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9 Weeks to Pump Out New Orleans? 2153

Cr0w T. Trollbot asks: "It looks like New Orleans is going through something very close to the worst case scenario right now. This somewhat prescient study, written well before the hurricane, describes some of the challenges (engineering and otherwise) facing New Orleans. 'In this hypothetical storm scenario, it is estimated that it would take nine weeks to pump the water out of the city, and only then could assessments begin to determine what buildings were habitable or salvageable. Sewer, water, and the extensive forced drainage pumping systems would be damaged. National authorities would be scrambling to build tent cities to house the hundreds of thousands of refugees unable to return to their homes and without other relocation options.' The hypothetical is looking awful close to reality right now. What can be done about draining and rebuilding New Orleans in light of the massive flooding, and what can be done to prevent and/or lessen such disasters in the future?"
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9 Weeks to Pump Out New Orleans?

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  • Water City (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fembots ( 753724 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:27PM (#13440997) Homepage
    I know this sounds crazy, but given its bowl shape terrain, instead of pumping out the water and rebuild, why don't they rebuild over the water?

    Otherwise, try asking Dutch how they have been living with large parts of Netherlands below sea level.
    • Re:Water City (Score:5, Informative)

      by FireballX301 ( 766274 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:34PM (#13441065) Journal
      New Orleans has been living the way the Dutch have, through a system of pumps and levees.

      The Dutch don't get hurricanes.

      A couple of factors against simply rebuilding over the water are excessive cost and safety issues, historical purposes, and once the water drains away everything will be on stilts, since the sea level there fluctuates depending on the outflow of the Mississippi and the tides.

      And the mosquitoes. Mosquitoes suck.
      • Re:Water City (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:47PM (#13441225)
        But the Dutch have had way more fatalities due to flooding:
        from Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]:

        In years past, the Dutch coastline has changed considerably due to human intervention and natural disasters. Most notable in terms of land loss are the 1134 storm, which created the archipelago of Zeeland in the southwest, and the 1287 storm, which killed 50,000 people and created the Zuyderzee (now dammed in and renamed the IJsselmeer - see below) in the northwest, giving Amsterdam direct access to the sea. The St. Elisabeth flood of 1421 and the mismanagement in its aftermath destroyed a newly reclaimed polder, replacing it with the 72 km Biesbosch tidal floodplains in the southcentre. The most recent parts of Zeeland were flooded during the North Sea Flood of 1953 and 1,836 people were killed, after which the Delta Plan was executed.

        Here is a map [minbuza.nl] of Netherlands showing the areas under sea level:
      • by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @12:02AM (#13442718)
        If you were dealing with just building over water, you might be fine, but this is New Orleans we're talking about. The alcohol content of the water there makes this entirely impractical.
    • Re:Water City (Score:5, Informative)

      by ben_white ( 639603 ) <ben.btwhite@org> on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:34PM (#13441066) Homepage
      What makes more sense, is what was done in Gavelston after it was wiped off the face of the map in 1900 by a hurricane. They dredged the surrounding inland waterways and raised the entire island by some 17 feet. In areas of New Orleans that require existing structures be razed could have this done.

      cheers, ben
      • Re:Water City (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:50PM (#13441248)
        Even more importantly, they let Galveston become a cute little tourist town, and they moved all the important stuff like the seaport inland to Houston. (Before the storm, Galveston had been one of the most important cities in Texas.) That makes things go much more smoothly when they have to completely empty Galveston Island every few years due to a Hurricane warning.

        IMO, they ought to do the same here. Build ultra-stout levees around (or raise by 25 feet) the French Quarter and a few other attractions, and rebuild the rest of the city farther inland.

