August 30, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

As awful as things look now, they are certain to look even worse -- at least for the short term. However, I predict that five or ten years from now, New Orleans will be restored to much like it was before.

Tying this to a SciFi theme, I feel like I have "seen" this before, in my mind's eye, while reading Lucifer's Hammer, in the descriptions of the post-impact flooding. The looting, the rapid loss of civilization.

Also, I remember David Brin (a very good, albeit leftist, SF author) writing in Earth about the futility of holding back mother nature:

...The Big Easy had class all right. In decline, there remained an air of seedy blaisance, and even the inevitable bandit types believed in courtesy.

He listened to the barge horns and thought of the manatees that had inhabited this area, back when La Salle's men first poled their way through endless marshes, trading ax heads for furs. The manatees were long gone, of course. And soon...relatively would New Orleans.

The dying of any city begins at its foundation....

Logan had inspected hundreds of kilometers of embankments, thrown up in forlorn efforts to save the doomed shore. More tall levees contained the river, whose gradient flattened over time. Suspended silt began falling out even north of Baton Rouge. Soon the sluggish current no longer held back the sea. Salinity increased.

Upstream, the Mississippi fought like an anaconda, writhing to escape. The contest was one of raw power. And Logan knew where it would be lost....

Fortunately, Claire would move away long before the Mississippi burst through the Old River Control Structure or some other weak point, spilling into that peaceful plain of cane fields and fish farms....

In effect, he could only pray the Corps' new barriers were as good as they claimed. It was possible....

But rivers see decades, even centuries, as mere trifles.

The Mississippi rolled by. And, not for the first time, Logan wondered if Daisy might be right after all. I try to find solutions that work with Earth's forces. I like to think I've learned from the mistakes of past engineers.

But didn't they, too, think they built for the ages?

He remembered what Shelley had written, about an ancient pharaoh:

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

...Can we build nothing that lasts? Nothing worth lasting?

Logan sighed. He had been away too long. He turned away from the patient river and took the rusted, creaking iron stairs back into the ancient city.

Posted by JohnL at August 30, 2005 10:57 PM | TrackBack

Yeah, things are bad, but Lucifer's Hammer was much worse. At least, I don't think we've got a band of cannibals running around. And the US and state governments still exist, although the local governments are pretty much shut down.

Imagine what would have happened if we had no storm warning, and no one evacuated. Would have been a lot worse loss of life.

Posted by: owlish at August 30, 2005 11:59 PM

Well, the cannibalism didn't happen right away in Lucifer's Hammer. However, the underclass immediately sweeping neighborhoods and stores for food and valuables, and the quick breakdown of law and order in the affected regions are what made me think of that book. Extrapolate this to every major coastal city and you get an idea of what an ocean-strike by a large comet or meteor would do. And the key insight of Niven and Pournelle, as I recall, is that electricity holds civilization together. That seems to be the case there, too.

We were appalled to see the brazen looting - not just for necessities, which I could understand, if not condone - but for things like sneakers and electronics. That, combined with the flood made me think of LH.

And it could have been much worse, pre-satellite.

I'm wondering why there aren't a couple of Sikorsky sky cranes down there lifting some large concrete spans (like bridge spans) and building a temporary berm near the levee breach. You would think there would be a state highway depot somewhere withing flying distance with some large, temporary materials like that.

I'm sure the Corps of Engineers is working on something like that right now. I'm just surprised there wasn't a contingency plan in place that could be activated almost immediately (although maybe the sandbags were the contingency plan -- which would make me think about never living in N.O. again had I been a resident there).

Posted by: JohnL at August 31, 2005 08:52 AM

Pre-sat, it probably would have been just as bad as Galveston's 1900 storm. And the more I hear, the more it seems law has completely broken down in New Orleans [looters breaking into hospitals?].

And yeah, this does make me wonder about the wisdom of living on the coast.

Posted by: owlish at August 31, 2005 11:11 PM
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