Profile: New Orleans Superdome
New Orleans Superdome was a participant or observer in the following events:
Throughout this afternoon and evening, Katrina’s threat to New Orleans dominates the airwaves and the internet. Residents, officials, and weather experts repeatedly plead with residents to evacuate and warn of the inevitability of massive flooding Katrina will bring. Douglas Brinkley, historian and New Orleans resident, sums up the twin problems as follows: “Unfortunately, this is an economically depressed city. And a lot of poor people living in shotgun shacks and public housing don’t have the ability to get in a car and just disappear. And we’ve made openings at the Superdome where people will be fed and have a place to sleep if they want to get out of their low-lying house.” With respect to the flooding threat, Brinkley laments: “The Army Corp. of Engineers has done a good job with the levee system. Not good enough. I’ve heard it, it’s almost become a cliche, but it is like a tea cup or bowl here in New Orleans. And if you get hit from the east, Pontchartrain water comes flooding in. And that’s—at all costs, we don’t want that to happen. By and large, more than any major city in the United States, New Orleans is unprepared for a disaster from a hurricane. It’s just the—one of the names you called it the Big Easy. It’s also the City Time Forgot, and sometimes we let things get into disrepair, you know. Potholes and weak levees are recipes for potential disaster when a hurricane like Katrina comes around the bend.”
[Fox, 8/27/2005] Online news and blogs buzz with the coming catastrophe. [Associated Press, 8/27/2005; Masters, 8/27/2005]
Meteorologist Jeff Matthews, Director of the Weather Underground, a popular web-based weather service, reports: “We may be on the verge of a rapid deepening phase, and Katrina is growing from a medium sized hurricane to a large hurricane. Where the pressure will bottom out after this deepening phase is anyone’s guess, and I believe something in the 915—925 mb range is most likely, which would make Katrina a strong Category 4 or weak Category 5 hurricane by tomorrow afternoon.” He then laments: “New Orleans finally got serious and ordered an evacuation, but far too late. There is no way everyone will be able to get out of the city in time, and they may be forced to take shelter in the Superdome, which is above sea level. If Katrina makes a direct hit on New Orleans as a Category 4 hurricane, the levees protecting the city will be breached, and New Orleans, which is 6—10 feet below sea level, will fill with water. On top of this 6 feet of water will come a 15 foot storm surge, and on top of that will be 20 foot waves, so the potential for high loss of life is great. Given the current track and intensity forecast, I’d put the odds of this at about 20 percent”
At 9:30 am this morning, Mayor Nagin announces the first-ever mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. After reading the official declaration, Nagin states: “Ladies and gentlemen, I wish I had better news for you. But we are facing a storm that most of us have feared. I do not want to create panic. But I do want the residents to understand that this is very serious, and it’s of the highest nature. And that’s why we are taking this unprecedented move. The storm is now a Cat 5… with sustained winds of 150 miles an hour, with wind gusts of 190 miles per hour. The storm surge most likely will topple our levy system. So we are preparing to deal with that also. So that’s why we’re ordering a mandatory evacuation.” Acknowledging that many people will be unable to obtain transportation, Nagin announces that the city has established ten pickup areas for residents without transportation. City buses will transport residents from the pickup areas to the city’s shelters. The Superdome will open as a shelter of last resort, although Nagin states that, “I want to emphasize, the first choice of every resident should be to leave the city.” The Superdome is likely to be without power for days—and possibly weeks—after the storm fits, and it will not be a comfortable place. Hotels and their patrons are exempted from the order. Police and firefighters will spread out throughout the city sounding sirens and using bullhorns to tell residents to get out. Police may commandeer any vehicle or building that could be used for evacuation or shelter. Nagin concludes his announcement as follows: “This is an opportunity in New Orleans for us to come together in the way that we’ve never come together before. This is a threat that we’ve never faced before. And if we galvanize and rally around each other, I am sure that we will get through this. God bless us.”
[CNN, 8/28/2005; Russell, 8/28/2005; City of New Orleans, 8/28/2005]
Note 1 - Various sources have reported that Nagin issued the mandatory evacuation later than 9:30. [Houston Chronicle, 9/8/2005; Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005; Boston Globe, 9/11/2005] However, according to the contemporaneous CNN transcript, Nagin makes this announcement only minutes after 9:23 am CDT.
Note 2 - The Washington Post will later report, incorrectly, that Nagin never mentioned the estimated 100,000 residents who had no personal means of transportation. [Washington Post, 9/11/2005] In fact, Nagin acknowledged this issue as early as Saturday (see (1:30 pm) August 27, 2005). State and federal officials also acknowledge this problem, and are seeking buses to evacuate these residents. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/28/2005; Dallas Morning News, 8/29/2005]
Throughout this afternoon and evening, Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and some school buses will run between the designated pick-up areas and the Superdome throughout the afternoon and evening. “They’re using school buses and about everything they can find to get people out of here,” reports French Quarter resident Rob Ramsey. [Commercial Appeal (Memphis), 8/29/2005; Times-Picayune, 8/29/2005 ] Nagin will later explain that the plan is to get people to higher ground: “Get them out of their homes, which—most people are under sea level—Get them to a higher ground and then depending upon our state and federal officials to move them out of harm’s way after the storm has hit.”