    • Re:Water City (Score:5, Informative)

      by Kelson ( 129150 ) * on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:36PM (#13441089) Homepage Journal
      The Dutch have the advantage of being on the northwest coast of a continent in the northern hemisphere, where hurricanes move from southeast to northwest. While hurricanes do sometimes turn northward (remember the one last year that ended up near Iceland?), the Netherlands generally don't have to deal with storms of this ferocity.
    • Re:Water City (Score:5, Informative)

      by Freexe ( 717562 ) <serrkr@tznvy.pbz> on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:36PM (#13441093) Homepage
      The wall around the Netherlands is longer than the Great Wall of China and is thought to have cost 1.5 trillon dollers to build.

      (Source: The Guardian Newspaper, Monday 29th August)
    • by apoc.famine ( 621563 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .enimaf.copa.> on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:38PM (#13441117) Journal
      If they don't want to rebuild *above* sea level, they can just rename it Atlantis and sell tours.
    • by DiveX ( 322721 ) <slashdotnewcontact@oasisofficepark.com> on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:46PM (#13441201) Homepage
      Why not rebuild over the water? Well, it has been tried before.

      "When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that's what you're going to get."

      King of Swamp Castle
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:54PM (#13441291)
      This wouldn't have happened if they were running Linux.
    • by i_like_spam ( 874080 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:56PM (#13441319) Journal
      Congress cut the fiscal year 2006 budget to the US Army Corps of Engineers in the New Orleans district by $71 Million, [findarticles.com] the largest single year cut ever.

      Ironically, a study to determine the effects of a Cat 5 hurricane was also shelved.

      Moreover, the New Orleans district imposed a hiring freeze back in June, the first time in 10 years.

      Congress may be partially to blame for the failed pumps and the long clean-up time.
    • Re:Water City (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Trailwalker ( 648636 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @09:00PM (#13441362)
      The New Orleans problem is somewhat man made. The lower Mississippi has changed course many times. The Atchafalaya river has often been the outlet for the Mississippi. If a change of course were to reoccur now, New Orleans would loose much of its commercial value.

      The Corps of Engineers has for many decades built dams and levees to prevent the lower Mississippi from changing its course. Among other effects, this has resulted in the river bed raising because of siltation. This required more levees to contain the river in its present embankments.

      It has become a question of time until the efforts at forcing the Mississippi into the present channel end in disaster.

      Hurricane Katrina is just one more factor in what is an unstable riverine enviornment.
  • Misread... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Psychor ( 603391 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:29PM (#13441006) Homepage
    Did anyone else misread that headline and think the networks had started a "Pimp my City" show?
  • by myowntrueself ( 607117 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:29PM (#13441014)
    "what can be done to prevent and/or lessen such disasters in the future?"

    Well what I do in Civ3 is to disallow building cities on floodplains and swamps. Helps heaps.
    • by _Sharp'r_ ( 649297 ) <sharper&booksunderreview,com> on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:36PM (#13441097) Homepage Journal
      At the very least, stop taxing everyone else to subsidize flood insurance for people who insist on building in flood-prone areas.

      If they want insurance, let them pay the real cost of it. If they don't, let them take the risk themselves.

      Of course, we'd probably have to transition such a system into place by instead of banning existing structures from getting the current subsidized insurance, simply telling everyone who got flooded out that if they insist on rebuilding in their flood-susceptible location, they're going to have to do it without flood insurance. Otherwise, they can turn their property over for parkland and take it's pre-flood value to go rebuild somewhere else.

      I know that a lot of not as wealthy people also live in flood-prone areas, but can't the taxpayers stop paying for rebuilding millionaires beach and river-front property over and over again in the same locations?
      • by vrmlguy ( 120854 ) <samwyse@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:59PM (#13441349) Homepage Journal
        This was done is several areas along the Mississippi River following the floods of 1993. The government bought out a lot of flooded land and turned it into parks and such. Hopefully, something similar will be done in N'Orleans.
      • by olympus_coder ( 471587 ) * on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @09:20PM (#13441542) Homepage
        Actually, that is exactly what happens (and I have been through several floods). FEMA bails you out ONCE and only ONCE.

