burst under the weight of surging waters from Hurricane Katrina. What might have been a routine hurricane became the costliest storm in U.S. history.

Now, eight weeks after the storm, all three breaches are looking less like acts of God and more like failures of engineering that could have been anticipated and very likely prevented.

Investigators in recent days have assembled evidence of design flaws in the failures of two floodwalls near Lake Pontchartrain that collapsed when weakened soils beneath them became saturated and began to slide. They also have confirmed that a little-used navigation canal helped amplify and intensify Katrina's initial surge, contributing to a third floodwall collapse on the east side of town. The walls and navigation canal were built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency responsible for defending the city against hurricane-related flooding.

The preliminary findings - based on physical evidence, Corps documents and hydrodynamic models run through a Louisiana State University supercomputer - are the work of three teams of engineers and forensic experts conducting separate probes.

Investigators have rejected the initial explanation offered by Corps officials: that massive storm surges overtopped and overwhelmed floodwalls on the 17th Street and London Avenue canals on the north side of town. The new findings for the first time point to a human role in all three of the major floodwall failures that left about 100,000 homes underwater and caused most of Louisiana's approximately 1,000 hurricane deaths.

Experts now believe Katrina was no stronger than a Category 3 storm when it roared into New Orleans, and Congress had directed the Corps to protect the city from just such a hurricane. "This was not the Big One - not even close," said Hassan Mashriqui, a storm surge expert at LSU's Hurricane Center. He said Katrina would have caused some modest flooding and wind damage regardless, but human errors turned "a problem into a catastrophe."

The National Science Foundation, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the state of Louisiana are all investigating the floodwall breaches, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced last week that the National Academies of Sciences will lead a separate probe.

The independent investigations have pointed to two failures in the infrastructure maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers that were critical:

In 1965, the Corps completed the 76-mile-long, 36-foot-deep Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a larger dirt-moving project than the Panama Canal. The outlet - known locally as MRGO, or "Mr. Go" - created a navigation shortcut to the Port of New Orleans, but also what amounted to a funnel that would accelerate and enlarge any storm surges headed for the city's levees.

Three months before Katrina, Mashriqui told a room full of emergency managers that the outlet was a "critical and fundamental flaw" in the Corps hurricane defenses, a "Trojan Horse" that could amplify storm surges 20 percent to 40 percent.

With the help of a supercomputer, Mashriqui has now concluded the effect was even worse than he predicted.

The analysis shows the outlet's "funnel" intensified the initial surge by 20 percent, raising the wall of water about 3 feet. It also increased the velocity of the surge, which Mashriqui believes contributed to the scouring that undermined the levees and floodwalls along the outlet and Industrial canal.

"Without MRGO, the flooding would have been much less," he said. "The levees might have overtopped, but they wouldn't have been washed away."

Corps officials declined comment on the results of the modeling. But Corps spokesman Jason Fanselau said the agency's data still point to a massive surge that exceeded the height of the Industrial Canal floodwall by more than a few feet.

"Katrina flat-out overwhelmed the system," he said. "There was a huge wall of surge that obliterated entire sections of the floodwall."

In the case of the 17th Street and London Avenue canals, the independent investigators believe it was the floodwalls themselves that were the problem. The reason was the naturally soft soil made up of river silts and swampy peat that has been the bane of builders here for two centuries.

Investigators believe the walls collapsed when soft soils beneath them became saturated and began to shift under the weight of relatively modest surges from the lake. Newly released documents show the Corps was aware years ago that a particularly unstable layer of soil lay beneath both floodwalls.

"These levees did not overtop, yet they failed anyway," said Peter Nicholson, an engineering professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and leader of the ASCE investigating team.

Documents given to investigators by former Corps contractors have shed some light on what government engineers knew about the weak soils and how this knowledge affected their decisions.

In the 1980s, the Corps began constructing concrete floodwalls on top of older earthen levees to give the city's northern neighborhoods better protection from storm surges from Lake Pontchartrain. Soil tests in the 1980s detected trouble 20 feet below the surface: a thick layer of spongy, organic soil called peat. Soft and highly compressible when dry, peat becomes even weaker when saturated with water.

A 1988 document reveals Corps officials took careful measurements of the peat layer and tested the soil in a laboratory to calculate its relative strength, according to Robert Bea, a professor of engineering at the University of California at Berkeley and a member of the NSF investigating team. Based on those calculations, the Corps designed a concrete-and-steel floodwall anchored to the earth by steel pilings driven to a depth of 20 feet.

"The depth of the pilings becomes important," said Bea, because the "tips of the sheet piles may not have penetrated the peat." Meanwhile, because the canal was dredged to an even greater depth, water penetrated the peat layer from the inside, investigators said.

"There was a gap where water could get through," said Ivor Van Heerden, the deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center and the leader of the Louisiana forensic investigation. "Water was able to get around or through those pilings to the other side and start weakening the structure."

Reports of problems with the soft underlayer began to surface even before the floodwalls were finished.

In 1993, the now-defunct Pittman Construction Co., a New Orleans firm involved in levee construction, claimed in court documents that floodwall sections were failing to line up properly because of unstable soils. An administrative law judge dismissed the complaint on technical grounds in 1996.

Mystery surrounds floodwall breaches
Could a structural flaw be to blame?

By John McQuaid, Staff writer
September 13, 2005

One of the central mysteries emerging in the Hurricane Katrina disaster is why concrete floodwalls in three canals breached during the storm, causing much of the catastrophic flooding, while earthen hurricane levees surrounding the city remained intact.

It probably will take months to investigate and make a conclusive determination about what happened, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. But two Louisiana State University scientists who have examined the breaches suggest that a structural flaw in the floodwalls might be to blame.

"Why did we have no hurricane levee failures but five separate places with floodwall failures?" asked Joseph Suhayda, a retired LSU coastal engineer who examined the breaches last week. "That suggests there may be something about floodwalls that makes them more susceptible to failure. Did (the storm) exceed design conditions? What were the conditions? What about the construction?"

Ivor Van Heerden, who uses computer models to study storm-surge dynamics for the LSU Hurricane Center, has said that fragmentary initial data indicate that Katrina's storm-surge heights in Lake Pontchartrain would not have been high enough to top the canal walls and that a "catastrophic structural failure" occurred in the floodwalls.

Corps project manager Al Naomi said that the Corps' working theory is that the floodwalls were well-constructed, but once topped they gave way after water scoured their interior sides, wearing away their earth-packed bases. But he said some other problem could have caused the breaches.

"They could have been overtopped. There could have been some structural failure. They could have been impacted by some type of debris," Naomi said. "I don't think it's right to make some type of judgment now. It's like presuming the reason for a plane crash without recovering the black box."

Officials long had warned about the danger of levees being topped by high water from a storm surge. Absent topping, floodwalls are supposed to remain intact.

The floodwalls lining New Orleans canals consist of concrete sections attached to steel sheet pile drilled deep into the earth, fortified by a concrete and earthen base. The sections are joined with a flexible, waterproof substance.

Floodwalls were breached in the 17th Street Canal, at two places in the London Avenue Canal, and at two places in the Industrial Canal, Suhayda said. Naomi said last week that one of the Industrial Canal breaches likely was caused by a loose barge that broke through it.

Suhayda said that his inspection of the debris from the 17th Street Canal breach suggests the wall simply gave way. "It looks to have been laterally pushed, not scoured in back with dirt being removed in pieces," he said. "You can see levee material, some distance pushed inside the floodwall area, like a bulldozer pushed it."

He suggested that because the walls failed in a few spots, the flaw may not be in the design but in the construction or materials.

"Those sections in the rest of the wall should have been subjected to the same forces as that section that failed," he said. "Why did one side fail, not the other side?"

Drainage canals typically are lined with floodwalls instead of the wider earthen levees that protect the lakefront because of a lack of space, engineers say.

"It's a right-of-way issue," Naomi said. "Usually, there are homes right up against the canal. You have to relocate five miles of homes (to build a levee), or you can build a floodwall."

Constructing a more expensive earthen levee also would require building farther out into the canal itself, reducing the size of the canal - and the volume of water it could handle.

Naomi said that an earthen levee also could have been breached if the surge had pushed water over the top. "A levee failure might be more gradual than with a floodwall," he said. "It means you may have flooded a little slower."

The central question for engineers investigating the breaches will be whether the floodwalls were topped - and that's still unclear.

The levee system, floodwalls included, is designed to protect against an average storm surge of 11.5 feet above sea level. The Corps adds several more feet of "freeboard" to account for waves and other dynamics.

Naomi said the Industrial Canal floodwalls were topped by water coming in from the east. But scientists don't yet know exactly whether Katrina's Lake Pontchartrain surge was high enough to go over the wall in the two other canals.

Many storm surge gauges stopped functioning during the storm, LSU climatologist Barry Keim, though initial data point to a mi-lake height of eight or nine feet. Heights typically are higher at the Lakefront area because wind pushes water higher against the levees.

Suhayda said the debris line on the lakefront levee adjacent to the canal was "several feet" below the top. The levees are 17 or 18 feet high in that area. The canal levees, however, average only 14 feet. Storm surges have waves and other dynamics that push water still higher than the average height.

"There are big implications for as little as a one-foot change in elevation" of the storm surge, Suhayda said.

If the water did not top the levees, the breaches could prove more mysterious. Typically, the pounding of wave action would be the most likely way to cause a breach, scientists say. But there isn't much wave action in canals.

"Waves constantly breaking on the structure start to erode it and make it become unstable," said LSU coastal geologist Greg Stone, who studies storm-surge dynamics. "But I don't think that was a major factor in the canals. You just don't have the (open area) to allow wave growth to occur."

Geologist: Katrina ripped up La. coastline:Talks surface on how to protect La., coast

By Mark Schleifstein
Staff writer, Times-Picayune
blog, recorded here on Saturday, September 3, 2005

Louisiana coastal restoration officials began brainstorming with officials from the Army Corps of Engineers on Friday about how to protect the New Orleans area and other communities in southeastern Louisiana from another catastrophic hurricane and restore its coastal wetlands at the same time.  They're trying to quickly hammer together a plan that could be thrown into an expected supplemental congressional appropriation that's needed to pay the cost of Katrina rescue and recovery efforts, said Randy Hanchey, deputy secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.

