Catastrophe in slow motion

Just in case you haven’t seen the news since everyone was saying that New Orleans had dodged the worst case scenario, things have gone steadily to hell today.

The historic city of New Orleans was steadily filling with water from nearby Lake Ponchartrain on Tuesday after its defenses were breached by the ferocity of hurricane Katrina.

With the floodwaters rising in many areas, threatening the French Quarter, residents were plucked from the roofs of their homes, bodies were seen floating in the streets and rescuers searched the city in boats and helicopters.

“We probably have 80 percent of our city under water; with some sections of our city the water is as deep as 20 feet. Both airports are underwater,” Mayor Ray Nagin told a radio interviewer.

New Orleans, a city that usually throbs with the life of its carnivals and the sound of jazz and blues, was in a “state of devastation,” Nagin said.

In many residential areas TV pictures showed the water was up to roof level after the surge caused by Katrina breached a section of the levee along a canal leading from Lake Ponchartrain, which looms to the north of the city.

Much of New Orleans, a city of some 500,000, lies in a bowl below sea level, bounded by the lake and the Mississippi River, North America’s biggest river, which curves along the south of the city before discharging in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We always were afraid the bowl that is New Orleans would fill quickly,” Walter Maestri, emergency management coordinator for Jefferson Parish, said in a radio interview. “Now with the water rising today, it appears to be filling slowly,” he said.

Add to this the rest of the Gulf Coast devastation, and I don’t think we’ve even begun to comprehend what this means. We’re all going to be feeling the impact of this for a long time, one way or another. They’re saying that it will be months before the city of New Orleans is even marginally functional again. For all practical purposes, a major American city has just been wiped off the map.

(On a personal note, here’s hoping my friends from the Gambit Weekly are safe and well.)