August 31, 2005 1:38 PM PDT

Hurricane cleanup could take months, years

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August 31, 2005
New Orleans could be underwater for quite a while, according to experts, and the oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico might be under repairs for years.

The scope of the flooding following Hurricane Katrina, combined with the fact that New Orleans is below sea level, has created an engineering nightmare, according to Bob Bea, a professor of civil engineering at the University of California at Berkeley who also worked for more than 30 years in the oil and gas industry.

The extent of the damage was also exacerbated by inadequacies in the levee system and failures of other safety precautions, he added.

"You're going to have to pump out every damn drop. It could take months," he said in a phone interview. To make matters worse, it remains unclear whether the electrical emergency backup systems actually still function. If not, the prognosis is even worse because the systems are needed to power the pumps to begin the cleanup.

Dave Dzombak, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, agreed that the cleanup of the city will likely take months and that human neglect exacerbated the situation. Experts have warned for a number of years that a serious threat of a strong storm breaching the city's aging defenses existed, but remedial actions had only just begun.

"Plans were under way to do various things, but the budget wasn't completely there," he said. "There was a certain probability of a storm this size hitting New Orleans. They didn't beat the odds."

Cleaning up the offshore oil and chemical refineries poses even a more daunting challenge, which experts believe will lead to increases in the price of fuel. Some of the pipes extend 2,000 feet below the surface of the water, Bea said. Right now, the refinery operators likely have not even been able to get an adequate picture of the damage because evaluation crews haven't been able to get out to the facilities. Some were still in the process of cleaning up after last year's big storm, Hurricane Ivan, which struck in September.

"The first thing that happens is that you've got to rescue yourself," he said. "There are a million and a half barrels of oil shut in there a day."

Hurricane damage is sort of a personal issue for Bea. Back in 1965, he lost a house in Hurricane Betsy, a massively destructive hurricane. As the chief of offshore civil engineering for Shell, he supervised reconstruction of facilities for the oil giant after the storm.

New Orleans wasn't always below sea level, he added. Over time, however, the soils compacted and the population grew, two factors that have pushed the Crescent City under the waterline. Venice, Italy, shares a similar fate.

Following Betsy, the city and the gulf region in general began to beef up flood management systems. Canals and pumping stations were built, and the height of levees--essentially soil dams intended to hold back floods--was increased.

Development, though, created conflicts. Channels were opened up between Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico to allow for ship traffic. Unfortunately, "no one thought about how this would make it easier for hurricane surges to come and go more easily," Bea said.

The political willpower and the public's willingness to pay for precautions also began to fade over time. Defensive levees should be around 18 feet tall in the region, Bea noted. Many chemical refineries built their levees to this specification, but it's far from universally applied in the region.

"In New Orleans, some are 15 feet, some are 12 feet. Some levees have degraded to 10 feet," he said. Levees are also a "weakest link" system, so that a break anywhere can create widespread problems.

Once reoccupation begins, New Orleans will face another problem: a lack of drinking water. Large, 50-inch water mains have broken, Dzombak said. The city will have to identify and pressure test the breaks, and then later clean up areas that have become infected. Until all that can be done, portions of the city will have to get their water from tankers.

If there is a bright spot in the gloom, the disaster may help policy-makers focus more sharply on the relationship of cities and the environment, Dzombak predicted.

"New Orleans developed there for historical reasons, but today you'd have to look at it as an unsustainable development," he said.

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teach bush
This should teach bush not to
ignore Kyoto.
otherwise i enjoy flying americans.
Posted by (2 comments )
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teach bush
This should teach bush not to
ignore Kyoto.
otherwise i enjoy flying americans.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
As always!
As always, the people pay for the obsequient politician, who promises much, delivers little and pockets the cash difference! Now, we will be able to listen, to a new level of political promises and rhetoric, that will make a cat 5, seem like a light breeze!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
As always!
As always, the people pay for the obsequient politician, who promises much, delivers little and pockets the cash difference! Now, we will be able to listen, to a new level of political promises and rhetoric, that will make a cat 5, seem like a light breeze!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's comments like the first two...
That are the reason the left in the USA are losing enormously in politics.

How on earth can you actually blaim Bush for hurricane Katrina? Please detail your response with actual facts please.

Explain how he forced nature to create the hurricane and then forced it into the path it took. Also explain how he ordered people to begin looting and the order of weakening the levees.

Thank you.
Posted by ballssalty (219 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's comments like the first two...
That are the reason the left in the USA are losing enormously in politics.

How on earth can you actually blaim Bush for hurricane Katrina? Please detail your response with actual facts please.

Explain how he forced nature to create the hurricane and then forced it into the path it took. Also explain how he ordered people to begin looting and the order of weakening the levees.

