Tag Archive for disasters

Remembering Katrina, Six Years On

It’s Monday, August 29th.

Six years ago, on another Monday, August 29th, Hurricane Katrina, a Category Three storm pushing a Category Five storm surge, slammed into coastal Mississippi. For the first twelve hours after landfall, the city of New Orleans appeared to have avoided the worst. But then the levees designed to hold back Lake Pontchartrain began breaking — the Industrial Canal levee, the 17th Street Canal levee between Metairie and the western parts of New Orleans, the London Avenue Canal levee adjacent to the Gentilly neighborhood, and the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet levees that had been meant to protect Chalmette and St. Bernard Parish. Within a day, eighty percent of the City of New Orleans had flooded, and nearly all of St. Bernard Parish was underwater. At least 1,836 people died along the Gulf Coast, most from the flooding, making Katrina the deadliest storm in U.S. history since the 1928 Lake Okeechobee Hurricane in South Florida, when approximately 2,500 people were killed.

Thank God Hurricane Irene wasn’t worse than it was. The worst effects of Irene appear to be the delayed effects, the post-storm swelling of rivers and streams. Vermont, where Irene swept through as a tropical storm, looks to be suffering the worst flooding. Seeing the photos of homes inundated with rushing water brought back a lot of memories. Those folks in Vermont and New Jersey and the flooded portions of Philadelphia are going to have many tough months ahead of them. Water is a terrible destroyer of homes, far worse than high winds. Winds may leave many beloved possessions behind, still salvageable. Water, and the mold growth it induces, rots one’s possessions and turns them to foul, stinking garbage. It’s an awful thing to witness.

My family and I were stranded in Albuquerque, New Mexico six years ago. We’d flown out with our two baby sons and four days’ worth of clothing and medicines to attend the Bubonicon science fiction convention and to visit my parents. We weren’t able to return to our home in New Orleans for almost two months. We had the great fortune that our house was located on the west bank of the Mississippi, in a different flood plain from the majority of New Orleans, and so was spared the flooding that devastated over a hundred thousand homes. But had the storm made landfall just fifteen miles more to the west, it would have been our levees that breached, and our neighborhood would have been inundated with up to nine feet of water.

My hopes go out to all those folks who will be rebuilding after a flood. It is heartbreaking, backbreaking, stinking work. But somehow, it gets done.

I’ve posted an article I wrote called “Crossing the River Styx,” which was about my return to New Orleans six weeks after the levees broke. It originally appeared in Moment Magazine in April, 2006. The congregations I describe in the article have all rebuilt and are once more thriving, six years on.

Friday Fun Links: Weird Disasters

Will the Gates of Hell swallow us all?

An earthquake in Washington, DC?

A major hurricane threatening New York City?

What a week! What else could the subject of this week’s Friday Fun Links be but… Weird Disasters?

The granddaddy of 20th Century weird disasters — the Tunguska Event. Was it a comet? An asteroid? Or a UFO heroically sacrificing itself to prevent the destruction of Planet Earth?

The worst industrial disaster in U.S. history — an entire freighter full of ammonium nitrate goes BOOM!

1944 was a really bad year for weird disasters in the U.S. — the great Cleveland, Ohio gas explosion and the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey circus fire in Hartford, Connecticut

A pair of weird man-made disasters in the old Soviet Union — the evaporation of the Aral Sea, once the fourth largest inland sea in the world; and a massive crater in Turkmenistan filled with natural gas that has been burning for the past forty years, known as “The Gates of Hell”

A “pea-souper” fog in London in 1952 that caused the premature deaths of four thousand people

Here at Fantastical Andrew Fox.com, we’re really into food — how about a flood of molasses, a deluge of beer, and an explosion of tapioca?

But wait, there’s more! Poisonous snakes that escape an erupting volcano mountainside and invade a terrified village in Martinique! Elephants stampede through five villages in India! A gigantic gasometer explodes in Pittsburg — and it’s not Roseanne Barr OR Rush Limbaugh!

Earthquakes and hurricanes are starting to seem mundane…

Earthquake in DC!

Just like my good friend Elvis said, “There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on!”

A magnitude 5.9 quake struck Virginia, 36 miles northwest of Richmond and 88 miles southwest of Washington, DC. That puts it about thirty or so miles due west of my family’s home in Manassas. My wife reports that the whole house shook, pictures fell off the walls, and something (probably some tchotchke we have on a shelf) fell over and broke.

The quake occurred at 1:51 PM, and I felt it at about 2:03 PM, so it took about twelve minutes to travel the 88 miles to Washington. I was on the sixth floor of my work building in DC, on Southwest 12th Street, near the Potomac River. I was in a meeting in a conference room when the whole building began swaying. It felt like I was on one of the carnival rides at the Prince William County Fair. The lamps overhead rattled, and everybody ducked under the big conference table. The main undulations went on for a little less than a minute, but the building continued to vibrate and shake for at least another minute. Weirdly, I wasn’t frightened. I cracked jokes under the table.

We all evacuated down the stairwells. I ducked into my office as fast as I could to grab my personal laptop — my most recent chapter of No Direction Home hadn’t been backed up, and I wasn’t about to lose my only copy of my newest novel. The evacuation was s-l-o-w-w-w-w┬ámoving down those stairs. My office mates and I walked about two blocks north to a designated gathering spot. We heard that the building across the street, an older building probably built in the 1940s, had suffered damage and would remain evacuated until a structural analysis could be done.

First earthquake I’ve ever experienced. Strangely enough, during the meeting, we were told one of our key participants couldn’t participate, because he was busy down in Miami with hurricane preparations due to the approach of Hurricane Irene. And just before the meeting, I had printed out an article on a brand-new method of post-disaster computer-to-computer communication which doesn’t rely on cell phone networks or the Internet, facilitated by software called LifeNet which is being developed by researchers at the Georgia Tech College of Computing (hat tip to Instapundit.com).

Hurricanes I’m plenty familiar with. I’ve been through Andrew, Georges, Jorge, and, biggest and baddest of all, Katrina. But sitting atop six stories flopping around on jello? That’s a new one to me. I hope this isn’t a foretaste of things to come around here (God forbid)…

Update (4:57 PM): For the past ten minutes, I’ve been watching a helicopter slowly circle the tip of the Washington Monument. Can’t tell if it is a news helicopter or some sort of official aircraft. Staying very close to the Monument. Very ominous…

Update #2: Apparently no damage to the Washington Monument. However, in the alternate universe portrayed in my recent novel Ghostlands, a major earthquake hits New Shining Capitol (that world’s Washington, DC) and their version of the Washington Monument does fall down.

Update #3: That tchotchke that broke in the house? Turns out it was my statue of Comeback ’68 Concert Elvis. Maybe it was Jerry Lee Lewis striking out at his rival (since I got my quote wrong at the start of this post)…?

Update #4: Well, it looks like there was at least a little damage to the Washington Monument. Engineers will be checking its extent.

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