Sidney Coffee, coastal adviser to Gov. Kathleen Blanco, confirmed that the talks began Friday.  Late Friday, corps officials announced they are beginning to breach levees to drain water from Chalmette, flooded because of failures of levees along the Industrial Canal.  Backhoes mounted on marsh buggies and draglines mounted on barges will cut breaches in the levees, including one along the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet between the Bayou Bienville and Bayou Dupree floodgates and another near the Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion Canal.

Breaches of two ring levees in Plaquemines Parish, one on each bank of the river, will soon follow, the corps announcement said.  Corps officials already have said that protecting New Orleans from a Category 5 storm would cost at least $2.5 billion.

The proposed Morganza-to-Gulf hurricane protection levee being considered for authorization during this term of Congress, is estimated to cost $670 million, but would only protect parts of Terrebonne, Lafourche and Jefferson parishes from a Category 3 storm, just like the existing levees around the New Orleans area.  Congress also is considering a $1.2 billion proposal to begin restoring the coastline, a process estimated to eventually cost $15 billion.

"We're trying to put together a package recommending a comprehensive hurricane protection and costal restoration program that will provide a much higher level of protection, with the restoration of critical land features in the coastal zone that provide surge protection," Hanchey said.

"How this will be received, we just don't know," he said. "But you can't look at hurricane protection any more from the microeconomic, one-city point of view any more. If one is concerned about economic justification about a project like this, that question has been answered."  Hanchey said the preliminary plan is to ask Congress to allow the corps to skip the preliminary cost-justification steps of these projects that often take as long as five to 10 years.

"We need to accelerate the way the funds are provided and move directly to design and construction," he said. "We need to be starting today."  State and federal officials have been delayed in determining how much damage the Category 4 Katrina has done to coastal areas because manpower, boats, planes and helicopters all have been pressed into service to rescue people in New Orleans.

A flight by Coffee and other coastal officials at dusk Thursday, however, indicated that as much as half of Plaquemines Parish was still underwater.  While it's still unclear whether the wetlands there have been destroyed, Coffee said the view was similar to maps drawn by the state to show what the coastline would look like in 2050 without a restoration program.

Asbury Sallenger, a coastal geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey's St. Petersburg, Fla., laboratory, has been able to fly photographic missions over the eastern Louisiana coastline and the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama during the past few days to measure Katrina's damage.  He said the Chandeleur Islands have been ripped asunder, and look worse than they did after Hurricane Georges in 1998 and Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Ivan in 2002.

Meanwhile, state Department of Environmental Quality and the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator's Office are trying to determine the extent of a major oil spill at mile marker 22 on the Mississippi River near Venice.  DEQ spokesman Darren Mann said it's still unclear whether the oil is leaking from a pair of holding tanks that have been described as holding either 800,000 barrels of oil each or 2 million barrels of oil each, he said.

Coffee said there were a number of smaller oil spills near platforms all along southern Plaquemines Parish.  How much oil is in the water, and exactly where it comes from will have to wait until officials can get to the area by boat, he said.  Meanwhile, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals officials say floodwaters inside levees in St. Bernard and Jefferson parishes and New Orleans are a toxic mix of bacteria contamination and hazardous chemicals.

Exactly what chemicals might be in the water is not yet known, said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson in a phone interview from Washington.

"It's too early to speculate," Johnson said. "We haven't even gotten to the point where we're able to assess what's there or not there."

Emergency preparedness experts have long warned that floodwaters in New Orleans could be contaminated with everything from the household chemicals beneath kitchen and bathroom sinks to hazardous chemicals in businesses and factories to gasoline and diesel fuel leaking from underground storage tanks. Above-ground tanks also were expected to add to the mix as they floated free from their supports, breaking piping as floodwaters rose.

Contaminated water already is being pumped into Lake Pontchartrain, where it will make its way along the south shore, out the Chef Menteur and Rigolets passes and into the Gulf of Mexico. Equally contaminated floodwaters from St. Bernard Parish also will end up in coastal wetlands, all of which are home to the state's lucrative oyster industry and other fisheries.

Johnson said the Federal Drug Administration and Department of Health and Human Services will assist in making sure no contaminated seafood reaches the public in the months to come. The state Health Department also will assist in that effort.  Health Department spokesman Bob Johannessen said triage units treating evacuees haven't seen tell-tale rashes on legs or other bare skin that would result from exposure to toxic chemicals. He said bacteria in the water could have gotten into wounds, and the problems that might cause could take some time to show up.

Federal and state officials continue to search from the air for chemical and oil leaks, but a detailed inspection also has been delayed by the diversion of personnel to rescue efforts.

"Our first priority is to assist and make sure people are safe and we are actually saving lives," Johnson said.  "We have 69 watercraft on the scene and thus far, emergency response personnel have rescued 500 people," he said.

The EPA also is providing 50 workers to conduct environmental assessments of construction sites for temporary housing that will be built during the next few weeks for displaced residents, he said.  An EPA plane equipped with sensing instruments flew over a warehouse fire on a Mississippi River wharf in New Orleans Friday and found no evidence of toxic materials, Mann said.

The agency also is working with the corps in preparing a plan to deal with the vast quantity of storm debris left in Katrina's wake.  "We will be assessing the debris material to see if it is indeed hazardous," Johnson said.

Johnson said he was unaware of the unique problems that debris would present if it is infested with Formosan termites, but said that would be added to the list.  When South Carolina officials stored debris from Charleston's older neighborhoods in empty lots on the outskirt of town after Hurricane Hugo hit the Formosan termite-infested area, the termites were spread to new areas, officials there said.

Entomologist Kenneth Grace of the University of Hawaii said it's likely that floodwater may result in a reduction of termite nests in the New Orleans area, but that even long-standing stormwater won't kill all of the damaging insects. That's because their underground nests are likely to contain pockets of air, and they also have nests in the upper trunks of trees above the floodwaters.

And he warned that moving building debris around was likely to spread the insects to areas not yet infested, just like in Charleston.

Mark Schleifstein can be reached at

45 Cops AWOL in storm are fired;  another 228 officers who left and returned are under investigation
By Michael Perlstein, Staff Writer, TIME-PICAYUNE
Saturday, October 29, 2005

Forty-five New Orleans police officers who fled during Hurricane Katrina were fired as outright deserters Friday, but the police department still faces the more delicate task of investigating another 228 officers who returned to the job after leaving without permission at some point during the storm and its resulting chaos.

Acting Police Chief Warren Riley said the termination letters he mailed Friday represented the easy cases because those officers have not contacted the department since leaving their posts. Of the AWOL cops, all carried the rank of patrol officer except for one ranking commander, a sergeant, Riley said. Six civilian employees also were sent "abandonment letters," he said. Riley did not release the names of those dismissed.

"It is unfortunate that some members did not uphold their oath of office to support the city of New Orleans and the dedicated men and women of the NOPD," Riley said.

Since the Aug. 29 storm, 15 officers resigned while under investigation, 45 officers resigned citing personal reasons, nine officers retired and two committed suicide, Riley said. Added to Friday's firings, the department has lost 116 officers altogether -- about 7 percent of the force -- but their absence has hardly been felt in the past month because much of the city has been emptied of citizens, dropping crime to record low levels.

"We're still functioning and we're a very effective department," spokesman Capt. Marlon Defillo said. The force stood at 1,650 before the storm. Including officers who are out with injuries or illness, it now numbers 1,448, including the 228 who are under investigation for leaving their posts.

Of the city's eight police districts, the 7th District -- covering eastern New Orleans -- lost the most officers, Riley said. But that area also suffered some of the most severe flooding and loss of residents, making the normal contingent of officers unnecessary.

Riley said the city has no plans to recruit new officers to fill the vacancies. But the ultimate size and shape of the force won't be determined until the Public Integrity Bureau investigates the remaining 228 officers who left at some point during the crisis.

Once the facts are gathered, those officers will face a tribunal of the department's top commanders to determine what disciplinary action should be taken against them, if any. The officers will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, Riley said. That process is expected to take at least four months.

The officers under review fall into two categories: those who didn't report to duty as the storm hit and those who left without permission during the tumultuous aftermath.

Some of those who didn't report may have found themselves stuck by floodwaters or, in the case of officers who were out of town, unable to return because of the high water, Riley said. Others were at their posts as Katrina swept ashore, but later left without notifying their superiors.

"Some went to check on their families. Some went to check on their homes," Riley said. "Many of them returned within two or three days, some didn't return for 10 or 12 days. But we still have a problem with that because they should have been here and they left without permission."

Another 13 officers are under investigation concerning possible looting, Riley said.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the nonprofit Metropolitan Crime Commission, said the ongoing attrition should not come as a surprise given the scale of the disaster. In fact, the losses ultimately could make the force stronger, he said.

"Hurricane Katrina was a tremendous gut-check for the department," Goyeneche said. "They've now seen up close and under the most trying circumstances who is really devoted to the city. One of the things the department always does in hiring is put applicants through psychological testing, but there's no substitute for seeing someone perform in a crisis. Ultimately, this could be a real uniting event for this police force."

New Orleans faces doomsday scenario

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle Science Writer
Dec. 1, 2001, 1:35AM

New Orleans is sinking.

And its main buffer from a hurricane, the protective Mississippi River delta, is quickly eroding away, leaving the historic city perilously close to disaster.

So vulnerable, in fact, that earlier this year the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked the potential damage to New Orleans as among the three likeliest, most castastrophic disasters facing this country.

The other two? A massive earthquake in San Francisco, and, almost prophetically, a terrorist attack on New York City.

The New Orleans hurricane scenario may be the deadliest of all.

In the face of an approaching storm, scientists say, the city's less-than-adequate evacuation routes would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill one of 10 left behind as the city drowned under 20 feet of water. Thousands of refugees could land in Houston.

Economically, the toll would be shattering.

Southern Louisiana produces one-third of the country's seafood, one-fifth of its oil and one-quarter of its natural gas. The city's tourism, lifeblood of the French Quarter, would cease to exist. The Big Easy might never recover.

And, given New Orleans' precarious perch, some academics wonder if it should be rebuilt at all.

It's been 36 years since Hurricane Betsy buried New Orleans 8 feet deep. Since then a deteriorating ecosystem and increased development have left the city in an ever more precarious position. Yet the problem went unaddressed for decades by a laissez-faire government, experts said.

"To some extent, I think we've been lulled to sleep," said Marc Levitan, director of Louisiana State University's hurricane center.

