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    Storm warning

    The tendency of typhoons in Japan to change direction and not strike where expected has made me hope that New Orleans may not get the royal screwing from Hurricane Katrina that everyone’s been expecting. It’s not looking good, though, and my thoughts are with everyone potentially in its path. I know what it’s like to live in a beloved city that’s under constant threat of natural disaster (not to mention at least partially below sea level), but the knowledge that Mother Nature is coming to get you right now must be very different from the vague sense that the ground could heave at any second.

    Isolated tornadoes are also possible Sunday across southern portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, forecasters said.

    National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said: “There’s certainly a chance it can weaken a bit before it gets to the coast, but unfortunately this is so large and so powerful that it’s a little bit like the difference between being run over by an 18-wheeler or a freight train. Neither prospect is good.”

    Maybe not, but at least the 18-wheeler is shorter. Catastrophic flooding (Tokyo has a lot of reclaimed land, too, so we hear about this often) has a lot of consequences in large population centers:

    In New Orleans, which lies below sea level, gas and diesel tanks are all located above ground for the same reason that bodies are buried above ground. In the event of a flood, “those tanks will start to float, shear their couplings, and we’ll have the release of these rather volatile compounds,” van Heerden added.

    Because gasoline floats on water, “we could end up with some pretty severe and large — area-wise — fires.”

    “So, we’re looking at a bowl full of highly contaminated water with contaminated air flowing around and, literally, very few places for anybody to go where they’ll be safe.”

    He went further.

    “So, imagine you’re the poor person who decides not to evacuate: Your house will disintegrate around you. The best you’ll be able to do is hang on to a light pole, and while you’re hanging on, the fire ants from all the mounds — of which there is two per yard on average — will clamber up that same pole. And, eventually, the fire ants will win.”

    And that’s just the local impact; New Orleans processes a lot of petroleum and is a major port. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope for the best.

    Added at 16:54: Instapundit has a post full of links and reader reports, naturally. His final observation is this:

    I have to say, though, that from what I’ve seen New Orleans hasn’t been on the ball. The evacuation was too late, there don’t seem to have been many efforts to get people out of the city or to shelter, and whenever I see city officials on TV I get an unpleasant vibe, like in the first half-hour of a disaster flick. I hope that I’m wrong about this, and that everything goes as well as possible, which I’m afraid will still mean “not that well, really.”

    I’ve only been seeing those who are on CNN, but I do get the same feeling. Those in charge of planning fire/rescue and reconstruction projects have no choice but to learn from disasters as they happen, but that’s no excuse for not being prepared to evacuate people effectively. The people to worry most about are those who have no choice but to take their chances:

    The doctors and nurses who were on duty when their hospitals declared an emergency would not have been allowed to leave at the end of their shift, at least not without losing their jobs and risking their careers. But they took an oath to care for their patients, and that’s what they’ll do, even though it means they can’t be with their own families or help them to evacuate. And now they’ll work around the clock, without relief. Pray for them.

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