Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Elul 5765 - September 7, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Thousands Still on Rooftops and Attics in New Orleans

by M Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

Over a week after Hurricane Katrina pounded the Gulf of Mexico leaving New Orleans inundated with water, rescue forces are still trying to reach thousands of people waiting in the attics or on the rooftops of their homes. They will also have to bury the thousands who are believed to have died and whose remains have not yet been recovered. However, US Army engineers did manage to close up two levees that had been breached by the storm using hundreds of bags filled with cement, sand and pieces of ruined roadways, and they began pumping water out of the city of New Orleans.

The US Army Corps of Engineers says it will take up to another two-and-a-half months before the city is dry. Twenty- four enormous pumps have been set up in the eastern parts of the city to remove all the water there and put it back in Lake Pontchartrain where it belongs.

Local officials estimate that thousands of people still remain in the devastated city despite the evacuation of hundreds of thousands before the hurricane struck and tens of thousands more by National Guards and other agencies during the past week. Many of them may be trapped in their homes, the officials said. Officials pleaded with everyone to leave.

"We still have thousands of people inside the city. We are rescuing people from rooftops and attics," said City Councilor G. Clarkson.

"Approximately 3,000 people have been evacuated from the city by helicopter in the past 24 hours," said National Guard Lt. Gen. Michael Fleming on Sunday.

Top New Orleans Police officials said they have been receiving 1,000 calls by citizens requesting emergency assistance, but they say the skiffs used for the rescue operation cannot respond to every call.

No one really knows how many died. The mayor of New Orleans has guessed that the number may be as many as 10,000.


It began as Tropical Depression 12, yet another swirl of tropical turbulence in the southeastern Bahamas that are common at this time of year. But each step of the way, Hurricane Katrina seemed to overachieve. It hit Florida with more power than expected, killing nine people and knocking out electricity for a million more. Then it crossed back into the Gulf of Mexico, intensifying into one of the strongest storms on record as it passed directly over the "loop current," a great, deep whorl of hot seawater that flows in the Caribbean in between Mexico's Yucatan and Cuba each year and then stays south of Louisiana into late summer. Often, storms weaken as they suck up cool water that lies beneath the warm surface. But in the loop current, even the depths are hot.

"We are facing a storm that most of us have long feared," said Mayor C. Ray Nagin in the days before the storm hit. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime event."

Many of the 1.3 million people in the metropolitan area left, paralyzing traffic along major highways.

But many did not. In a 2003 poll conducted by Louisiana State University, 31 percent of New Orleans residents said they would stay in the city even if a Category 4 hurricane struck.

Many stayed because they felt they had no choice, particularly the poor and the elderly. The survey found that those who said they would stay tended be poor, less educated, disabled, older, childless or isolated, or had lived in the city for a long period. Also, many of those who stayed were black.

Twenty-eight percent of the population of New Orleans lives below the poverty line, compared with 9 percent nationwide, according to census figures. Twenty-four percent of its adults are disabled, compared with 19 percent nationwide. An estimated 50,000 households in New Orleans do not have cars.

But Chester Wilmot, an L.S.U. civil engineering professor who studies evacuation plans, said the city successfully improvised. He said witnesses described seeing city buses shuttle residents to the Superdome before Hurricane Katrina struck.

Experts said that the evacuation of New Orleans residents with cars went well. They said a new emergency plan, which used all lanes of I-10 for outbound traffic, relieved congestion that snarled traffic for hours during a voluntary evacuation of the city during Hurricane Ivan in 2001.

"What you're going to find is that everyone who wanted to get out, got out," said Professor Wolshon. "Except for the people who didn't have access to transportation."


New Orleans was maintained and protected by a system of levees sufficient to protect against a Category 3 storm, which statistics estimate might strike New Orleans once in 200 years. Hurricane Betsy in 1965, the last comparable storm, was roughly of Category 3 force.

From 1970 until 1995 there were relatively few hurricanes in the area. But recently studies found that after 1995, an Atlantic air and water cycle switched from a pattern that stifles storms to one that nurtures them. Other studies suggested an increase in storm intensity from human- caused global warming.


The response of authorities to the storm became very controversial. For a disaster of this magnitude, the Federal government — the national government based in Washington — is expected to do much of the work. In the past the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) took charge. However after the terror attacks of 9/11, FEMA became part of the Department of Homeland Security and critics charge that its focus was shifted to responding to terrorism and away from natural disasters.

The US response to the disaster seemed confused and ineffectual. President Bush declared it a disaster right away, but he did not take strong action. The US National Guard, whose troops are often mobilized for disaster relief, is stretched thin by the war in Iraq. It was several days before significant numbers of soldiers arrived to restore order, and by then there were widespread reports of a general breakdown in New Orleans, including looting and even sniper fire.

Critics expressed shock at the weak response. There was also shame that the world's sole remaining superpower did not respond faster and more forcefully to a disaster that had been among its own government's worst-case possibilities for years.

President Bush faced increasingly bitter complaints from local and state officials in the battered Gulf Coast region as he struggled to exert control.

The New Orleans mayor, C. Ray Nagin, said matters were improving but remained a "disgrace."

A local official in Louisiana warned that Americans, already horrified by scenes of misery and chaos in New Orleans, should brace for worse.

"I think we need to prepare the country for what's coming," he said. As waters recede, "we're going to uncover people who died, maybe hiding in houses, you know, got caught by the flood, people whose remains are going to be found in the streets," he said.

"It's going to be about as ugly a scene as I think you can imagine. Certainly as ugly of a scene as we've seen in this country, with the possible exception of 9/11."

In Washington, some Republicans have warned that the much- assailed White House response could undermine Bush's authority and his legislative agenda, including plans to overhaul the tax code, Social Security and immigration law.


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