How to Find Out if Your New Orleans House Is Under Water
Escape Routes for Hurricane Victims

How to Find Out if Your New Orleans House Is Under Water, Part 2: We Really Need to Integrate Topo Maps and Known Water Depths into the System

126353main_pia04175516I've been thinking about this all day, and I have a few ideas, some of which I'm a bit too tired to try. But here is the problem. The question is not whether grandma's wedding pictures are getting ruined. The question for many people writing to me is whether their stranded relatives are dead, or at least the nature of their chances of survival. I am reminded of a 9/11 account we published in the 9/11 special supplement to the New York Review of Science Fiction. The husband of a friend, who worked on the WTC's 22nd floor, walked around looking for someone who could answer questions. An official asked, "What kind of questions?" My friend's husband replied, "Like whether my wife is dead." The information about depths and currents is absolutely crucial to those who might still have a relative trapped.

So here is a case in point. I have someone writing from Kosovo who works for the UN saying:

Can you help me? I have a brother-in-law who is trying to stay in a warehouse two blocks from the River in New Orleans. I've lost contact with him by telephone and am trying to get an idea of the water level around his building, and thus how dangerous his situation is.

It's a white two-story warehouse occupying the full block between Royal and Chartres Streets (on the north and south), and Press and Mantegut Strrets (on the west and east; address 2916 Royal St, zipcode 70117-7362).

Its an almost square building with the northeast corner cut out for a small parking lot. The way to locate it on a photograph is that it's on the northside of the Mississippi at the last big bend in the River before it leaves New Orleans, between Mandeville and Louisa Street Wharfs. You'll see a railroad track that runs along the river by Mandeville Street Wharf and then turns inland; the warehouse is a block inland next to the track.

Well that's probably too much information. But if you can get any idea from scanning photographs as to how much water is around the building, it will be very helpful to us in make decisions about what action to take. (I'm in Eastern Europe at the moment and doing what I can from the internet and telephone contacts, but I've gone about as far as I can for now.)

Lets help her. This seems like a case in which someone might potentially be alive, is known to have been at that location, and so conceivably might be rescued. First of all, here is the Google Maps neighborhood view.


On the face of it, things are not looking too good, since it's within the FEMA designated flood area. But how deep is the water? This is a two-story warehouse. Depth matters. It really matters.

Now a look to see what DigitalGlobe thinks. The results are not too bad. DigitalGlobe's image suggests that the building was not flooded at the point where their picture was taken:


Here is the DigitalGlobe shot from further away:


Note that the stain of flooding starts a block away. Water levels apparently vary with the tides and other factors, so it may be flooded at this moment, but it is crucially important that it is in an area where the water is not very deep, if there is any.

How can we make this better? Ideas, please.

A further example: Mike Moore asks in the comments of the previous post,

Flooding status at 6300 Paris Avenue
In Lake Terrace
Corner of Paris and Frankfort Thanks Mike

Here's his visual answer, a screenshot composited from Google Maps & a DigitalGlobe shot:


Definitely flooded, but what does that mean? Four feet? Or 20? If it was 4 yesterday when the picture was taken, is it 20 today at high tide?

Navigation aids

For those new to blogs, here are shortcuts to information about our collaborative maps project:

First of all, my Katrina archive contains all blog posts related to Katrina. The archive page is updated each time I make a new Katrina post, so it would be the best place to bookmark.  On the other hand, it contains many images, so on a dial-up connection it would be slow to load. Also, separately, I have an online album of Katrina map images, Katrina Floods New Orleans, 2005.

As of now, my individual Katrina posts related to maps are:

  1. New Orleans Levee Break(s) Before and After
  2. not too far from filling in the bowl
  3. NASA's First Katrina Before and After Comparison
  4. Google Earth Helps Place the Flow from a New Orleans Neighborhood into the Canal in Context
  5. DigitalGlobe's New Orleans Before and After Images Are Up
  6. How to Find Out if Your New Orleans House Is Under Water
  7. How to Find Out if Your New Orleans House Is Under Water, Part 2: We Really Need to Integrate Topo Maps and Known Water Depths into the System
  8. Escape Routes for Hurricane Victims
  9. Welcome, Forbes and BBC Readers
  10. Associated Press & Digital Globe Make Zoomable New Orleans Satellite Map Available
    Meanwhile, New Orleans Burns
  11. New Orleans: Notes from My Parents
  12. Welcome, New York Times Readers

Also, my sister, Karen Cramer Shea, has been guest-blogging for me while I was away over the weekend. Her posts are:

  1. Lost in Katrina
  2. Rebuilding New Orleans