Thank you.
Posted by ballssalty (219 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Politicians only so what the populist wants ...
You can blame Bush all you want; in fact I will agree with you on Bushes environmental policy. But the fact of the matter is its the people to blame because in the end politicians do the will of the people. Sure you have your lobbies for both sides of the environment and they have their respective politicians in their pockets; but when it comes down to it every one has known for years that something like this would happen and when it does we look to the politicians and say why didnt you do anything? The reason they did not do anything is because you did not want them to; if everyone wanted something to be done then on election day we would have voted for the Green Peace man/women running for congress president what have you and they would have made it first priority to rebuild the barrier islands and fix the flow of the rivers so that natural protections would be in place for a disaster like this. But instead we focus more on trivial issues and would rather spend our tax dollars on something that gives us instant gratification and leave the big issues for another day / generation. Well now we are faced with the big issues; we will arrogantly rebuild and not focus on the issues that got us here; we will have another devastating disaster and we will say the same things like why didnt anyone do something to prevent this from happening. In the end we have no one to blame but ourselves and maybe just maybe the people will look and say we need to fix the environment and maybe they will look at their politicians and say if your not going to then on election day I am going to elect someone that will.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Politicians only so what the populist wants ...
You can blame Bush all you want; in fact I will agree with you on Bushes environmental policy. But the fact of the matter is its the people to blame because in the end politicians do the will of the people. Sure you have your lobbies for both sides of the environment and they have their respective politicians in their pockets; but when it comes down to it every one has known for years that something like this would happen and when it does we look to the politicians and say why didnt you do anything? The reason they did not do anything is because you did not want them to; if everyone wanted something to be done then on election day we would have voted for the Green Peace man/women running for congress president what have you and they would have made it first priority to rebuild the barrier islands and fix the flow of the rivers so that natural protections would be in place for a disaster like this. But instead we focus more on trivial issues and would rather spend our tax dollars on something that gives us instant gratification and leave the big issues for another day / generation. Well now we are faced with the big issues; we will arrogantly rebuild and not focus on the issues that got us here; we will have another devastating disaster and we will say the same things like why didnt anyone do something to prevent this from happening. In the end we have no one to blame but ourselves and maybe just maybe the people will look and say we need to fix the environment and maybe they will look at their politicians and say if your not going to then on election day I am going to elect someone that will.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
katrinastan
Bush cut funding for those levee restoration projects. The national guard? Fighting man-made disasters in Iraq
Posted by sooner12345 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
katrinastan
Bush cut funding for those levee restoration projects. The national guard? Fighting man-made disasters in Iraq
Posted by sooner12345 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Tsunami USA
The tsunami that hit in December and Hurricane Katrina seem to have alot in common. However, I do not see the rest of the world showing the same out pouring of concern as they did then. You tend to know who your friends are not when they are asking you to help them but when you need help yourself.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Tsunami USA
The tsunami that hit in December and Hurricane Katrina seem to have alot in common. However, I do not see the rest of the world showing the same out pouring of concern as they did then. You tend to know who your friends are not when they are asking you to help them but when you need help yourself.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fogbound forecast...
... by people who have no idea of the actual extent of damage, or
the actual capabilities for recovery. And Katrina wasn't the last of
the Gulf hurricanes to hit New Orleans. From what Katrina did to
the delta south of New Orleans, the next 'katrina' will eliminate the
city. There will be nothing left worth recovering.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fogbound forecast...
... by people who have no idea of the actual extent of damage, or
the actual capabilities for recovery. And Katrina wasn't the last of
the Gulf hurricanes to hit New Orleans. From what Katrina did to
the delta south of New Orleans, the next 'katrina' will eliminate the
city. There will be nothing left worth recovering.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Disaster waiting to happen
I don't mean to take anything away form the seriousness of what has happened, but why is anyone suprised?

Neworleans is a city on a coast thatis know for huricans and bad weather build BELOW SEA LEVEL. The whole reason the city exists at all is because it is surrounded by levees. I'm suprised this hasn't happened before.

Same thing with building in a known flood plane. As more and more people are trying to move into a space that they really shouldn't be to begine with, why are they supprised when something happens?
Posted by startiger (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Disaster waiting to happen
I don't mean to take anything away form the seriousness of what has happened, but why is anyone suprised?

Neworleans is a city on a coast thatis know for huricans and bad weather build BELOW SEA LEVEL. The whole reason the city exists at all is because it is surrounded by levees. I'm suprised this hasn't happened before.

Same thing with building in a known flood plane. As more and more people are trying to move into a space that they really shouldn't be to begine with, why are they supprised when something happens?
Posted by startiger (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Bring our people home.
Dear Citizen:

Our country is in need.

Our people are suffering.

Our soldiers should be here, helping Americans in this disaster to survive,

not overseas helping Iraquis to achieve democracy.

Bring our soldiers home, now.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Bring our people home.
Dear Citizen:

Our country is in need.

Our people are suffering.

Our soldiers should be here, helping Americans in this disaster to survive,

not overseas helping Iraquis to achieve democracy.

Bring our soldiers home, now.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag
jobs
This might sound selfish, but since I'm drawing unemplyment insurance, i was wondering if there might be a paying job down in the hurricane ridden area? Please send email thanks
Posted by (2 comments )
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jobs
This might sound selfish, but since I'm drawing unemplyment insurance, i was wondering if there might be a paying job down in the hurricane ridden area? Please send email thanks
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
New Orleans?
I suggest they move the entire city to higher ground as this is bound to happen again in the future. Make the present site an extension of Lake Pontchartrain.
Posted by jimheh (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
New Orleans?
I suggest they move the entire city to higher ground as this is bound to happen again in the future. Make the present site an extension of Lake Pontchartrain.
Posted by jimheh (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just pump the water out?
With it horrendously polluted with oil, gas, anti freeze, dead bodies human, animal, aquatic, floated septic fields, household hazmat of over a million people, the wash off and flooding of some of the most hazardous chemical companies, thier stockpiles, and all the refinerys? Who's going to clean the water first? How? Where do you put it? How do you keep it from killing the Gulf Bay?
This will be some kinda soup here pilgrim, so don't switch on the pumps quite yet!
Posted by Vetter83 (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just pump the water out?
With it horrendously polluted with oil, gas, anti freeze, dead bodies human, animal, aquatic, floated septic fields, household hazmat of over a million people, the wash off and flooding of some of the most hazardous chemical companies, thier stockpiles, and all the refinerys? Who's going to clean the water first? How? Where do you put it? How do you keep it from killing the Gulf Bay?
This will be some kinda soup here pilgrim, so don't switch on the pumps quite yet!
Posted by Vetter83 (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why?
What is happening in New Orleans is an awful tragedy.

So why are we trying to put it all back together so it can happen again?
Posted by (10 comments )
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