        If your house is a total loss, they generally won't allow you to rebuild there. They settle and turn your land into a park. There is a hole neighborhood across the river from my parents (my parent's house doesn't flood) that is now a park.

        I have friend's who homes (in Houston) were CONDIMIED because, after essesive development around their aera, there was not enough drainage and so everytime it rain their neighborhood would flood (it didn't do this until the last 10 years). The land and homes were purchased using emminent domain, and then buldozed.
      • by Phronesis ( 175966 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @09:35PM (#13441677)
        At the very least, stop taxing everyone else to subsidize flood insurance for people who insist on building in flood-prone areas.

        If they want insurance, let them pay the real cost of it. If they don't, let them take the risk themselves.

        Get with the times. For almost three decades the federal law has specified that houses built after 1975 pay actuarial rates for federal flood insurance, so FEMA breaks even. There is no taxpayer subsidy on these houses.

        The problem for older houses is more difficult. Suppose you built your house when an area was not flood-prone, but then the Corps of Engineers built levees upstream that channeled other people's floods onto your doorstep? Now you live in a floodplain because of someone else's action. Is it your fault that someone else built levees or paved over wetlands?

        In the case of New Orleans, they have mostly themselves to blame for the flood hazard---the city has been subsiding because of the levees and pumping out ground water and has been perhaps the most active supporter of building levees and channelizing the Mississippi---but people living elsewhere, such as on the Bayous, are suffering from the environmental effects of the federal government's decisions about managing the river and thus deserve some relief.

      • by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @12:04AM (#13442734)
        "If they want insurance, let them pay the real cost of it. If they don't, let them take the risk themselves."

        You're assuming that people have the option of moving elsewhere.

        Louisiana ain't exactly the richest state in the Union and New Orleans is among the worst of it (as the bumper sticker says, "New Orleans--third world and proud of it!"). A lot of the families living there have been living there since they were emancipated, and were the unfortunate ones that couldn't afford to move north or west during the Nineteenth or Twentieth Centuries. They don't live in houses, they live in shacks (or, in the city, "blighted housing") for which moving into a trailer would be an improvement. They sure as heck wouldn't see any money from selling their homes in an effort to move inland (even less if we follow through with your motion to eliminate subsidized flood insurance), and if they could afford to move out, they would have done so in the past hundred years or so.

        And even away from New Orleans, the parts of rural Louisiana ravaged by the storm are those parts where the primary language isn't English; Cajun and Creole country. And, again, these people don't exactly have luxury houses on prime real estate. They never had any money because there's been a history of language-based discrimination longer than and almost as violent as Louisiana's history of race discrimination. And while there's been a bit of reconcilliation in recent decades, there's still a whole mess of Indians and Pakistanis that speak better English than they do.

        Their job options consist of shrimping, welding, or getting shot in Iraq (ever wonder why the Deep South has such large military and National Guard enlistment rates?). They couldn't afford to move even before their shack was knocked down by a tropical cyclone. The government's options are either to help them rebuild their "houses," or allow them to wander homeless, possibly scraping together enough money for bus fare so they can wander the streets of your town, since they have little else keeping them in Louisiana.

        Or I suppose we could also throw them all in jail...

        Telling them to simply move somewhere else is like saying "Let them eat cake." Yes, there are fools who have second homes on Grand Isle, but Grand Isle is not indicitive of that part of the state.
  • one word: (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) * on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:29PM (#13441015)

    Really, just a massive airdrop of sponges over the city, et voila, your problem, she is solved!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:30PM (#13441025)
    I Live in New Orleans and I was just planning on staying at Taco's house. This membership is good for something, right?
  • Donate (Score:4, Informative)

    by Omega1045 ( 584264 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:31PM (#13441035)
    Salvation Army Online Donation [salvationarmy.org] - Money goes directly to help with Katrina relief.
  • One suggestion (Score:5, Informative)

    by Toasty16 ( 586358 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:32PM (#13441039) Homepage
    The Army Corps of Engineers [wikipedia.org] is working on better flood detection and protection [army.mil], and anyone with expertise in this area could contact them [army.mil] and lend a hand.
  • Prevent? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:32PM (#13441051) Homepage
    Only way to really prevent something like this is to not build densely in high-risk areas in the first place.

