Wednesday, September 15, 2004

If It's Ivan, It's Trouble

Zaytuni will know that the title to this post is a double entendre, as the last Ivan that I had to deal with wrought quite a bit of havoc in my life. Twenty years later and this one is trouble, too. Just a different kind. And like the last one, dealing with this one has wrung me out. (I'll have to tell the story of the first one someday. Zaytuni mentions him briefly in his blog on March 28th.)

So, Ivan has been a lot of trouble today. Lots to do to get ready for him. He may not make it here, but if he does, well...please indulge me the following geography lesson:

New Orleans. The Crescent City. Imagine a bowl filled with marbles set to float in a larger pool of water. Keep adding marbles until the rim of the bowl is barely above the water's surface. (You can use the ones that those of us living here have lost. There are plenty.) Now, get a leaf blower, point it at the water near the edge of the bowl and let it blow. Oh... I forgot. Do this outside in a good, hard rain.

Congratulations. You now understand what Ivan's visit means to us. If it were still a Category Five, you could just flush the bowl of marbles down the toilet.

During my obsessive nocturnal Weather Channel viewing marathon last night, I dug up a few visuals.


The pink and green lines indicate the Metro New Orleans area, divided as the east and west banks of the Mississippi, respectively. When I see these satellite images, the reality of our precarious situation strikes me all the more.

Most of the city is somewhere between 5 and 10 feet below sea level, and sinking fast. The elevation map below illustrates the bowl-like nature of the city very well.



A good Category 4 or 5 hurricane approaching from the direction of the mouth of the river could push a 20 to 40 foot surge of water (the "storm surge") up into the delta and surrounding estuaries, which we seriously refer to as a coastline, despite there being little of anything that you could call coast or line. The levees and floodgates protecting the city from Lake Pontchartrain are 15 feet high. The Mississippi River's levees are 20 feet high. You can see what kind of problem this poses. I just found this USA Today article from the 2000 hurricane season and after reading it, I'm feeling a little uneasy again. Here's another really good article on the geography and hydro-geology (I think I may have made that word up) of the city.

I have to admit that, for the most part, I like hurricanes. I love, love, love wind. I've only experienced a couple of direct hits (but one of them was not in N.O. and neither was higher than a Category 3) , but I've experienced the effects of many hurricanes that hit nearby. We've never really suffered any horrible consequences; only the inconvenience of no electricity (which means no air conditioning), minor flooding, and some tree debris to clean up. On one such occasion a couple of years ago, my daughter Rachel (who I guess was about 6 years old then) and I had great fun playing in the rainwater that gushed off the front balcony and blew onto the front porch. I think it flooded that time, too, but it was all pumped clear before the next day.

This hurricane has been difficult to predict and the city officials and meteorologists have been concerned that it was too close to call. They all said we should leave. As many of the million or so residents of the Metro area as could, should. My mother, the perennial worrier, heeded that advice immediately and headed west with my kids to my sister's place in Lafayette. I stayed to prepare my house for the storm, expecting to leave this afternoon with Renard (my boyfriend), who was also busy getting his studio ready.

All along I've been torn between staying and leaving if it looked like it was going to be a near miss. The decision was made for me this afternoon when neither Renard nor I were anywhere near ready to go and, even if we had been, every road out of here was absolutely gridlocked by the mass exodus.

So, it 1:30 AM now. I've got boards on the only windows that I felt needed them (and because I only had two boards anyway.) The things that might fly away are secured. All the plants (and there are LOTS) are off the balcony and in my bedroom, along with all their resident insects, one of which was the biggest spider I've ever seen. I swapped him for a small lizard I found outside. I hope he fares well and that his replacement eats some of these small, hop-and-fly bugs that seem to like the atmosphere around my bed. All my most cherished photographs, vital documents and computer equipment are in plastic bags, except for the things I'll take if I decide to flee. Renard is finally here with his clothing, some food, his instruments that are not insured, and his vintage Strat, which is irreplaceable. I'll take my favorite acoustic and his Fender bass.

Tomorrow morning we'll decide whether we stay or go. Tonight we'll enjoy the calm before the storm and ponder whether or not hurricane sex is worth the risk, if Ivan decides to stay in the left lane.

1 Comments:

Blogger Lasciate said...

Better safe than sorry. Though I totally empathize with the game of playing Procrastinating Chicken with a hurricane - having done it myself a few times - given New Orleans' errant geography and Mother Nature's penchant for not giving a damn when she's irritable, I think a strategic retreat is probably in order.

Just my unsolicited opinion. But whatever you decide, I wish you the best of luck.

5:45 AM  

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