(September 7) In the “be thankful for small blessings” category, the city of New Orleans suffered less from Hurricane Ida than early fears had indicated.

Points south and west of New Orleans remain in tragically horrible conditions , as do parts of the northeastern United States , but a Monday visit to the Crescent City was surprisingly (if only relatively) reassuring. Whether because the powerful storm skirted west of the city itself or because the city government and residents handled the aftermath with relative aplomb, or both, the visible damage eight days after landfall suggests recovery has begun.

Sure, billboards are down all over the place, as are thousands of power poles. Occasional trees were uprooted, and numerous buildings lost outer structural adornments. Branches were down all over the city, and a rather random assortment of roofs showed something more than cosmetic damage. Yet by Labor Day, almost every street was passable, with downed limbs throughout the city having been piled and pushed to the side of roadways. Water damage appeared far from catastrophic.

National news has, of course, reported that the levees and floodwalls reconstituted after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 “held” this time, thus supposedly proving the approximately $14 billion appropriated for them was well spent. It may have been well spent — but nobody should think for a minute that Hurricane Ida proves the city is safe.

The simple fact is that the flood protection system was not nearly as tested by Ida as it was by Katrina. Ida’s nearly 150 mph winds at landfall may have exceeded Katrina’s 125 mph landfall winds, but that is far from the most important statistic. Katrina had a much wider footprint, with hurricane-force winds extending more than 125 miles from the eye compared to fewer than 50 miles for Ida, and Katrina churned in the Gulf for a longer time than Ida did. For most of its journey toward land, Katrina’s sustained winds were far stronger, at 175 mph…. [For more on what DID look okay in New Orleans, follow this link.]


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