Hurricane season ended Friday, and for the second straight year no hurricanes hit the United States. But the season nonetheless continued a long-term trend of more active seasons, forecasters said. Tropical Storm Allison became this country's most destructive tropical storm ever.

Yet despite the damage Allison wrought upon Houston, dropping more than 3 feet of water in some areas, a few days later much of the city returned to normal as bloated bayous drained into the Gulf of Mexico.

The same storm dumped a mere 5 inches on New Orleans, nearly overwhelming the city's pump system. If an Allison-type storm were to strike New Orleans, or a Category 3 storm or greater with at least 111 mph winds, the results would be cataclysmic, New Orleans planners said.

"Any significant water that comes into this city is a dangerous threat," Walter Maestri, Jefferson Parish emergency management director, told Scientific American for an October article.

"Even though I have to plan for it, I don't even want to think about the loss of life a huge hurricane would cause."

New Orleans is essentially a bowl ringed by levees that protect the city from the Mississippi River to its south and Lake Pontchartrain to the north. The bottom of the bowl is 14 feet below sea level, and efforts to keep it dry are only digging a deeper hole.

During routine rainfalls the city's dozens of pumps push water uphill into the lake. This, in turn, draws water from the ground, further drying the ground and sinking it deeper, a problem known as subsidence.

This problem also faces Houston as water wells have sucked the ground dry. Houston's solution is a plan to convert to surface drinking water. For New Orleans, eliminating pumping during a rainfall is not an option, so the city continues to sink.

A big storm, scientists said, would likely block four of five evacuation routes long before it hit. Those left behind would have no power or transportation, and little food or medicine, and no prospects for a return to normal any time soon.

"The bowl would be full," Levitan said. "There's simply no place for the water to drain."

Estimates for pumping the city dry after a huge storm vary from six to 16 weeks. Hundreds of thousands would be homeless, their residences destroyed.

The only solution, scientists, politicians and other Louisiana officials agree, is to take large-scale steps to minimize the risks, such as rebuilding the protective delta.

Every two miles of marsh between New Orleans and the Gulf reduces a storm surge -- which in some cases is 20 feet or higher -- by half a foot.

In 1990, the Breaux Act, named for its author, Sen. John Breaux, D-La., created a task force of several federal agencies to address the severe wetlands loss in coastal Louisiana. The act has brought about $40 million a year for wetland restoration projects, but it hasn't been enough.

"It's kind of been like trying to give aspirin to a cancer patient," said Len Bahr, director of Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster's coastal activities office.

The state loses about 25 square miles of land a year, the equivalent of about one football field every 15 minutes. The fishing industry, without marshes, swamps and fertile wetlands, could lose a projected $37 billion by the year 2050.

University of New Orleans researchers studied the impact of Breaux Act projects on the vanishing wetlands and estimated that only 2 percent of the loss has been averted. Clearly, Bahr said, there is a need for something much bigger. There is some evidence this finally may be happening.

A consortium of local, state and federal agencies is studying a $2 billion to $3 billion plan to divert sediment from the Mississippi River back into the delta. Because the river is leveed all the way to the Gulf, where sediment is dumped into deep water, nothing is left to replenish the receding delta.

Other possible projects include restoration of barrier reefs and perhaps a large gate to prevent Lake Pontchartrain from overflowing and drowning the city.

All are multibillion-dollar projects. A plan to restore the Florida Everglades attracted $4 billion in federal funding, but the state had to match it dollar for dollar. In Louisiana, so far, there's only been a willingness to match 15 or 25 cents.

"Our state still looks for a 100 percent federal bailout, but that's just not going to happen," said University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland, a delta expert.

"We have an image and credibility problem. We have to convince our country that they need to take us seriously, that they can trust us to do a science-based restoration program."

I-BBC Graphic

Weston Commission for the Arts link here...

On Friday evening at 8PM in the Library...

Alolf Duda,
b.1913, Poland, father of Westonite, with his "wheels," Boursin, France, 1930

A most cordial invitation to you...from the WESTON COMMISSION FOR THE ARTS


All Westonites are invited to participate in an all-town celebration of their individual heritage as captured in early photography. They are asked to submit a treasured photograph of a relative - the older the photograph, the better!  An interesting pose perhaps at the piano, in front of their place of business, or sitting beside a fountain would be nice. 
Each submitted photograph will be labeled with the name of the person pictured, the date of their birth and death, date and place where the photo was taken, and the name and the relationship of the person submitting them.
These framed photos will be hung in the Community Room and will remain on view from November 18 through 27 with a Gala Reception scheduled on November 18, 8:00 pm. to which all Westonites are invited!  The event will be sponsored by the Weston Commission for the Arts.
We will be accepting last minute submissions on THURSDAY EVENING at 6pm in the Community Room of the library!

Gala Reception
Wine, Hors d'oeuvres and desserts
Community Room, Weston Library
All are most cordially invited!

On Sunday afternoon at 3PM in the historic and beautiful Town Hall Meeting Room...

The playwright, at Town Hall for reading of "Miss Crandall's Classes" - hear it now and be in the know when it hits Broadway later!

"Miss Crandall's Classes"

A play reading

by Catherine Gropper of Weston


Ten actors tell the story of the Connecticut heroine Prudence Crandall who, in the 1830s, opened her academy to black women thus advocating the right to an education for all women in America.



Weston Town Hall, 56 Norfield Road


Free.  All are cordially invited! 

Reception following.  Call 454-4774 for info.

Sponsored by the Weston Commission for the Arts


Gerda Da Rif - Art Opening - breaks all (unofficial) records for turn-out!!!  Must see!!!
Weston Public Library - 56 Norfield Road
Champagne Reception was Sunday, October 30, 2005, 4-6pm
Exhibit through November 12th.
The Weston Commission for the Arts
The Weston Historical Society

HAROLD JONES in CONCERT Nationally renowned flute soloist..."He's exhilarating, he's vibrant!  Don't miss this fabulous event!"
An evening of Bach, Mozart, Saint-Saens, Hasse, Charminade, Coleridge-Taylor Perkington and Demersseman
SATURDAY, October 22, 7:30pm at the Weston Library
Sponsored by the Weston Commission for the Arts.  FREE!

Available thru bookstores...Barnes and Nobles and the Weston Historical Society...a great read, in our opinion!

Lecture and book signing at Weston Library Saturday, June 25, 2005 - all seats taken to hear the dramatic tale of three water company land schemes (2 recent) a half-century apart!  Cablevision Channel 79 Town TV will be showing "un-cut version" beginning Friday, July 29 - an edition of "About Town" (this show to run for three weeks Friday and Saturday from 5:30-6pm on Cablevision Channel 77).

continues on CABLEVISION CHANNEL 77 at 1PM Mondays ("Part One") and Tuesdays ("Part Two").

                                                                                                                                                      (Westport NEWS photo)
Lisa Lindsay Daugherty, program;  Peg Bisceglie's dancers;  Skidmore College student Sasha Lehrer performs "Ball Dance" - part of a tribute to Isadora Duncan by the Isadora Duncan International Institute.  The sun came out (finally) on a spectacular series of performances by Isadora Duncan International Institute, directed by Jeanne Bresciani, Ph.D.

                                                                                                            (Margaret Wirtenberg, photos)
Sculpture by Andrew Reiss depicting Spring growth:
(Sculpture courtesy of Hamilton's

Young People's Creative Dance Theatre huddles for final words of wisdom in Town Hall...Isadora Duncan dancers warm up in the Town Hall Meeting Room--where they would have performed had it rained...


Commission, crowd and dancers braved foreboding weather - Dancers Co-op, with lead dancer Liz Coprio Gary (l.) having emerged from dormancy within the Andrew Reiss sculpture, set a bold course for the afternoon! 

                                                                                                        (Weston Forum photo)
The Green Chair Dance Group of Swarthmore College (pictured above) made the dance funny, satiric and just wonderfully expressive!!!

Crowd of 200+ plus photographers and videographers cluster by the wall at the Town Hall greensward...which looks as if had been designed for just this event!!!

Published: Sunday, May 15, 2005
Mount Rainier could be the next to erupt
By Rebecca Cook, Associated Press Writer

In the shadow of Mount Rainier, a father pushes his son on a squeaky swing set. A small dog sleeps undisturbed in the middle of a dead-end road. The tall firs lining the main street whisper in the spring breeze.

What's St. Helens' current status? It's currently at the second highest alert level. This indicates heightened concern about hazards but not an imminent life- or property-threatening event. Under current conditions, small, short-lived explosions may produce ash clouds that rise to 30,000 feet. Ash from such events can travel 100 miles downwind. Is it going to erupt? By geologic standards, the mountain has been erupting since October, but scientists aren't sure if another large eruption is coming. So far, the mountain has emitted steam and a little ash. A major eruption could produce a flow of superheated rock and ash that destroys anything in its path, as in 1980. Can people visit the volcano? The mountain can be viewed from several places, including Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center, about seven miles away, and the Johnston Ridge Observatory, five miles away, which has a stunning view into the crater. Current conditions and restrictions are posted at www. recreation/current- conditions.

One day, the peaceful hush of this small town will be broken by a rumble that sounds like a thousand freight trains. If everything works right, sirens will wail and the town's 4,400 residents will have 45 minutes to evacuate - or be buried by an avalanche of mud and debris tumbling off the flank of Mount Rainier.

Scientists know Mount Rainier, an active volcano, will one day reawaken as Mount St. Helens did in 1980. It could gradually build up and explode, or part of it could simply collapse, perhaps with little or no warning. It could happen in 200 years, or it could happen tonight.

"People get burned by these kind of events because they think it can't happen in their lifetime," said U.S. Geological Survey volcano expert Willie Scott. "We can't rule out a flow of troublesome size being generated almost at any time."

A mudflow would likely be troublesome indeed for Orting. Two rivers, the Carbon and the Puyallup, drain off the mountain, hug the town and converge just beyond it, putting Orting squarely in the mountain's strike zone. The town was built atop a 500-year-old mudflow that buried the valley 30 feet deep.

Construction crews working on new housing developments for Orting's growing population have dug up massive tree stumps - the remnants of a forest buried there the last time Mount Rainier erupted.

The USGS ranks Mount Rainier as the third most dangerous volcano in the nation, after Kilauea on Hawaii's Big Island and St. Helens, both of which are currently active. Other studies call Rainier the most dangerous volcano in the world, not just for its explosive potential but because of the 3 million people who live in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area. At least 100,000 people live on top of old Rainier mudflows that have solidified.