[MSNBC, 9/11/2005] Neither the number of buses deployed by the city, nor the number of people successfully evacuated on city buses, is known at this time. In the days to come, after publication of a photo showing hundreds of flooded buses, many will question why the city failed to use these buses to evacuate more people. [MSNBC, 9/6/2005] However, as Mayor Nagin will later note, “Sure, there was lots of buses out there. But guess what? You can’t find drivers that would stay behind with a Category 5 hurricane, you know, pending down on New Orleans. We barely got enough drivers to move people on Sunday, or Saturday and Sunday, to move them to the Superdome. We barely had enough drivers for that. So sure, we had the assets, but the drivers just weren’t available.”
[MSNBC, 9/11/2005] In fact, officials at all levels of government:
(a) know that that many residents will need transportation (see (1:30 pm) August 27, 2005)
(see Between 7:00-8:00 am August 28, 2005)
(see Morning August 28, 2005)
(b) know that local officials do not have sufficient resources to evacuate all residents who lack transportation
(see (Spring 2004))
(see July 19-23, 2004)
(c) fail to dispatch the number of buses necessary for the evacuation. [Dallas Morning News, 8/29/2005; Advocate (Baton Rouge), 9/9/2005; Boston Globe, 9/11/2005]
In short, officials at all levels of government are seeking buses; and officials at all levels of government fail to use the fleet of buses in the city that will be flooded during the hurricane. [MSNBC, 9/6/2005]
Note 1 - MSBNC will later report that it has obtained a draft emergency plan prepared by FEMA, which calls for “400 buses to… evacuate victims.”
[MSNBC, 9/6/2005] More details regarding this plan are not yet known.
Note 2 - It is unclear whether Passey’s post-hurricane statement refers to buses requested before the hurricane or after. However, his report that FEMA is scrambling for buses occurs sometime prior to August 29, when it is reported in the Dallas Morning News. Regardless of which bus request (i.e., pre- or post-hurricane) Passey is referencing, it is undisputed that, along with the city and state, FEMA was scrambling for buses pre-hurricane, and that, along with the city and state, FEMA failed to deploy the many city school buses that will be flooded due to the hurricane.
Note 3 - Although not yet clear, it may be that officials elect to stage people at the Superdome because of their inability to deploy sufficient buses, in order to maximize the number of people that can be evacuated from low-lying neighborhoods in the hours leading up to the storm. Had officials used the available buses to transport people out of the city via the clogged interstates, the total number of people evacuated necessarily would have been much smaller. Each bus likely could make only a single run. Instead, the buses can make multiple trips from pickup areas to the Superdome.
By this afternoon, several thousand residents have made their way to the Superdome, many dropped off by city buses that are looping between the dome and the pickup sites throughout the city. Residents with medical illnesses or disabilities are directed to one side of the dome, which is equipped with supplies and medical personnel. The remaining residents pour into the other side. “The people arriving on this side of the building are expected to fend for themselves,” says Terry Ebbert, the city’s Homeland Security Director, although he does notes that the city has water for the evacuees. National Guard soldiers, New Orleans police, and civil sheriff’s deputies patrol the dome. Officials expect that the Superdome’s field will flood, and that it will lose power early tomorrow morning. However, Ebbert says, “I’m not worried about what is tolerable or intolerable. I’m worried about, whether you are alive on Tuesday.”
Doug Thornton, General Manager of the Superdome has requested portable toilets, recognizing that the water pressure may fail, according to an Associated Press report. He also notes that they are not set up to manage the thousands of evacuees for very long: “We’re expecting to be here for the long haul,” he said. “We can make things very nice for 75,000 people for four hours. But we aren’t set up to really accommodate 8,000 for four days.”
[Associated Press, 8/29/2005]
Approximately 10,000 residents are now sheltering in the New Orleans Superdome. The Louisiana National Guard has delivered three truckloads of water and seven truckloads of MREs, which it expects is sufficient to provision 15,000 people for up to three days, according to Col. Jay Mayeaux, Deputy Director of Louisiana Homeland Security Office of Emergency Preparedness. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/28/2005 Sources: Jay Mayeaux] More than 600 people with medical needs are housed at the dome. [Associated Press, 8/29/2005] Some 200-550 National Guard members are inside the Superdome providing security and water. Other Guard engineers will be in the dome to monitor the structural integrity of the facility. ( [MacCash and O.Byrne, 8/29/2005] reports 200 Guard members on duty; [Advocate (Baton Rouge), 9/9/2005] reports 400 Guard members on duty; and [Associated Press, 8/29/2005] reports 5500 Guard members on duty.
Note - Reports vary regarding the number of residents in the Superdome this evening. One contemporaneous report indicates that 26,000 people are sheltered there. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/28/2005] A few hours from now, the same paper will report that the dome is sheltering more than 30,000 people. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/29/2005] However, the next morning, the same paper will report that approximately 8,000-9,000 people are there, citing Doug Thornton, General Manager of the Superdome. [Associated Press, 8/29/2005 Sources: Doug Thornton] FEMA Director Michael Brown will tell National Public Radio tomorrow morning that 9,000-10,000 people are sheltered there. [National Public Radio, 8/29/2005 Sources: Michael D. Brown] See also, [ABC, 8/29/2005; CBS News, 8/29/2005] .
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