Tropical Storm Isaac could make landfall in New Orleans on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. With the storm taking a very similar track to the 2005 hurricane, voluntary evacuations have been declared for 15 parishes in Louisiana with a mandatory evacuation in place for St. Charles and the east bank of Plaquemines Parish. Isaac could make landfall as a category 1 hurricane in New Orleans during the anniversary.
During that devastating storm in 2005, 1,700 people died in that entire area, and about 1,300 lost their lives in New Orleans. Neighborhoods were completely destroyed. At one point, 85% of that city was underwater. It was most catastrophic natural disaster in U.S. history.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have spent approx. $10 billion trying to strengthen the defenses in case a storm like that should hit the area again. Isaac's landfall will be the first real test as to how well the money was spent.
Soledad delves into New Orleans's storm readiness with retired US Army Lieutenant Gen. Russel Honore, who was in charge of the Katrina disaster relief in 2005 and wrote about his experience in the book "Survival."
Honore says despite significant improvements to the infrastructure in and around New Orleans, even a category 1 storm could overpower the city.
"$14 billion of federal money was committed for the levee improvement," Honore says. "They've spent $10 billion. They have about $4 billion left to spend in improving and armoring the levees and completing improvements down at Plaquemines Parish. They also replaced all the pumps, Soledad. When we went into Katrina, the pumps dated back to 1936. We now have modern pumps and a quote from the Corps of Engineers. We have the largest drainage pump in the world on the west bank in New Orleans. It's functional and operational."
"All that being said," Honore adds, "people need to be cautious because anything built by man can be destroyed by mother nature. People still need to listen to local officials, if you're outside of the levee system, you need to be evacuating today."
Honore also says that a more active local government could also help steer the city from another widespread disaster.
"One of the issues of politicians get into is they start preaching category of storm and people go into the data bank say it's just a Category 1. Politicians coming out more and more and saying, this area will flood, you need to move by a certain time. People without rides, you need to go to this location and be prepared to evacuate. Evacuate your animals. If they are going to do a contra-flow out of New Orleans, they are telling people when that will start. So I think there's more specific information going out about the potential effects of the storm as opposed to just talking about category," Honore says.
"People need to listen if their area is projected to be in a flood zone or it will flood based on rain or from tidal surge. You know we lose more homes every year to flooding than we do any other event in America," Honore says.
I had the privilege to hear General Honore speak at a conference a few years before he retired. What an inspiring leader! When it came to action in the Katrina aftermath, his "action" approach to conducting the mission was exactly what was needed. When he told the reporter, "you are stuck on stupid," not only did I laugh, but I also cheered. Regardless of who it offended, it was pure truth delivered in a plain wrapper. General Honore was and is a great American leader.