Disaster could strike in at least three different ways. The mountain could go through a Mount St. Helens-type buildup, with magma rising in the mountain's core and then literally blowing Rainier's top and sending mudflows crashing down on the valleys below.  Or the magma could build up inside the mountain and never explode, but trigger mudflows by weakening the rock and melting the glaciers lacing the mountain.

Or part of the mountain could simply collapse without any magma buildup, weakened by centuries of hot, acidic liquid coursing through the rock. Scott said the west flank of Rainier, overlooking the Puyallup River valley, is the oldest part of Mount Rainier and thus the most likely to collapse.
In any case, rock and mud would mix with melted glaciers to create a flow the consistency of concrete but moving as fast as 50 miles per hour. The mudflow would sweep down the valleys, picking whatever was in its way.

Most of the mudflows from Mount Rainier were triggered by an eruption, Scott said. But the most recent, the Electron mudflow that buried Orting 500 years ago, didn't seem to follow that pattern.

"Maybe it was just a gradual weakening," Scott said. "That one sort of keeps us honest."

About 5,600 years ago, the Osceola mudflow blanketed about 200 square miles northwest of the mountain. The flows reached as far north as Kent, a Seattle suburb, and drained west into Commencement Bay, now the site of the Port of Tacoma.

The risk of catastrophe every couple of thousand years hasn't stopped brisk development on ancient mudflows. But as scientists identified Rainier as a threat in the decades after Mount St. Helens' eruption, government officials and citizens have begun preparing.

Last week, federal, state and local officials gathered at Fort Lewis for an exercise called Cascade Fury III - simulating the emergency response to an earthquake, eruption and massive mudflow from Mount Rainier. Later this month, Orting schools will practice a drill familiar to most students by now, evacuating and walking two miles to higher ground.

Chuck Morrison has been lobbying for years to make that walk faster and easier. He wants to build bridges and a path so Orting students can evacuate to a bluff about a half-mile away, rather than hightailing it across town.  This year's state budget includes $1.7 million to start engineering and planning for the project. Morrison hopes to get more money from the federal government and private donors to finish the "Bridge for Kids."

Some locals have welcomed his activism, while others roll their eyes.

"Don't keep talking about that mountain! I'm sick of hearing about it," said James Nunnally, 69. He'd rather see the state spend money on roads to handle Orting's growing number of commuters than on a pedestrian bridge.

"It's a farce," Nunnally said.

Mount Rainer in distance (one big mountain looking out from our hotel room - Edgewater)!
Mount Rainier (background) looms behind Mount St. Helens in September. The U.S. Geological Survey ranks Mount Rainier as the third most dangerous volcano in the nation after Mount St. Helens and Hawaii's Kilauea.

Other volcanoes

Mount St. Helens is just one in a 1,000-mile chain of more than 30 volcanoes. Here are some of the other principal peaks:

British Columbia

Silverthrone Glacier, 10,428 feet, inactive for 100,000 years.

Franklin Glacier, 7,389 feet, future activity possible.

Meager Mountain, 8,790 feet, future activity possible.

Mount Cayley, 7,838 feet, future activity possible.

Mount Garibaldi, 8,787 feet, future activity possible.


Mount Baker, 10,778 feet, future activity likely.

Glacier Peak, 10,541 feet, future activity possible.

Mount Rainier, 14,411 feet, future activity likely.

Mount Adams, 12,276 feet, future activity likely.


Mount Hood, 11,245 feet, future activity likely.

Mount Jefferson, 10,495 feet, future activity possible.

Three Sisters area: North Sister, 10,085 feet, probably extinct for 100,000 years; Middle Sister, 10,047 feet, may be inactive; South Sister, 10,358 feet, future activity likely; Broken Top, 9,175 feet, inactive for probably 100,000 years; and Mount Bachelor, 9,065 feet, future activity likely.

Newberry Caldera, 7,985, future activity likely.

Mount Thielsen, 9,178 feet, future activity unlikely.

Mount McLoughlin 9,495 feet, future activity uncertain.

Mount Mazama-Crater Lake, 8,156 feet, future activity possible



Tensions are high between East Asian neighbours China and Japan. China accuses Japan of failing to repent for historical wrongs, while Japan accuses China of dwelling on the past.

But behind the talk of the past there are also fears and ambitions for the future.

As China speeds towards economic parity with the Japanese heavyweight, competition for resources and markets is growing. Both wish to match their economic prowess with leading roles in world diplomacy. Both are anxious to take maximum advantage of a rapidly changing regional power balance...


According to the files of the New London DAY, UTOPIA project (at left) proposed for the former Norwich Hospital property lies between Route 12, lower right, and the eastern shore of the Thames River. The Mohegan Sun casino, top, is located almost directly across the river.  And on a new page here, please read story of Mohegan Sun expansion plan! 

How come no filibuster on drilling in Arctic?  Because opponents didn't want to, or would not be able to, justify holding the federal budget bill (to which this provision was attached) hostage.  House-Senate Conference Committee on budget bill may have the last word.

Previous blow-ups...

How earthquakes happen and I-BBC of tsunami;  See the before and after picture in Indonesia;  U.S. Government rules being promulgated need comment from volunteer EMS!  New bill in CT (one "free" ambulance [not requiring "needs assessment" by State]): may not get anythere this session - HB 6821.

Death Toll From Indonesia Tsunami Hits 659
Greenwich TIME
Published July 22 2006, 7:17 AM EDT

PANGANDARAN, Indonesia -- The death toll from the Indonesian tsunami earlier this week rose to 659 after emergency workers reached a previously inaccessible area along Java island's southern coast, the government said Saturday.

Drajat Santosa, an official at the government's National Disaster Management Coordinating Board, said nearly 100 bodies were found in a part of Ciamis district that had been cut off by a broken bridge.
The toll climbed to 659 with 330 others missing, he said. Previously, the government said 547 had been killed.

A powerful earthquake on Monday sent towering waves crashing into a 110-mile stretch of Java's southern coast, destroying scores of houses, restaurants and hotels. Cars, motorbikes and boats were left mangled amid fishing nets, furniture and other debris.
Copyright © 2006

I-BBC 18July 2006
Search for Java tsunami survivors

Rescue workers are searching for survivors of a tsunami that struck Java, killing at least 341 people.  Nearly 230 people are missing and many thousands of others have been displaced, Indonesian officials said...

Tsunami hits Indonesia's Java, death toll nears 40
By Achmad Sukarsono
July 17, 2006

JAKARTA (Reuters) - A tsunami triggered by a strong undersea earthquake off the southern coast of Java island swept away buildings at an Indonesian beach resort on Monday and killed nearly 40 people, an official and media reports said...

Tsunami hits Indonesia's Java, at least 5 dead
By Achmad Sukarsono
July 17, 2006
JAKARTA (Reuters) - A strong undersea earthquake struck off the southern coast of Indonesia's Java island on Monday, triggering a tsunami that swept away wooden buildings and killed at least five people, officials said.  There were no reports of casualties or damage in any other country.  The search for victims was continuing, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told a news conference, adding that five people were known to have died.

"An earthquake has happened and then was followed by a tsunami on the southern coast of Ciamis (regency)," he said.

"It has been reported to me that five people have been declared dead and the search is still going on to find those who probably have been swept away by the tsunami waves."

A tsunami warning for Java's southern coast and nearby Christmas Island, to the south of the Indonesian archipelago, was issued by the U.S.-based Pacific        Tsunami Warning Center. Police on Christmas Island, owned by Australia, said there was no damage there.  India also issued a warning for the Andaman and Nicobar islands, which were badly hit by the 2004 tsunami, but officials said there was no real threat. The Maldives, a low-lying chain of islands to the southwest of India, also issued a warning.

A massive earthquake in December 2004 triggered a tsunami that left 170,000 people killed or missing in Indonesia's Aceh province. Tens of thousands more died elsewhere, the majority in Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.  On Monday, a policeman at Pangandaran Beach near Indonesia's Ciamis town, around 270 km (168 miles) southeast of Jakarta, told Metro TV that six deaths had been recorded but the toll could be much higher.

"Everything looks like a mess. Buildings on the southern coast have been damaged. Only permanent buildings are still standing," said the policeman, called Agus.  The area is a popular local tourist spot with many small hotels on the beach and is close to a nature reserve.  The waves washed away wooden cottages and kiosks lining the shoreline facing the Indian Ocean, witnesses told local media.

"I think there will be a lot of fatalities because probably they are buried under rubble. The road to the scene is covered by rubbish brought by the waves," the policeman added.


"We were in panic and running. Almost an entire village was inundated by water. All people were running to the mountain," a villager in the area told Metro TV.  A woman who said she was a witness had earlier told Jakarta-based Radio Elshinta that waves came several hundred metres inland at Pangandaran Beach.  Hendri Subakti, head seismologist at the West Java earthquake center, told Reuters the waves were a maximum of 1.5 metres high.  Some people were still fleeing the coastal area hours later as rumours spread that there could be another quake and tsunami.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had said the quake, which hit at 0819 GMT, was of 7.2 magnitude.

Indonesia's state meteorology and geophysics agency initially rated the quake at 5.5 magnitude, but later changed that to 6.8, and said there were two significant aftershocks.  An official at the country's main fixed line operator, Telkom, said the phone system in the area was down.  Some occupants of high-rise Jakarta buildings felt the quake, which had an epicentre more than 40 kilometres under the Indian Ocean 180 km off Pangandaran beach, and fled their offices.  Earthquakes are frequent in Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country. In May, an earthquake near the central Java city of Yogyakarta killed more than 5,700 people.

Indonesia's 17,000 islands sprawl along a belt of intense volcanic and seismic activity, part of what is called the "Pacific Ring of Fire."

The Pertamina state oil company's 348,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) Cilacap refinery was not affected by the quake and tsunami, a Pertamina official said.

"The refinery is operating as usual. There were rising waves, but now the water has receded," the official said.

Deadly Tsunami Reached Around the Globe
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, Associated Press Writer
Aug 25, 2005 2:06 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Last year's Sumatra tsunami focused its death and destruction on the lands around the Indian Ocean, but the great wave traveled around the world and was recorded as far away as Peru and northeastern Canada.

The wave rose a massive 30 feet as it destroyed communities around the Indian Ocean.

