The Washington Post has a powerful news analysis piece on the future of New Orleans. That future is uncertain, of course, but the Post paints an incredibly sad picture that I don't have reason to question:
  First they have to pump the flooded city dry, and that will take a minimum of 30 days. Then they will have to flush the drinking water system, making sure they don't recycle the contaminants. Figure another month for that.
  The electricians will have to watch out for snakes in the water, wild animals and feral dogs. It will be a good idea to wear hip boots and take care of cuts and scrapes before the toxic slush turns them into festering sores. The power grid might be up in a few weeks, but many months will elapse before everybody's lights come back on.
  By that time, a lot of people won't care because they will have taken the insurance money and moved away — forever. Home rebuilding, as opposed to repairs, won't start for a year and will last for years after that.
  Even then, there may be nothing normal about New Orleans, because the floodwater, spiked with tons of contaminants ranging from heavy metals and hydrocarbons to industrial waste, human feces and the decayed remains of humans and animals, will linger nearby in the Gulf of Mexico for a decade.

Walt Quist (mail):
I guess we are lucky we went to the BIG EASY several times in the past. My wife went there on her first honnymoon with old whats his name.

When I was a flight instructor at NAAS Meridian, MS in 1965 we spent a long weekend in New Orleans. I still remember going and getting some oysters on the 1/2 shell (a bakers dozen for $.89). As I remember, we wanted to see Al Hirt and Pete Fountain. Al was out of town but Pete was superb. See:

When we were there for a Marine Corps Aviation Association meeting in 1992 or 1993, we had Antoine's Oysters Rockefeller at the same table I had them in 1959.

A lot of good times in New Orleans. I hope the Washington Post is overly pessimistic.
9.1.2005 2:21am
Well it sounds very expensive, and dangerous. And this was only a category four hurricane, not the worst-case-scenario and not the, "once in a lifetime event," as I keep hearing politicians refer to it. There doesn't seem to be any discussion about how to keep this tragedy from happening all over again. Has anyone publicly suggested not rebuilding, just having the government buy up the land and making it a nature preserve?
9.1.2005 2:59am
Chris of MM (mail) (www):
I don't know. It was the third most intense system to make landfall on U.S. soil in history, with the two ahead of it landing in 1969 and 1935. I think that makes it pretty close to once in a lifetime. And 80% of the city flooded, with the water likely to remain their for at least a month, is pretty close to the worst-case scenario for New Orleans. It may not be the worst-case scenario for the other areas hit (though I'd hate to think of what that would be, if this ain't it), but I don't think it's much of an exaggeration to call it that.
9.1.2005 5:07am
AppSocRes (mail):
I also have fond memories of my stay in New Orleans, but:

(1) The city actually lucked out this time around. The worst case scenario involves a category 5 storm making landfall just west of the city. This storm was a category 4 and made landfall well to the east. A much worse situation could have and eventually will occur.

(2) Another correspondent with the Volokh Conspiracy pointed out yesterday something of which I was unaware: Evidently the Army Corps of Engineers has been waging a long-term battle to prevent the Mississippi from naturally changing its course in a way that would essentially wipe out the current site of New Orleans. Even the Corps has run simulations suggesting that this attempt may ultimately be hopeless.

I have yet to hear any public discussion of re-siting the city, but this seems to me to be an essential public-policy debate before tens of billions of dollars are sunk into what may ultimately prove a futile attempt at reconstruction. I wonder whether our current system can function in a way that will generate such a discussion and seriously consider alternatives to re-building New Orleans on its current site.
9.1.2005 9:30am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Well, I think that this sort of disaster there was inevitable. Maybe not this year, but ultimately. Building a city much of which is below sea level, near the Gulf Coast, was looking for trouble. I am just surprised that it hadn't been hit this hard earlier.
9.1.2005 10:17am
Richard Fagin (mail):
While there's no overstating the catastrophe that hit New Orleans, and the WaPo article correctly explains just how difficult it will be to rebuild the city, I suspect we are all going to be astonished at how quickly the city will be rebuilt. One need only go back as far as the first Gulf War and at how fast Red Adair, Boots &Coots et al. were able to cap all the oil wells that were blow open by Saddam's thugs on the way out of Kuwait. Oh, and Carl Sagan's predicted equivalent of nuclear winter from the oil fires didn't happen, either. Let's all roll up our sleeves and get to work. We can fix it.
9.1.2005 10:31am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Another correspondent with the Volokh Conspiracy pointed out yesterday something of which I was unaware: Evidently the Army Corps of Engineers has been waging a long-term battle to prevent the Mississippi from naturally changing its course in a way that would essentially wipe out the current site of New Orleans.

