Whatever relief New Orleans residents might have felt when Hurricane Katrina spared them a direct hit on Monday has now dissipated, as water from Lake Pontchartrain is flowing through breached levees and even the Superdome is being evacuated. The hurricane has had a unifying effect on new and old media: Local bloggers, using PDAs or calling in to friends in drier locations, have been breaking news, while mainstream outlets such as New Orleans station WWLTV and the Times-Picayune have started blogs. For photos, see this Flickr gallery.
Paul at local blog Wizbang provides an extensive list of the damage, from destroyed bridges to grounded oil tankers and myriad gas leaks, and concludes, "Basically the doomsday scenario was 20 feet of water across the whole city. Instead it looks like 5 feet of water (on avg) across 80% of the city. Not a whole lot of difference. … Was 'New Orleans Nearly Completely Destroyed by Katrina?' It was in my book."
Kaye Trammell, an LSU assistant professor, has been blogging via BlackBerry, providing links to other blogs and even an open thread to help people connect with friends and relatives. "Many people are saying in comment section that if you can't get through to an impacted love one via cell phone - try text messaging!" she advises.
"It reminds me of the Great Earthquake of '06," writes Mark Kraft at Insomnia. "It wasn't the earthquake that destroyed the city, but the fire. Could New Orleans be spared by the hurricane, but significantly flooded afterwards?" Kraft lives in California, but has been posting firsthand accounts from other Live Journal users. Some samples:
"The French Quarter remains relatively intact and dry. Flooding from the break in the Pontchartrain levee is not affecting neighborhoods closer to the Mississippi. Yet. . . . looting is rampant, and perhaps more dangerous than gasoline-soaked puddles, downed power cables, etc., is the criminal factor."—marquisdd
"The infrastructure required to maintain a city is down. It could be a long time before it's back up. There will be too many people fighting for exceptionally scarce resources. … Right now, it's a matter of survival."—interdictor
Brendan Loy, a self-described "meteorology nerd" has posted extensively enough on the hurricane to be mistaken as a local blogger. (He lives in South Bend, Ind.) He reports on rumors that it could be six months before people are allowed back to the city and posts photos. "A while back, I speculated that the Superdome was going to become like Lord of the Flies," writes. "Now it's dawning on me that perhaps I wasn't thinking big enough. With rampant looting, random gunshots in the streets, rivers, and desperate people all around, the entire city could become like Lord of the Flies."
At group blog Travelogue of a Blogger, Biloxi native PBMax sums up the fears of many. "Needless to say from the reports that I have gotten from news agencies, it doesn't look good for my childhood home and I am unable to contact my friends and family in the area because of the lack of cellphone and telephone services."
Thanks to the omnipresent television coverage, the storm has affected those with only a glancing connection to the tragedy. The BuzzMachine's Jeff Jarvis, who once worked for the parent company of NOLA.com, a local news portal, shares his reaction. "This morning on Good Morning America, a reporter stopped a man in the street just to ask how he was and she heard how his home split in half and he lost his wife when she told him to stop holding her so he could save their children and grandchildren. The reporter could not stop from crying. I don't think anyone could. … Reporters are human, too."
Even with the disaster ongoing, estimates are coming in for the storm's economic impact. Newsweek notes that last year's four large hurricanes cost insurers almost $23 billion. Early estimates for Katrina's toll range from $12 billion to $25 billion. The damage to the area's oil infrastructure has oil prices hovering near $70 a barrel.