Tide gauges worldwide recorded its arrival from hours to a day after its Dec. 26 start, and movement of the wave was also tracked by satellite, according to a study appearing Thursday in Science Express, the online edition of the journal Science.

A research team led by Vasily Titov of the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle reported that the wave moved in a complex pattern as it circled the globe, guided by ocean floor ridges that helped focus its energy in particular places.

The wave traveled several times around the globe before it finally dissipated, Titov reported.

Wave heights recorded at Callao, Peru, 11,400 miles east of the epicenter of the quake that caused the wave, and at Halifax, Nova Scotia, 14,400 miles west, were higher than at the Cocos Islands, located just over 1,000 miles south of the quake, the team noted.

The unusually high waves so far from the quake site result from two factors, the main east-west direction of the wave's energy and the focusing mechanism of the deep-sea ridges, Titov's team reported.

The first tsunami wave arriving at the Cocos Islands peaked at about 12 inches, the team said. By contrast, waves arriving at Callao and Halifax topped 20 inches, the team reported.

Tsunami alert technology - the iron link
If a tsunami struck again next year, the technology would be ready but the people might not
By Julianna Kettlewell, BBC News science reporter
23 March, 2005

By December 2006, the Indian Ocean should be fully kitted out with a brand new hi-tech tsunami early warning system.

The arsenal of wave and pressure sensors, seismographs, data-crunching computers and orbiting satellites will cast a watchful eye over the ocean, looking out for any sinister changes.

If another devastating wave takes shape, a warning will fire off immediately and scientists should be able to predict where, when and just how hard the water will hit.

But that is only half the story. Even if the early warning system can be relied upon to do its job, we still cannot breathe easy.

Coasts around the Indian Ocean are often populated by poor communities who do not have access to modern technology. How is every lonely fisherman and every beach dweller without a phone connection going to be warned in the event of an emergency?

The technology goes a long way but the final mile - leading right up to every door across the region - is by far the hardest.

According to some experts, the spanking new technology is the iron link in a dangerously papery chain.

Effective disaster response drills in surrounding countries are not unachievable - indeed many are working hard towards them - but they are likely to be on a slower timetable than the high-tech installation.

If a tsunami struck again next year, the technology would be ready, but the people might not be.

"I have no doubt that the technical element of the warning system will work very well," said Professor Bill McGuire, of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre, London, UK.

"But there has to be an effective and efficient communications cascade from the warning centre to the fisherman on the beach and his family and the bar owners."

Infrequent reports

Plans to develop the tsunami early warning technology are steaming ahead.

The operation is being co-ordinated by the UN with the help of scientists from all around the Indian Ocean. The final result will resemble the system already existing in the Pacific Ocean, and will be able to pick up storm surges (big waves caused by storms) as well as tsunami.

The Indian Ocean already has 15 sea level gauges, which broadcast information about changes in water swells. At the moment, they only generate data every hour or so, which is clearly far too infrequent for effective tsunami detection.

But after an upgrade, these sensors will send sea-level updates every three minutes.

"The upgraded instruments will be able to measure sea level accurately and also broadcast it at a faster rate to international centres," said Patricio Bernal, of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (Unesco) Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

"We expect this to be complete within the next few months."

The next stage will be to install a series of pressure gauges, which sit under the sea and monitor the weight of water on top of them. They transmit data to a buoy floating on the surface, which relays the information to a satellite that alerts a computer in an international early warning centre.

The pressure gauges are expensive pieces of equipment - each buoy unit costs $300,000 (£160,000). The UN has not yet decided how many buoys will be installed, but it is likely to be several.

The Pacific Ocean has several million dollars worth of early warning equipment and, although nobody is able to put a figure on the Indian Ocean system, it will probably be in the same ball-park.

All the ocean sensors and seismographs will broadcast their information first to an international early warning centre and then on to national centres.

Emergency response

It is there that the iron link ends. Although the UN is overseeing the technology installation, it will be up to individual governments to co-ordinate and plan their own emergency responses.

"I think there is a lot to do there," admitted Dr Bernal. "Usually, emergency infrastructure is not very high on the list of priorities for most governments.

"Detecting a tsunami is only a fraction of the problem - the big problem is how to prepare societies and local populations so they can act appropriately to a warning."

They say that, because the tsunami risk is actually extremely low, the important thing is to take a multi-hazard approach - otherwise, over the years, interest will fade. In other words, people will be taught how to behave in the event of a cyclone, earthquake, storm surge or tsunami.

"Even after a year, you see how the interest is fading," said Eva Vonn Oelreich, head of disaster preparedness at the humanitarian society. "That is why we strongly advocate a multi-hazard response."

Each community with a high hazard risk will contain a series of volunteers. These are the people who will be told first about an impending disaster and they will inform their local population.

They may have hand megaphones or whistles and will cycle around their villages warning people.

The community as a whole could be trained how to react to this warning through a series of live performances.

"In Bangladesh, which suffers badly from cyclones, the preferred way to raise awareness is through dramas," said Ms Vonn Oelreich.

"The volunteers perform as if in a disaster. You see women on their own rushing to get to evacuation centres, which is very important because women cannot always go out alone and we need to show that in situations like this different rules apply."

However, this type of effort takes a long time to achieve results.

"It is an enormous job," said Ms Vonn Oelreich. "After three years you have solid work on the ground, but it is not institutionalised unless you see it can work for a 10-year period.

"The hi-tech part can take eight months, but to build up to volunteer level will take longer. It will be quite a few years before the communities are trained in alert signals and evacuation mechanisms."

Feb 15, 2:46 PM EST
Indonesia Houses 600 Tsunami Survivors
Associated Press Writer

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) -- A few hundred tsunami survivors traded their cramped and dirty tents for government barracks with kitchens and latrines Tuesday in a sign that aid pouring into this province is shifting away from emergency relief toward more permanent reconstruction.

About 100,000 people in the shattered Aceh province have been living in tents in overcrowded camps, many built on ground still swampy from the tsunami since soon after the Dec. 26 disaster.

But 600 of them on Tuesday became the first to move to government-provided wooden barracks-style accommodations, said Totok Pri, a coordinator for Indonesia's public works department.

Three buses filled with the survivors arrived in the camp on the outskirts of Banda Aceh, the devastated provincial capital, and began unpacking their meager belongings in the 10 homes.

"I can accept moving to the relocation center because the place looks like a house and not a tent," said Mardiyah, 29-year-old survivor whose parents were killed. "I am no longer worried that I might get evicted."

The new housing in Indonesia highlighted a larger shift in aid priorities among donor nations that rushed to help the nearly dozen nations affected by the tsunami, but more than six weeks later are focusing on longer-term reconstruction...

Feb 1, 2005 12:35 PM EST

Annan Selects Clinton for Tsunami Effort

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan has selected former President Clinton to be the U.N. point man for tsunami reconstruction and ensure that the world doesn't forget the immense needs of the countries devastated by the Dec. 26 disaster, a well-informed U.N. diplomat said Tuesday.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard refused to confirm the appointment but said "a statement will be released on the subject by my office in the next few hours."

The U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the appointment of Clinton as Annan's top envoy for the rehabilitation of tsunami-devastated countries would expand on the former president's current efforts to raise money in the United States.

Soon after the disaster, President Bush named Clinton and his father, President George H.W. Bush, to head a nationwide private fund-raising effort to help countries devastated by the deadly wall of water that killed more than 157,000 people and displaced millions of others.

The two ex-presidents have been traveling throughout the country raising money and Bush said last week they hope to go to the tsunami-ravaged Indian Ocean region to illustrate the need for continued financial help from Americans to rebuild the area. He didn't say when.

Indonesia quake toll jumps again
I-BBC Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2005

Indonesia has again raised its estimate of the number of people killed by December's earthquake and tsunami.

Health Minister Fadilah Supari said more than 220,000 people died or are missing, bringing the total killed throughout the region to 280,000.  A month after the disaster, relief workers in Aceh province are still pulling corpses from the wreckage.

But daily life is slowly returning, and the province's schools were reportedly set to reopen on Wednesday.  "One of the best things you can do for children is to establish a sense of normalcy and routine," Save the Children spokeswoman Eileen Burke told Reuters news agency.

Dr Supari told the BBC that between 95,000 and 100,000 bodies had now been found and buried in Aceh and northern Sumatra.  But she added that another 133,000 people were still missing, presumed dead...

Global Tsunami Death Toll Tops 226,000
Reuters, Wednesday, January 19, 2005
By Jerry Norton and Dean Yates

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) - The global death toll from the Asian tsunami shot above 226,000 Wednesday after Indonesia's Health Ministry confirmed the deaths of tens of thousands of people previously listed as missing.

The ministry raised the country's death toll to 166,320. It had previously given a figure of 95,450 while Indonesia's Ministry of Social Affairs had put the death toll at around 115,000 before it stopped counting.

Dodi Indrasanto, a director at the health ministry's department of health affairs, said the new death total reflected the latest reports from the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, which were directly in the path of the killer tsunami spawned by a magnitude 9 earthquake the day after Christmas.

The new figure lifted the total global death toll from the tsunami disaster to 226,566, although the number continues to rise as more deaths are reported around the region.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, speaking before the health ministry released its latest figures, told a donors conference in Jakarta that the true extent of the catastrophe defied description.

"Perhaps we will never know the exact scale of the human casualties," he said...

Threat of Disease Fades, But Agencies on Guard
By Jeff Franks and Karima Anjani, Friday, January 14, 2005

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) - The threat of disease decimating survivors of Asia's tsunami has receded but aid agencies are remaining on their guard, the U.N. said on Friday as doctors reported children dying from pneumonia.

Indonesia found almost 4,000 more bodies of tsunami victims, taking the global death toll from the disaster above 160,000. Despite that increase, signs of recovery were emerging.

Life was starting to return to normal in towns and villages on battered Indian Ocean coasts with markets reopening and fishermen casting their nets at sea again after the Dec. 26 earthquake and the tsunami that it triggered...

Press Release Source: NASA
NASA Details Earthquake Affects on the Earth
Monday January 10, 11:26 am ET

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 /PRNewswire/ -- NASA scientists using data from the Indonesian earthquake calculated it affected Earth's rotation, decreased the length of day, slightly changed the planet's shape, and shifted the North Pole by centimeters. The earthquake that created the huge tsunami also changed the Earth's rotation.
Dr. Benjamin Fong Chao, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. and Dr. Richard Gross of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. said all earthquakes have some affect on Earth's rotation. It's just they are usually barely noticeable.