    Of course, the very features that makes for high risk - river deltas, earthquake areas, active volcanism - tend to produce really desireable areas to live in.
  • Move New Orleans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Colonel Panic ( 15235 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:44PM (#13441181)
    Maybe they should seriously consider moving the whole city to someplace more stable (not below sea-level and not sinking).
    Yeah, that'll be very expensive, but if they don't do seriously consider the moving option now, they'll probably have to consider it some time in the next 50 years anyway. Given the location and parameters (below sea-level and below Mississippi level much of the time) it's amazing that NL has lasted this long. Perhaps we should consider NL to be the first victim of Global Warming (which produces stronger hurricanes and higher ocean levels).
  • by H0NGK0NGPH00EY ( 210370 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:45PM (#13441196) Homepage
    Popular Mechanics also did a piece [popularmechanics.com] on the disaster that was just waiting to happen in New Orleans. Check it out. [popularmechanics.com]
  • by FunWithHeadlines ( 644929 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @08:56PM (#13441323) Homepage
    Folks, think about what it would be like to be forced from your home and told not to come back for a month, knowing that all that time your house is partially underwater, and fairly toxic water at that. Think about the suffering that must be going on at this very minute by people who were unable to evacuate, and now find themselves unable to even walk out of the city. Think about the tens of thousands of people stuck in the Superdome who have been without air conditioning, most power, in stifling heat and dark, with little notion of when they will ever be able to return to their homes, or even if they have homes any more. Think about those who are crippled, or sick, or elderly, and who are stuck in this slow-motion disaster.

    Think about the fact that a major U.S. city that many people love is slowly being destroyed almost completely. Think about how when all is said and done probably thousands of people will be dead from this. Think about how a husband feels knowing his wife is dead, or a wife feels seeing her husband die, or a parent who sees a child sicken and die.

    Think I'm being overly dramatic? Think again. This is going to wind up being the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, and what I'm seeing on /. are jokes? I know the usual flippant response is 'hey dude, this is a valid response to tragedy.' Yeah, I understand that, but man, people are actively dying right now. How about just a tad more respect at this very moment, and then make your jokes? Why not wait to see the full impact of this disaster before you reflexively respond with sarcasm and wit? Please.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @09:14PM (#13441488)
    Let me put in here my (little) experience about floodings.

    I live in Venice, well in the hinterland of it. As you may know, it's a city build "on" the water. Or, better said, on a group of islands (107, exactly) in a laguna, directly connected by three connections to the mediterranean sea.
    The area suffers from geological bradyseism (sinking) of few centimeters per year.
    It's an irreversible process, simply leading to a worse situation as time goes by.

    The city suffers an average of 50 floodings per year, with peak heigth of the water of more than a meter in the lower zones.
    "Just" 40 years ago, the count of floodings per year was less than a dozen.
    Lots are the analysis, conferences and general discussion on which should be best ways to limit the effects of such situation.
    Well, the most common answer is: there's no solution.
    It is just possible to extend the agony, not to dry up the city.

    So, I agree with the cynical comment red so far: if you consider it worth, go and rebuild some kilometers faraway.
    Sad but true.

    Back to New Orleans - which is not Venice indeed - surely it will be possible to clean the city, polish it up and recall it to normality, but nothing assures you another similar (or even worse) flooding won't occur again, vanishing every effort.

