Katrina Our Asian Tsunami?

One “expert” has gone on CNN and claimed Hurricane Katrina could be “catastrophic” on the level of the Asian tsunamis that killed tens of thousands of people last December.

Expert: Katrina could unleash disaster (CNN)

Flooding expected from Hurricane Katrina could wreak catastrophe on New Orleans, overwhelming its water and sewage systems, damaging its structures and leaving survivors in a bowl of toxic soup, a top hurricane expert said Sunday.


Floodwaters from the east would carry toxic waste from the “Industrial Canal” area, nicknamed after the chemical plants there. From the west, floodwaters would flow through the Norco Destrehan Industrial Complex, which includes refineries and chemical plants, said Ivor van Heerden, director of the Louisiana State University Public Health Research Center in Baton Rouge. Van Heerden has studied computer models about the impact of a strong hurricane for four years. “These chemical plants [could] start flying apart, just as the other buildings do,” said van Heerden said. “So, we have the potential for release of benzene, hydrochloric acid, chlorine and so on.” That could result in severe air and water pollution, he said.

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.” The levees intended to protect the city vary in height, from as low as 10 feet above sea level to about 14 feet, he said. They too are vulnerable, because they are made of earth, he said.

Ken Ringle, special to WaPo, at least has a more realistic comparison:

In Camille’s Deadly 1969 Solo, A Grim Prologue To Katrina

The problem with hurricane stories is that one uses up the adjectives on minor-league storms. Mail-order meteorologists and blow-dry weathermen have been inundating us for so long with evacuation hysteria for mere tropical disturbances — complete with breathlessly narrated TV images of homeowners buying plywood and flashlight batteries — that we think we’ve seen it all before.

We haven’t. But we may well see it all before sundown. Because for years truly knowledgeable hurricane experts have been warning us that The Big One is what our coastal communities really need to worry about, and today The Big One is here.

The CNN story is timestamped 9:50 a.m. EDT, the WaPo one was written in time for the print edition (C1). Most indications thus far are that Katrina will cause billions of economic damage but be far, far short of these doomsday scenarios.

via Steven Taylor

Correction: Lead sentence changed to more accurately reflect the destruction of the Asian tsunami. While there were early reports that well over a million were killed, the most reliable estimates seem to be in the range of 150,000-200,000.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Michael says:

    I don’t think the Tsunami last year killed millions, did it?

  2. Gilbert(belgium) says:

    No. The Tsunami, last year, killed about 240.000 peoples.