"Any worldly event that involves the movement of mass affects the Earth's rotation, from seasonal weather down to driving a car," Chao said.

Chao and Gross have been routinely calculating earthquakes' effects in changing the Earth's rotation in both length-of-day as well as changes in Earth's gravitational field. They also study changes in polar motion that is shifting the North Pole. The "mean North pole" was shifted by about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) in the direction of 145 degrees East Latitude. This shift east is continuing a long-term seismic trend identified in previous studies.

They also found the earthquake decreased the length of day by 2.68 microseconds. Physically this is like a spinning skater drawing arms closer to the body resulting in a faster spin. The quake also affected the Earth's shape. They found Earth's oblateness (flattening on the top and bulging at the equator) decreased by a small amount. It decreased about one part in 10 billion, continuing the trend of earthquakes making Earth less oblate.

To make a comparison about the mass that was shifted as a result of the earthquake, and how it affected the Earth, Chao compares it to the great Three-Gorge reservoir of China. If filled the gorge would hold 40 cubic kilometers (10 trillion gallons) of water. That shift of mass would increase the length of day by only 0.06 microseconds and make the Earth only very slightly more round in the middle and flat on the top. It would shift the pole position by about two centimeters (0.8 inch).

The researchers concluded the Sumatra earthquake caused a length of day (LOD) change too small to detect, but it can be calculated. It also caused an oblateness change barely detectable, and a pole shift large enough to be possibly identified. They hope to detect the LOD signal and pole shift when Earth rotation data from ground based and space-borne position sensors are reviewed.

The researchers used data from the Harvard University Centroid Moment Tensor database that catalogs large earthquakes. The data is calculated in a set of formulas, and the results are reported and updated on a NASA Web site.

The massive earthquake off the west coast of Indonesia on December 26, 2004, registered a magnitude of nine on the new "moment" scale (modified Richter scale) that indicates the size of earthquakes. It was the fourth largest earthquake in one hundred years and largest since the 1964 Prince William Sound, Alaska earthquake.

The devastating mega thrust earthquake occurred as a result of the India and Burma plates coming together. It was caused by the release of stresses that developed as the India plate slid beneath the overriding Burma plate. The fault dislocation, or earthquake, consisted of a downward sliding of one plate relative to the overlying plate. The net effect was a slightly more compact Earth. The India plate began its descent into the mantle at the Sunda trench that lies west of the earthquake's epicenter. For information and images on the Web, visit:

For the details on the Sumatra, Indonesia Earthquake, visit the USGS Internet site:

For information about NASA and agency programs Web, visit:

Shays visits area wiped out by tsunami
By Mark Ginocchio, Stamford ADVOCATE
January 9, 2005

Touring the devastation of Banda Aceh, Indonesia, introduced U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays to the unfathomable.

"It's not something to be believed," Shays, R-Bridgeport, said during a telephone interview yesterday. "There was a whole community that was just totally wiped out. No houses, no debris, just sand."

He compared the destruction left in the wake of the Asian tsunami, which has killed more than 150,000, to another grim day in modern world history.

"In my imagination this is what Hiroshima or Nagasaki must have looked like," he said, referring to the Japanese cities destroyed by U.S. atomic bombs at the end of World War II.

Shays was part of a seven-member congressional delegation that left for Indonesia Wednesday. The group has spent the past few days traveling across the northern tip of Sumatra by helicopter, surveying the damage and aid needs for the region.

The death toll for Indonesia alone tops 104,000.

Delegates have met with Indonesian leaders and refugees, as well as volunteers from Australia, Great Britain and other parts of Asia. They plan to travel to Thailand and Sri Lanka in the next few days before returning to the United States Wednesday.

For the past decade, Shays, who is chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, has traveled to other devastated areas , such as Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo. But the magnitude of the tsunami is still hard for Shays to describe, even after being there for a few days.

"Colin Powell told me it was like nothing he's ever seen and he's seen a lot," Shays said, referring to the secretary of state's recent visits to the region. "I've seen a lot of devastation too . . . But this? I've just never seen anything like that."

What was most shocking to Shays was how parts of the island left untouched by the tidal wave looked compared with the tip of Aceh province.

"The other side of the island looked like a thriving metropolis," he said. "The contrast was clear."

When he returns home next week, Shays said he will discuss his experience with Save the Children, a Westport-based international development nonprofit organization. As a lead sponsor of a proposed law that would authorize funds to protect women and children in humanitarian emergencies, Shays said he was concerned for the thousands of children orphaned in the region and vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking.

"He's been great on all fronts as far as Save the Children is concerned," said Carol Miller, associate vice president for public policy and advocacy for Save the Children. She added that it is great "to have someone in the U.S. government in a senior leadership position who wants to make sure that children are protected during these efforts."

The rehabilitation of Southeast Asia "is a long-term thing and could take a decade-plus," Shays said, who also noted that more than 400 schools were wiped away.

"They have to start from scratch. Nothing was salvageable," he said.

Shays also defended accusations that U.S. relief has been too stingy.

"I think that was very unfair and not true," he said. "There is no question that there has been a sense of urgency and crisis and that the U.S. is playing a major role and providing major financial assistance."

Shays also said there has been no shortage of support from his constituents in lower Fairfield County.

"One person called me and said he wanted to give $100,000," he said. "I think it's good for these people to see American faces. It's good to know that we care for so many people."

Summit approves tsunami warning
Kofi Annan wants pledges of immediate aid for tsunami survivors
6 Jan. 2005 I-BBC
World leaders have pledged to set up an Indian Ocean early warning system which could save lives in the event of a repeat of December's tsunami.

A declaration signed at the end of the aid conference in Indonesia also calls on the UN to mobilise the international community for the relief effort.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged donors at the conference to convert aid pledges into $1bn cash for urgent use.  Global pledges exceed $3bn but promises have not always come good in the past.  More than 140,000 people are now known to have died in the disaster, and hundreds of thousands more are homeless...

Early warning technology - is it enough?
By Julianna Kettlewell, BBC News science reporter
6 Jan. 2005

The Pacific system works in quite a simple way...There is a sense of helplessness and soul-searching after the tsunami last week that killed more than 140,000 people.  Naturally, nations have turned their attention to exploring how such massive loss of life might be prevented in future.

A summit has now decided to create a tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean. The high-tech equipment could detect tsunamis that are still miles out at sea.

See how the warning system works

If disaster strikes twice, it could buy time - enough time, perhaps, to save hundreds of thousands of lives.  But unless you can warn people in remote areas, the technology is useless.

"There's no point in spending all the money on a fancy monitoring and a fancy analysis system unless we can make sure the infrastructure for the broadcast system is there," said Phil McFadden, chief scientist at Geoscience Australia, which has been tasked with designing an Indian Ocean system by the Australian government.

"That's going to require a lot of work. If it's a tsunami, you've got to get it down to the last Joe on the beach. This is the stuff that is really very hard."

Emergency response

The Pacific basin already has a warning system and, when there was a rash of tsunamis in the 60s, it proved invaluable.    The solution need not be high-tech.  The Pacific system, which cost tens of millions of dollars to install, works in quite a simple way. A pressure sensor sits on the bottom of the ocean and measures the weight of water above it.

If a tsunami passes overhead the pressure increases and the sensor sends a signal to a buoy sitting on the sea surface.  The buoy then sends a signal to a satellite, which in turn alerts a manned early warning centre.  But, as Dr Whitmore put it: "The warning system is more than just a warning centre. You have to have communication from the centre and then you need some sort of emergency response infrastructure.

"And that is really the hardest part, getting a localised emergency response."

An operator sitting in an early warning centre in Jakarta might know about an impending tsunami, but how does he warn the fisherman in Sumatra, the sweet seller in Sri Lanka, the tribesman on Nicobar island?  In many of these places TV, radio, even a telephone, is not an option.

Therefore, many experts say the biggest challenge is to establish an effective infrastructure, which can reach everybody - no matter how remote.

"The population must be educated about tsunamis and how to respond when it comes," said Professor Bill McGuire, director of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre at University College London.

"It is also critical that the final chain in the communication cascade - from emergency managers to population - is efficient and effective."

Communication failure

Tragically, it seems it was the final chain in the communication cascade that failed on Boxing Day. The truth is people did know about the earthquake, they did know about the tsunami threat, they just didn't know how to tell people.

The warning system could save lives, say some experts
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii picked up the earthquake. But despite the phone calls they made, the emergency response in Asia did not exist.

Powerful computers in a Vienna office building also picked up the seismic activity. Computers at the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organisation are designed to monitor nuclear explosions anywhere in the world but, as a side-effect, they also detect earthquake vibrations.

Unfortunately, the organisation's staff were on holiday, and the information was not sent to the countries that needed it most.

Nearly everyone agrees an early warning system is needed in the Indian Ocean. But the hard part will be developing a way of informing every swimmer and every fisherman.

Professor McGuire says that although the response infrastructure does need to be organised, it doesn't need to be complex.

"I think sirens could play an important role," he told BBC News website. "Also, in Bangladesh they have dramatically reduced casualties in cyclones by using officials on bicycles blowing whistles to get people to the cyclone shelters.

"The solution need not be high-tech."

Clean Water Key to Preventing Illness (Jan. 3, '05, 7:08am EST)
By EMMA ROSS, AP Medical Writer

JAKARTA, Indonesia - The key to averting a health catastrophe emerging from the tsunami ruins will be basic hygiene — clean water and toilets — medical officials said Saturday, reporting no major disease outbreaks but warning the worst may be just around the corner.  Dirty drinking and washing water combined with lack of proper sewage disposal, they said, are a recipe for explosive outbreaks of life-threatening diarrhea diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery, as well as some forms of hepatitis.

"These are the sort of diseases that could occur any time now," Dr. Michelle Gayer, an infectious diseases specialist at the World Health Organization, said Saturday.  More than 123,000 people are reported dead and officials say the toll is likely to climb as more bodies are found. Most of the victims were killed by the massive tsunamis that smashed coastlines after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake last Sunday off Indonesia's coast.

However, the United Nations has warned that disease may claim almost as many lives.  Hospitals left standing after Asia's killer tsunami haven't been swamped by severely injured survivors. Most casualties either have light wounds or are dead.  But sources of clean water and sanitary toilets have been largely wiped out in many areas by the devastation of the tsunami in Southeast Asia.

