LISTENING TO KATRINA
PAGES IN THIS BLOG ARE RATED 'R' AND DO CONTAIN
PROFANITY, VULGARITY, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE, NUDITY,
SCENES OF HUMAN EMOTION, DEATH, DESTRUCTION, MAYHEM, AND VARIOUS
EVENT - Out of the Woodwork
Timeline: Monday, August 29, 2005, 12:00 NOON CDT
Location: National Hurricane Center
NHC Advisory: Katrina is still dangerous, but weakening as it moves farther inland. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) advises that Katrina is now a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of nearly 105 mph. Katrina remains huge, with hurricane force winds extending 125 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extending 230 miles. Katrina’s center is now 40 miles south-southwest of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Minimum central pressure has increased to 940 MB.
Timeline: Monday, August 29, 2005, 1:00 PM CDT
Location: South East Louisiana
Several Areas in Greater New Orleans Area are under water. Residents in the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish report heavy flooding. Some are are being rescued from rooftops by passing boaters. The first floor of Chalmette High School, a St. Bernard Parish shelter of last resort, is flooded and residents are reporting that they can see only the rooftops of nearby homes. St. Bernard Parish’s government building has at least eight feet of water inside. St. Bernard Emergency Management official reports, "We cannot see the top of the levee!"
Timeline: Monday, August 29, 2005, 2:00 PM CDT
Location: New Orleans
Mayor Nagin confirms the 17th Street levee breach on WWL radio. Four feet of water is confirmed in the vicinity.
NHC Advisory: Katrina is still Dangerous, but continues to weaken. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) advises that Katrina is now a still-dangerous Category 1 hurricane, with sustained winds of nearly 95 mph. The hurricane remains huge, with hurricane force winds extending 125 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extending 230 miles. Katrina’s center is now 20 miles south-southwest of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Timeline: Monday, August 29, 2005, 2:15 PM CDT
Location: New Orleans
The Times-Picayune Blog reports that looters are “streaming from Coleman’s Retail Store, located at 4001 Earhart Blvd., about two blocks away from the newspaper’s offices. The looters, who were men and women who appeared to be in their early teens to mid-40s, braved a steady rain and infrequent tropical storm wind gusts to tote boxes of clothing and shoes from the store. Some had garbage bags stuffed with goods. Others lugged wardrobe-sized boxes or carried them on their heads. The line going to and from the store along Earhart Boulevard numbered into the dozens and appeared to be growing. Some looters were seen smiling and greeting each other with pleasantries as they passed. Another group was seen riding in the back of a pickup truck, honking the horn and cheering. The scene also attracted a handful of curious bystanders, who left the safety of their homes to watch the heist. No police were present in the area, which is flooded heavily with standing water two to four feet deep on all sides of Earhart Blvd.”
News reports of widespread looting will become common, and the media sharks
will feed on it. Coleman's Retail Store isn't in a better part of
town. It's walking distance to one of the now infamous public housing
projects. The actual report on this - filed the next day with pictures
- can be had as a PDF file
Timeline: Monday, August 29, 2005, 3:00 PM CDT
Location: New Orleans
Confirmed reports of three feet of water near Xavier University. Water is overflowing in Bayou St. John. Early satellite photos pinpoint breaches. Ham radio operators contact the Coast Guard to report people stranded on rooftops in Treme - a famous subdivision in New Orleans. Ham radio operators quickly become a vital asset as communications resources collapse to nil.
Timeline: Monday, August 29, 2005, 4:40 PM CDT
President Bush gives a Medicare presentation. He mentions hurricane Katrina in passing, promising that the government will move in and "help those good folks in the affected areas."
Timeline: Monday, August 29, 2005, 5:00 PM CDT
Location: Baton Rouge
Governess Blanco advises the public to 'pray a lot'.
Timeline: Monday, August 29, 2005, Late Afternoon
Location: New Orleans
Police officers from the City of Gretna, Jefferson Parish, and State Troopers close off the west end of the twin Crescent City Connection bridges to all foot traffic across the Mississippi river. This will play out bizarrely in the coming days.
Timeline: Monday, August 29, 2005, 6:00 PM
Location: Homeland Security Operations Center
A report from the Homeland Security Operation Center says: "Preliminary
reports indicate the levees in New Orleans have not been breached."
These folks obviously had no idea what was going on...
Timeline: Monday, August 29, 2005, 6:10 PM
Location: Sugar Land, Texas
Twelve hours since landfall finds me watching the news on television and sucking all the information I can out of the internet. Not only is the data stream confusing, but it's downright bat-shit crazy. That's probably not in the dictionary, but 'bat-shit crazy' is apt.
After lunch we came back to the house and I further organized and inventoried my known worldly possessions and resources. My bank's website is down. No surprise. No call to any telephone in the 504 area code connects. No cell phone in the area connects either, but I do occasionally get a call to my cell phone - so some calls are going through. More than 1.3 million homes and businesses in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are without electricity - and communications need juice. In actuality, some cell towers are still operational on backup power, but the system is overwhelmed and the backup power won't last long.
I have to admit that in this time I became a spectator - glued to the TV and internet data streams and I didn't really accomplish anything terribly useful. I did manage to establish some communications with a few people, but I didn't manage to do anything important. I was, however, collecting data - which may be useful, so I don't really consider it time wasted.