    Good luck to whose are still there.
  • looting vs. finding (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @04:18AM (#13443838)
    Check out these pictures:

    "Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store in New Orleans, Louisiana."

    http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/050830/ph otos_tc_afp/050830194101_mzffh1jl_photo1 [yahoo.com]

    "A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans on Tuesday. (AP/Dave Martin)"

    http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/050830/19 13/w083049ajpg [yahoo.com]

    So when it's a young black man it's called looting, but when it's a white woman it's called 'finding'?
  • by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @11:36AM (#13446051)
    The Europeans posting here with comparisons to the Netherlands fail to understand the problem. New Orleans *is* built like the Netherlands. But a really bad North Sea storm surge (like the 1953 surge which killed 2000 people) raises sea level by 3 meters. New Orleans has had *two* storm surges *twice* that high in the last 50 years.

    The people saying "it's their own damn fault for building below sea level" don't understand how cities grow over centuries. When New Orleans was founded, it *was* well above sea level -- the original settlers found it a bit risky, but acceptable. The city is sinking, and the people living in lowlying neighborhoods have always been among the poorest -- for them, it's a choice between a home which might flood, or no home at all. Tight city planning restrictions might have prevented this, but the decisions were made 50-150 years ago, in a climate of intense racism and class division. It's specious to say "it's their own fault", since those at fault aren't the same "they" as those who suffer.

    People who suggest jacking up the city like Chicago are on the right track, but fail to understand the magnitude of the problem. Chicago did this in the 1850s, when its population was 30-60,000. Something like half a square mile of downtown Chicago is now raised above the river. Here, we're talking about half a million people, and 50 square miles of city. And even then, remember that Chicago's basement level totally flooded due to a tunnel rupture in 1992.

    New Orleans is an engineering and planning failure, but probably not one which could have been prevented. People have no choice but to make the best of existing situations, and what seems wise at one point in a city's long history may only be proven foolish years or centuries down the road. Long-term plans also conflict with short-term needs, and short-term needs usually win.

    There is no silver lining to this tragedy, except that it gives us a chance to start over, essentially completely from scratch, and do things right this time. New Orleans is now more or less a horribly blank slate: almost all the buildings in the city will need to be torn down after soaking in water for weeks. As I see it, there are three long-term ways to solve the problem of New Orleans.

    1) Abandon the city. This is almost inconceivable. In addition to the massive impact on Mississippi River and Gulf Coast commerce, what do you do with the million people displaced? Even if they scatter across the country, a million poor homeless refugees will be catastrophic to the already-struggling state and national poverty programs. If they all move only to neighboring states, state governments will collapse under the load. Nevertheless, this might actually be the cheapest long-term solution.

    2) Stilt houses. No, don't laugh. In Hawaii where I grew up, many coastal houses are built on 10-foot timber or concrete stilts to keep them above the height of storm surges and tidal waves. We could rebuild every single house in New Orleans as a stilt house. It would make the houses more costly to rebuild, but not by much. The next flood would still destroy roads and utilities, but the houses and their residents could be saved.

    3) Jack and fill. Like Chicago, but more so. Demolish all the flooded houses. Grab every dredge, barge, and dump truck you can, and start on one end of the city, dumping Missisippi Delta mud onto the ground ten feet deep. On the other end of the city, start building houses with sturdy frames on concrete pier foundations. When the landfill reaches a rebuild neighborhood, jack up the houses ten feet, dump in ten feet of landfill, and continue on to the next neighborhood. As the city keeps sinking over the next centuries, keep jacking up houses and dumping more dirt. It's probably a $100-$200 billion project (it'd be more, but most of New Orleans' houses are very cheap), but it's a solid long-term solution for keeping New Orleans above water forever.

    The one thing we can't afford to do is the one thing that will almost certainly happen. The levees will be plugged, the pumps repaired, and the city rebuilt as it stood a week ago. And forty years from now, this will happen again.

Don't get suckered in by the comments -- they can be terribly misleading. Debug only code. -- Dave Storer