The waterborne illnesses threatening the region are caused by bugs in traces of feces, which can easily end up in the mouth not only when people don't wash their hands before eating or preparing food, but also if plates and utensils are washed in sewage-contaminated water.  A common way that such diseases get spread is by fetching buckets of water from rivers and lakes where people bathe and defecate.

"We don't really know how the water is being supplied at the moment," Gayer said. "If it (smells and looks) dirty, people tend to avoid it, but these organisms don't make the water visibly dirty."

"These things are completely preventable and they are reasonably easily preventable," Gayer said. "In this case it's a massive logistical nightmare, but it is possible to do it."

According to the World Food Program, there have been no reports of starvation in tsunami-stricken areas, and experts say they don't expect a threat of starvation. There are food shortages in many areas, but not critical shortages.  However, a nutrition problem is emerging in the worst hit location at the northern tip of Sumatra, the Indonesian island nearest to the epicenter of the quake, said Dr. Georg Petersen, the WHO representative in Indonesia.

There is enough food coming in, but it's mostly rice and noodles, which is not enough, even in the short term, to maintain the immune systems of the struggling survivors, he said.  Malnutrition increases vulnerability to infections. Efforts are under way, Petersen said, to bring in more nutritious food, such as high-protein biscuits.

Dead bodies are not a disease threat, scientists say.

The germs that cause the feared waterborne diseases die with their host, or within hours afterward. Cholera can survive a while, but most of the tsunami victims did not have cholera when they died, so their bodies would not be a health threat.  Medical experts say there are no disease-causing byproducts from the decomposition of human flesh.

A second health hazard wave will likely come from malaria and dengue fever, spread by mosquitoes that breed in stagnant water. Those illnesses, also life-threatening, are not expected to show up for another three or four weeks because it is too early now for the mosquitoes to proliferate and complete the cycle that spreads the diseases.

The impact of these two killers can also be stifled if shelters are sprayed with insecticides and if as many pools of water are eliminated as possible.

Besides water and sanitation, other priorities include shelter, food and basic medical services so that if people do get sick they can be treated quickly, reducing the risk that diseases will spread.  The United Nations Children's Fund is coordinating much of the water and sanitation effort, preparing a mass distribution of emergency health kits that include water purification tablets and disinfectant.

Huge water containers called bladders, which carry 2,640 gallons each, are on their way to the hardest hit areas and technicians in water and sanitation are being drafted from around the world.

Bottled water is not considered sustainable after a while, especially because so many people need the water. The medium-term goal is to find a dam or lake locally that can provide water that can then be chlorinated by the aid agencies, trucked to various locations in huge bladders and distributed in a systematic way.

Looters, Hungry Crocodiles, False Tsunami Alert As Death Toll Soars Beyond 119,000;  Colossal relief effort moves ahead

Banda Aceh, Indonesia— Pilots dropped food to Indonesian villagers stranded among bloating corpses Thursday, while police in a devastated provincial capital stripped looters of their clothing and forced them to sit on the street as a warning to others. The death toll topped 119,000, and officials warned that 5 million people lack clean water, shelter, food, sanitation and medicine.

American planes delivered medical staff to Sri Lanka and body bags to Thailand, while a Thai air base used by B-52 bombers during the Vietnam War was becoming a hub for a U.S. military-led relief effort that will stretch along the Indian Ocean...

Indian women at a makeshift camp in a marriage hall said their children were going hungry. “For the past few days we were at least getting food,” said Selvi, 35, who uses one name. “Today, we didn't even get that because aid workers fled the town after a fresh alert was issued this morning.”

The false alarm from the Indian government was just one of the new and sometimes unexpected threats facing survivors.  Sister Charity, a 32-year-old nun rescued by an Indian navy ship from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands on Wednesday, said confused and hungry crocodiles were on the loose.

“As we were returning (to the ship), two or three crocodiles started coming toward us. The navy officers had to fire their revolvers to ward off the crocodiles to protect us,” she told The Associated Press...

Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004
Manchester Union-Leader:
UNH experts: Tsunamis possible, but unlikely along New England coast

DURHAM — Could it happen here?

With homes, livelihoods and the culture of the region tied to the sea, some area residents are wondering if a tsunami like the one that killed thousands in Asia could hit coastal New England.

But geological factors make that chance slim, according to University of New Hampshire scientists.

"There's a possibility but it's significantly more remote (than in the Indian or Pacific oceans) because there are many fewer large earthquakes in the Atlantic Ocean," said Jamie Pringle, a physical oceanographer at the UNH.

One reason is that the Atlantic Ocean floor is in a different state than the Indian Ocean's, where plates of the earth can rub against each other and create earthquakes that in turn can cause tsunamis like the one that struck Asian nations Sunday.

"Where this earthquake originated that set off the tsunami is known as a subduction zone where a piece of earth is riding over another plate," said Larry Dingman, a UNH professor of hydrology and water resources.

Far off coastal New Hampshire's Rye Beach, the underwater Mid-Atlantic Ridge on the Atlantic Ocean floor is susceptible to quakes, but the tremors are normally caused by plates of the earth moving apart, according to Dingman.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration describes a tsunami as a series of waves moving at speeds of up to 600 mph across the ocean surface. In addition to earthquakes, tsunamis can be caused by volcanic eruptions, landslides and in rare scenarios, by meteors hitting the sea, according to NOAA.

"It's similar to the force of a large ocean wave," Pringle said. "The bigger deal is that it ends up in places where waves usually aren't."

There have been instances, such as in Portugal in the 1700s or Newfoundland in the 1920s, when tsunamis struck Atlantic Ocean communities, according to Larry Mayer, the director of UNH's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping.

Topography could be another factor making New England less susceptible, according to Mayer. Several of the Asian nations devastated Sunday were at or near sea level. While New England has some low-lying areas, tsunami damage may be lessened because of higher elevation. 

And in Alaska, a sea-level rise
FOUR INCHES: The Indian Ocean tsunami caused the increase Monday.
By DOUG O'HARRA, Anchorage Daily News
December 28, 2004

Like a colossal ripple racing across the world's seas, waves from the killer tsunami that devastated coastal communities on the Indian Ocean leaked into the Pacific Basin, reaching Alaska by early Monday morning.

A four-inch uptick in sea level was recorded by a tide gauge in Sand Point along the Alaska Peninsula about 2 a.m., said Bill Knight, a scientist at the West Coast & Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer.

Tsunami warning models had predicted a tiny wave would reach Alaska almost a day earlier, on Sunday morning, but none was detected, Knight said.

"The wave might have arrived at that point but wasn't really big enough to stand out from the noise. So this might have been a second wave."

No other tide gauge in Alaska recorded a pulse that could be traced to the tsunami, but that doesn't mean more waves didn't reach Alaska, Knight said.

Local surf and wind-driven waves could easily have masked such small sea-level shifts.

Other small waves were observed at Pacific islands and on North America's West Coast over the weekend, ranging from a 2-inch wave in Hilo, Hawaii, to an 81/2-incher in San Diego, to a 2-foot wave observed in New Zealand, according to a tsunami advisory issued by the warning center early Monday morning.

The biggest recorded impact in the Pacific Basin struck Manzanillo, Mexico, where the shape of the sea bottom produced a large wave measuring about 81/2 feet from trough to crest.

"This is the biggest thing to hit in 40 years," Knight said.

International tsunami warning systems, like the one sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the Pacific, aren't created until after tragedy strikes, Knight said.

"People tend to forget about tsunamis because they don't occur every day," he said.

The Richard H. Hagemeyer Pacific Tsunami Warning Center was established in Hawaii after an Aleutian earthquake or landslide generated a tsunami in 1946 that killed 165 people, most of them in Hilo. The West Coast & Alaska Tsunami Warning Center was established after Alaska's 1964 quake triggered tsunamis that killed at least 122 people, including victims in California.

"I think these sites are always started in response to a natural disaster," Knight said. "There certainly hasn't been anything in history (in the Indian Ocean) that matches what we've just seen."

From the other coast...
Tsunami possible here, but less lethal
By Scott North, Everett WA Herald
Tuesday, December 28, 2004

EVERETT - Could it happen here?

Is Snohomish County, with its western edge made up of beaches and bluffs overlooking Puget Sound, at risk of one day being inundated by a massive tsunami similar to the one that killed more than 22,500 people in Asia on Sunday?

The answer is good news and bad news, said Lee Hazlewood, homeland security manager with the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management.

A tsunami spawned by the 1964 Alaskan earthquake caused some damage on the Washington coast. Experts believe it is unlikely that a wave kicked up by an earthquake beneath the Pacific Ocean would travel far enough into Puget Sound to cause much damage along local beaches, Hazlewood said.

People living here are at risk, however, from waves caused by earthquakes or landslides into Puget Sound.

Scientists have found evidence of soil deposited by a tsunami at Cultus Bay on the south end of Whidbey Island. Deaths linked to that type of disaster also are part of the community's oral history.

Localized tsunamis, sometimes called seiche (pronounced sigh-shh), are an identified risk to people who live along enclosed or partially enclosed bodies of water, such as Puget Sound, Hazlewood said.

Seiche are produced when a basin containing water is shaken, causing waves to form. The process is similar, on a giant scale, to what happens when liquid sloshes over the lip of a bucket when it is given a sharp jolt. Waves also can be formed when earth slides into a basin, kicking up a wave.

Members of the Tulalip Tribes tell of a horrific slide in the 1820s or 1830s that buried a summer village on the south end of Camano Island. More than 100 people died in the slide at Camano Head, which is said to have sent a wave up over much of nearby Hat Island, drowning still more.

Some historians believe the disaster was triggered by a powerful earthquake, but that was decades before written records were kept of seismic activity in the area.

When a tsunami threatens, there is sometimes an opportunity to evacuate areas where the wave is predicted to make landfall. That isn't the case with a seiche, which can make it particularly deadly, Hazlewood said.

"The earthquake happens here and the tidal waves occurs," he said.

From the Hartford Courant:
Witness: `The Sea Stood Up'
December 27, 2004

Combined Wire Services

MADRAS, India -- On a balmy Sunday morning at Marina Beach, Brajita Poulose, 45, her husband, two sons and four other relatives strolled along the shore in the sunshine, enjoying the ocean breeze. Young men were playing cricket, joggers trotted past food vendors, fishermen hauled in their nets. Then, without warning, the placid ocean turned violent.