One of the things I noticed about the data stream, like I said, is that it was bat-shit crazy.
After a disaster you are going to hear stories, rumors, lies, and things that will curl your hair. Like mermen washing up on the beach. There will even be photographs, live action reports, and eye witness accounts - and 99% of it will be bullshit.
I started making notes in my notebook under the heading, "This has got to be crap." The list got so long that I gave up just a few hours later. I had an expectation that eye witness accounts would be reliable, but that didn't prove true either. In fact, very few things that were reported in the first 12 hours proved to be true - or have any element of real truth at all.
To give you the short list, I heard from various people that there were thousands of bodies floating in the streets. Depending on which source this came from it was variously ten thousand, fifty thousand, or one hundred thousand. I actually had people well known to me tell me that they had seen these bodies with their own eyes. Later on I would ask them about that, and they would say, "Well, that's what somebody told me..."
"I don't remember..."
After much examination, it's pretty clear that people under stress are not reliable witnesses - and that's an understatement. As we ate dinner with our hosts, I tried to piece together things that I knew for sure. Things that I could definitely rely upon. I determined that I knew with 95% certainty that all of St. Bernard parish and most of Plaquemines parish - at least the entire eastern half - was underwater. Some portion of New Orleans was underwater. Kenner - an incorporated area in Jefferson parish - was underwater, but I didn't know to what extent. Given what I could get out of the flood maps and storm track, I had an idea - maybe 85% certain - that Harahan was not flooded. Harahan is where my house is, so that's all I really cared about at that point.
I knew that Katrina was 'bad', and I knew that power, comms, water, sewer, and other critical services were all offline. Past that, however, I really knew nothing else at this point. Despite analyzing every media source I could find, there was just nothing of value coming from 'official' sources - and it's damn stressful because above all else you want to know what's going on. It's crucial to know what's going on so that you can make reasonable decisions and take reasonable actions.
Having some dumb-ass weather reporter standing on a street corner somewhere going, "Hey! There's a lot of water here!", is only useful if your house happens to be in that block. Otherwise it is what it is - just a stupid media stunt.
Yes, that's my shot for today...
There are a number of lessons here. I would like to tell you not to watch the television or listen to the radio, but like any other train wreck you will be glued to some kind of media trying to figure out what's going on. That's just human nature. So, go ahead and watch it, but while you watch it, know that you cannot trust it. Remember that everyone is trying to sell you something. Media is trying to sell you a kind of sensational entertainment product. Their broadcast isn't intended for you, the victim, but for the broader 'audience' looking for bread and circuses. Local government officials are going to try to paint a situation as badly as possible while trying to portray the idea that they are in complete control. State officials are going to try the same game. Federal officials are going to tell everyone that it isn't as bad as it really is, and that they are in complete control and taking care of everything on every level. People at the very top are going to be entirely clueless and they will actually know less than you know. Even knowing that, you'll sit there and eat that bullshit with a spoon and a grin on your face.
The best lesson in this is to Have Your Shit Together (HYST) in the first place so that you are one of two places at this point. Either (1) safely evacuated - in which case you are just another spectator - or (2) well provisioned and safe at home - in which case you are just waiting for the dust to settle...or the water to go down. The other benefit of HYST is that you can do what you really should be doing at this point - which is to rest. In the next few days you'll want your energy. If you don't HYST, then you are going to lay awake at night worrying about this or that.
If you HYST, then any disaster isn't a disaster at all - it's a payoff. Now you are going to get a return on your preparation investment. I am the laziest man alive, but I like to sleep when the wind blows. That idea comes from a little story I heard some time ago, which I have repeated below. HYST together is the difference between hours and days of worry or having a relaxing visit with family for a few days. I fell somewhere in the middle. I didn't quite have it all together, but next time you can bet your bottom dollar that I'm gonna be relaxing somewhere drinking one of those little drinks with a paper umbrella in it, and I will NOT be watching the media circus and their little freak show.
Sleep When The Wind Blows
Years ago a farmer who owned land along the Atlantic seacoast constantly
advertised for hired hands. Most people were reluctant to work on farms
along the Atlantic because of the awful storms that raged across the
Atlantic, wreaking havoc on the buildings and crops. As the farmer
interviewed applicants for the job, he received a steady stream of refusals.
Finally, a short, thin man, well past middle age, approached the farmer. "Are you a good farmhand?" the farmer asked him.
"Well, I can sleep when the wind blows," answered the little man.
Although puzzled by this answer, the farmer, desperate for help, hired him. The little man worked well around the farm, busy from dawn to dusk, and the farmer was well satisfied with the man's work.
Then one night the wind howled loudly in from offshore. Jumping out of bed, the farmer grabbed a lantern and rushed next door to the hired hand's sleeping quarters. He shook the little man and yelled, "Get up! A storm is coming! Tie things down before they blow away!"
The little man rolled over in bed and said firmly, "No sir. I told you; I can sleep when the wind blows.."
Enraged by the response, the farmer was tempted to fire him on the spot. Instead, he hurried outside to prepare for the storm. To his amazement, he discovered that all of the haystacks had been covered with tarpaulins. The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops, the doors were barred, the shutters were tightly secured, everything was tied down. Nothing could blow away.
The farmer then understood what his hired hand meant, so he returned to his bed to also sleep while the wind blew.
MORAL: When you're prepared, spiritually, mentally, and physically, you have nothing to fear.