This Space for Rent

Oh, shit.

I used to live in New Orleans, years ago. Since I'm a trainspotter, I spent most of my free time there watching trolleys and the occasional Public Belt train, but I did spend quite a bit of time walking or bicycling around, just enjoying living in that town. One thing I fondly remember about that is that occasionally I could look down a street or alley towards the river and I'd see a huge container ship moving by above me.

Boy, I thought, it would really suck if the seawalls failed.

A lot of people have thought about what could happen to make the seawalls fail. One popular entry in the how to fill New Orleans with water contest involves dropping a category five hurricane into the city (or somewhat east of it, so the hurricane could scoop up a huge mass of water and hurl it into Lake Pontchartrain, where it could splash over the lakeside levees and roll over to the Mississippi river) and then picking up the remains with a very fine sieve.

New Orleans, meet Katrina, who is the latest category five hurricane to hop over the florida peninsula and slap into the gulf coast. And, unlike the last contestants, tropical storm #12 has been making a beeline for the Crescent City, and is now about 150 miles out and staying the course.

New Orleans is in the middle of a swamp. If the Gulf of Mexico sloshes over the Pontchartrain levees, it will be a another big lake in the middle of a swamp, with everything inside under water. There might be some parts of it that aren't under water, but a large subset of the city will achieve fluid staste.

I don't know what's going to happen there. A considerable number of webloggers are saying "oh, shit" and predicting that the city will essentially vanish, and there's at least one NOAA weather forcaster who shares the same opinion (I guess this is the weather forcaster way of collapsing into a foetal position, then going catatonic with shock), but perhaps they're taking too much of a catastrophic view.

I just hope the curators in the Cabildo have moved everything up off the first floor (the day I moved to New Orleans was the very same day that the Cabildo had that fire that took off the third story of the building; I remember reading in the local paper how the curators were removing artifacts from the building even as the firefighters were bolting in to try to put it out. If there's anyone left from 17 years ago, they probably laughed grimly as they tried to figure out what to move upstairs before they got in their cars and bolted for Baton Rouge) before they left.

I've read about diehards who are poo-poohing the hurricane from inside cozy bars in the middle of the Vieux Carre. cozy bars that are at least a dozen feet below the water level. Sure, many of the buildings in that part of town are made out of brick and/or stone, but all it will take is one enthusiastic storm surge and they'll be flooded up to the second or third floor. I can imagine that being trapped up there with all of the cats, dogs, rats, mice, and other creeping and crawling vermin that infest the Crescent City will make for a somewhat less pleasant vacation experience.

I wonder what's going to happen to the streetcars? The Carrolton carbarn is not blessed with being above sea level, and I don't think that the new Canal carbarn is above water level either.

I don't know if it's even rebuildable. If the city gets glitched by this hurricane, it could run into the 100s of billions of dollars to rebuild, and (a) all of that money has been given to the rich and and (b) it's still the middle of the hurricane season, and one of the promised features of global warming is storms, lots of storms, and even more storms, each one more violent than the last. Would the US government, even assuming it's not controlled by the pack of asset-stripping thieves who currently control it, cheerfully promise to pay out to rebuild the city when there's a chance that the very next year another storm will whack it again?

I think that part of the charm of New Orleans is that it's always been a city (and a culture) living on borrowed time. And it may be that there's no more time to borrow now.

I think we'll find out in about 12 hours.