The book to read is the excellent Rising Tide by John Barry, an account of the 1927 Mississippi Delta flood, which goes into wonderful &readable detail about the background of Mississippi River "control," the vicissitudes of levees, the danger to N.O., etc., with lots of colorful background. I am looking forward to a Barry article on the current crisis.
9.1.2005 11:48am
kipp (mail):
As for 'moving' New Orleans: You cannot "resite" the cultural history or atmosphere of New Orleans. New Orleans is part of the identity of many of those who live there - and they will not easily give that up. I agree with RFagin that we will likely be surprised by both the speed of recovery (well, in a relative sense) and the tenacity of those who want to stay and rebuild. I suggest you make plans to attend Mardi Gras next year: I would wager it will be the biggest party ever.
9.1.2005 2:08pm
analytika (mail):
Unfortunately, the irreparable breaches of the levy's protecting the City brought the consequences of this "Category 4, not 5", "Miss, not Hit" to very close to the worst case scenario of total flooding.

It's not how the wort case was envisioned, but it's still pretty much the worst case scenario.
9.1.2005 2:42pm
Sylvain Galineau (mail):
It was also going at least a couple of years to clean up Ground Zero.

Granted, the scale and nature of the problem are different. Nevertheless, predictions are just that. The safe bet with those is usually to assume they will be proven wrong. I think and hope this one will be.
9.1.2005 3:09pm
noahp (mail) (www):
Liberals are always so darn pessimistic about things. The city of New Orleans will recover. Businesses will get running again, backed by enormous federal aid, and it will return to its normal population.
9.1.2005 5:48pm
So far, no one has mentioned the 500 pound gorilla in New Orleans' midst. You cannot rebuild without insurance. I think that since the likelihood of a federal bailout for the entire Gulf coast is less than zero, insuring against future losses will rest on private financial operations. Private financial operations that have been known, from time to time, to stress profitability and have been adverse to high risk undertakings. Knowing what can happen when it's not the worst case scenario, who's going to invest in insuring against the worst yet to come?
9.1.2005 6:55pm
don (mail):
Regarding New Orleans and insurance, I wonder whether the insurance companies will even pay? Is this a hurricane loss, or a flood loss? I am sure that they'll pay for what happened to wind damaged buildings throughout the region, including New Orleans. And I am sure that they'll pay for storm surge damaged buildings throughout the region. But I am not sure that they'll pay for the SUBSEQUENT levee break. Was the levee break, which occurred several hours AFTER the hurricane had passed, a flood event or a hurricane event? These differences are huge, because if it's flood, the private companies don't pay. The Feds pay, and only to those who were covered. Don't be surprised if private insurance companies take the flood portion of the New Orleans disaster to court. And I am not saying that taking this to court is the right thing to do. It's just that with the stakes so large, I am sure that many insurance companies are wondering where their obligations begin and end.
9.2.2005 10:10am
Joshua (mail):
I agree with JohnG. I don't see any insurance company willing to underwrite any reconstruction on the current site of New Orleans, or for that matter anyplace else that needs a levee or dike to protect it from flooding. Yes, that means abandoning the city's cultural heritage - or rather what little is left of it, as Katrina has presumably wiped out the vast majority of it anyway - but in the end New Orleanders (sic?) may not be left with much choice.

I envision one of two things eventually happening. The city could be re-sited on higher ground farther up the Mississippi River, maybe on the other side of the river, opposite Lake Ponchartrain - "Newer Orleans", if you will - where at least it won't be nearly as prone to flooding as the current site when the next hurricane comes. Or, Baton Rouge could end up becoming, in everything but name, the new New Orleans.
9.2.2005 6:57pm