"I was holding my cousin's hand, my two sons were walking behind me, and suddenly ... we saw a huge wave coming at us," said Poulose, who lay exhausted in a hospital bed, as her eldest son, Jiyo, sat weeping at her side. "We did not have enough warning."

 The water quickly rose to Poulose's shoulders, she recalled, and a torrent caused by a tsunami in the Indian Ocean swept her inland, across the main road along Marina Beach, a broad ribbon of golden sand at the edge of this bustling commercial city in the state of Tamil Nadu.

Jiyo, 29, tried to keep his mother in sight, but the surging current pushed them apart. "In no time, I was alone and I couldn't see anyone," he said. "It was one continuous wave."

He caught up with her hours later at a government hospital. The bodies of his father and younger brother Sebastian were in a nearby morgue. The rest of the family was missing.


PHUKET, Thailand - Cars, window panes and chairs littered the sea. Pickup trucks were on top of walls. People in shock, some blood-covered, were evacuated into the hills or packed the hospital wards of this popular southern Thai resort.

For Ann Sophie Spetz, a holiday dream of white, sandy beaches and turquoise waters had turned into a "nightmare."

"It was horrible," said Spetz, of Uppsala, Sweden, who was having breakfast on Kamala beach with her husband when one of her three children raced over, crying out before the waves touched down. "People had blood all over them and they screamed and screamed."

The family followed other foreign tourists who were evacuated to the hills, staying for hours without food. Locals brought them water, and finally they returned to the seaside to eat, but their relief was short-lived.

"The Thai people came again and shouted, `The waves are coming, the waves are coming,' and we threw down our food and ran into the hills again," said Spetz.

Trond Schistad, 38, of Rognan, Norway, said he did not know that tidal waves were pounding Kamala beach while he and his relatives were swimming in the waters off Phi Phi island, where hundreds of boats sank and some 200 seriously injured people were evacuated.

Schistad said the waters were calm. The only giveaway was the window panes and chairs floating in the waters.

"We were wondering why there was so much trash in the sea," he said.


JAKARTA, Indonesia - The most powerful earthquake in the past 40 years was felt first in Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra island, the Indonesian province closest to the undersea epicenter.

The shaking lasted for about four minutes. But what felt like mild swaying in further-flung cities across Southeast Asia was violent in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, collapsing buildings and toppling the minaret on the centuries-old mosque that dominates the skyline.

Soon after, rumors began spreading that water levels in the river that cuts through Banda Aceh's heart were rising, an aid worker in the city told his colleague in Jakarta, the capital. Flooding and quake damage then cut all links to the city.

Twelve hours later, at least 1,400 people had died in and around the stricken city, the Health Ministry said, basing the figure on short-wave radio reports received from officials on the scene.

Banda Aceh, a city of about 400,000 people, was unusual in Sunday's disaster in that the quake caused many of the deaths. Elsewhere, thousands died from flooding caused by huge tsunami waves.

"People are fleeing their houses in panic, and the talk is that the river is rising," said Arista Idris, an official with the International Organization of Migration, quoting a colleague in Banda Aceh.

By late Sunday, they hadn't heard from the colleague again.


Waves also caused devastation in Sri Lanka, a teardrop-shaped island off the southern tip of India, surging across roads and railroad tracks and pouring through coastal villages, markets and beach resorts.

The island is known for its lush tropical forests, tea plantations and idyllic, crescent-shaped beaches. It has experienced a tourist boom since government forces and rebels from the country's ethnic Tamil minority declared a cease-fire in 2002.

Roland Buerk, a BBC correspondent vacationing in Sri Lanka, was in bed in his hotel room in Unawatuna, a resort town on the southwestern coast, when the waves struck. "We suddenly heard some shouts from outside," he wrote on the BBC News website. "Then the water started coming under the door. Within a few seconds it was touching the window."

He and a companion pushed through the rushing water to a tree and climbed into its branches, but it collapsed under the force of the current. "We were swept along for a few hundred meters, trying to dodge the motorcycles, refrigerators, cars and other debris that were coming with us. Finally, about 300 meters inshore, we managed to get hold of a pillar, which we held onto, and the waters just gradually began to subside."

Buerk described shattered buildings and cars in trees. He said he had counted four bodies, including two Sri Lankans - an elderly woman and a young woman - and a Western boy "who looked to be about 5 years old."

Another eyewitness in Unawatuna, Swati Thiyagarajan, described the wave to an NDTV reporter: "It was literally like the sea stood up and walked to your door."


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Tidal waves that struck villages on Malaysia's northwestern coast were a terrifying experience for many people, even hardy fishermen and other residents who are accustomed to tropical downpours and regular monsoon flooding.

A wedding ceremony turned into bedlam when the reception became the site of a flash flood. A government health inspector lost his wife and four siblings when they were swallowed up by the sea during a beach picnic. Residents who parked their cars near river banks returned to learn their vehicles were swept away. Preschool children enjoying an afternoon dip in usually placid waters ended up drowning.

Associated Press and Washington Post reports are included. 

Rural Emergency Crews FearProposed Rules

Dec. 28, 2004
By CURT WOODWARD, Associated Press Writer

CENTER, N.D. - The emergency medical technicians in this town are familiar faces from the high school, the county clerk's office and the coal mine. And like many of their counterparts around the country, members of the Center squad are worried that proposed national standards could more than double the amount of training they must have and thin their ranks.

"A lot of people can't comprehend what it's like to drive 345 miles and not see a house, not see anything, and to have to cover that," said Mickie Eide, the squad's leader. "If you keep requiring us to do more, there's going to be less of us to do it."

The revamped certification rules are being developed for federal regulators by doctors, EMTs and state emergency medical directors.  Supporters say more training requirements would ensure a better qualified national corps of emergency medical providers. But in rural areas where volunteer crews are the rule, many fear the change will limit the pool of new recruits and force experienced EMTs to drop out.

"This is one of the most difficult decisions that I have been involved in in EMS (emergency medical service) in the last 20 years at the national level," said Bob Brown, director of the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians.  The goal is a national standard that would guarantee highly trained workers in ambulances across the nation, Brown said.

"When those ambulance people come up to your side following your incident, you want them to be the best. Capitalize it — The Best," he said. "And those EMS workers want to be the best as well. But it's a bridge too far."   The proposed changes were designed to give EMTs the skills to treat conditions they commonly encounter, said Bob Bass, the Maryland state emergency medical director who sits on a national committee overseeing the reclassification efforts.

"They decided that an EMT could handle more than we currently handle," he said.  For example, the new level of training would allow EMTs to administer such emergency medications as epinephrine, a form of adrenaline given to people suffering severe allergic reactions.  In North Dakota, basic-level EMTs need 110 hours of training to get their initial certification. To meet the new standards as currently proposed, the state Emergency Medical Service Association estimates that basic EMTs would at least have to double that.

In places like Center, a town of about 680 people, crew leaders think a change that steep could push about half their volunteers out of the service.

"It could even affect more," said Eide, a teacher's aide who leads Center's ambulance crew. "We have squad members that are between 10 and 15 years anyway, and are kind of wanting to cut back."  Bass said the minimum requirements might increase, but he said regulators may be able to eliminate some outdated sections to make room for the new lessons.

"I think that the first draft was the flag up the pole," Bass said. "I think there's still a lot of work to be done."   North Dakota officials estimate that 90 percent of North Dakota's 140 ground ambulance services are staffed by volunteers.  Many EMTs likely will find the new requirements too difficult to meet, said Dean Lampe, director of the North Dakota EMS Association.

"These guys have jobs. They work at the Cenex store, they work at the butcher shop. They're farmers trying to get their crops in," he said.  Emergency medical services in other states have found similar problems. In Texas, officials estimate that about a third of the state's emergency medical providers are volunteers.

"I think that there would be a lot of services that would have to make some major adjustments," said Pete Wolf, chief of the volunteer fire department in the north Texas town of Windthorst.

Public comments on the plan are being accepted through January, and the group drafting the rules is set for a new meeting in March.

Wolf sees benefits in national standards, but says a major increase in training requirements could hurt services that already have trouble holding on to members for more than a few years.

"It's fun and great and exciting," Wolf said. "But after a couple of years, you start to look back and reflect, and you have to feed your family as well."

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Internet Pirate Charged In Toilet Bombings Plans To Plead Guilty
Hartford Courant
Associated Press
2:44 PM EST, January 18, 2007

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- A Weston man once called one of the Internet's most notorious pirates of music and movies plans to plead guilty to a federal charge that he blew up a portable toilet last year, according to court records filed Thursday.

Bruce Forest was charged last year with seven counts of using explosives to destroy property and seven counts of discharging a firearm in connection with a series of toilet explosions in 2005 and 2006.
No one was injured.

Under a plea agreement, Forest intends to plead guilty on Feb. 12 to a charge that he blew up a toilet in Weston in February 2006, according to court papers his attorney, Bernard Grossberg, filed Thursday.

Telephone messages were left Thursday for Grossberg and prosecutors.

"We're at a loss to explain why he was doing this, other than the excitement of blowing things up," Weston Police Chief Anthony Land said last year when Forest was arrested on state charges.

Forest is also asking to be released from prison so he can get medical treatment. He proposes remaining in the custody of his wife and mother under home confinement with electronic monitoring.

Under the proposed conditions of the release, Forest's home would be subject to random searches and he would not be allowed to possess a gun.

Last year, U.S. Magistrate Holly Fitzsimmons ruled that Forest was too dangerous to be released from prison and ordered him to undergo a medical evaluation.

Fitzsimmons said that an arsenal of weapons was found at his home and the charges involved "an escalating pattern of destruction." The judge also cited evidence that Forest was using drugs or medications illegally obtained over the Internet and told a neighbor he was working for the government and was responsible for repelling any terrorist attack on the neighborhood.

Most of the explosions occurred at night in isolated areas, but the last blast in Norwalk occurred during the day in a heavily populated area, authorities said. The explosives involved a mixture of chemicals, police said.

Forest was being treated for anxiety, depression and migraine headaches stemming from a fall that caused head trauma, according to a court-appointed social worker.

Forest was a notorious Internet pirate in the late 1990s, said J.D. Lasica, a San Francisco writer who dubbed Forest "Prince of the Darknet" in his 2005 book "Darknet: Hollywood's War Against the Digital Generation." 

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