Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Katrina Journal: Monday Night

Written Monday night:

It's 10pm here in Baton Rouge. We lost power for 12 hours and had a lot of debris in the yard; three houses on the block had 2-foot diameter trees crack in half and land on them. That's been repeated a lot throughout Baton Rouge, but there's been almost no flooding here and our winds didn't get much above 60mph.

It has taken a very long time for any real news to come out of New Orleans, because the mobile phone system is down, the landline phone system is down, and none of the city has electricity. Since our power came back up, though, we've been getting coverage of the city via TV. All the local networks pooled resources and got a helicopter up to take video, attempting to cover the whole city. From what I could see, it looked like between 70-85% of the city is flooded; some neighbourhoods up to the rooftops, others only 2-4 feet. We still have no confirmation whether the 17th Street Canal (four blocks from our house) burst. If it did, our neighbourhood will be really bad. Almost all of Metairie and all of Kenner are under water (that's equivalent to saying "almost all the western suburbs of Sydney are under water"). There were a number of fires raging, with, ironically, no water to douse them. The New Orleans Yacht Club, a beautiful building on the lake, has gone up in flames. One official source said "100% of buildings in Kenner have sustained damage".

Downtown, many of the high-rise buildings have had whole floors of windows blown out. Lillie's hoping her offices have been spared (they're on the 32nd floor of the 2nd tallest building in New Orleans).

Thousands of people were trapped in flooded houses and apartments, several hundreds of them forced to break through their roofs and wait for rescue there.

There's no drinkable water and, in fact, no water fit for bathing.

We won't be allowed back into town for at least a number of days and it could be appreciably longer. Certainly not until drinking water is available. They think it may be a month or more before power is restored to all of the city. In any case, all the roads into New Orleans are flooded or dangerous. Many of themhave very long bridges through the swamps, and they have to check each of those to ensure they haven't been compromised. In neighbouring Mississippi, which was really severely hit, a major bridge on the interstate highway has been wiped away and there's severe damage to many towns and cities.

Despite all that, we're all feeling a lot of relief. Had the storm gone 20 miles further west, things would have been incredibly grim.

Everyone here in our Baton Rouge retreat is doing well, although we're all pretty stressed out. -Rose Vines