During hurricane season, my friends should really stop answering their phones when I call. As longtime readers of this site might remember, my grandparents went through Camille, and my parents, sister and friends weathered Andrew. So I know what the aftermath of a major storm looks like. And when a catastrophic hurricane looks to be bearing down on a place, I can’t think about much else.
If New Orleans takes a direct hit from Katrina, the storm could be the worst natural disaster the U.S. has ever seen. Maybe it’ll pull a Camille, and strike along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Or maybe it’ll weaken. They usually do.
But Katrina is massive and mighty, and experts say it threatens “an environmental disaster of biblical proportions, one that could leave more than 1 million people homeless,” destroy 60% to 80% of the city’s houses, and “turn one of America’s most charming cities into a vast cesspool tainted with toxic chemicals, human waste and even coffins.” A 2002 American RadioWorks installment on the likely result to the city of a head-on Category Five attack estimates that 50,000 people could lose their lives.
Let’s hope the Superdome holds. Although the city’s poorest residents are flooding into it, it’s not a Red Cross-certified shelter. It is, in the words of the New Orleans mayor, a shelter “of last resort.”
A scientist at the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory Hurricane Research Division recently compiled a list of novels, plays and movies featuring hurricanes as major dramatic elements. Among them are William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and the Bogart & Bacall-starring Key Largo.