Hurricane Katrina Feed

A Couple of Items from the Comment Sections

One question that came in today in an email from China this morning is what people in countries far away can do to help. The easy answer is "send money," but given that the US is perhaps the richest country on the planet, that answer does not seem very satisfactory. And the in the grand scheme of things, the problem was never one of money, but of quality of  thought. (This is not necessarily true on a local scale, only on the national scale.) We had money, but it was spent on the wrong things. It may indeed take mountains of money to  get us out of this, but we need a lot of help that money can't buy.

Img_0137German reader Holger Schick made some astute observations in the comment section of the New Orleans Levee post which I wanted to pass along. While in Mt. Kisco, NY, returning from Elizabeth's dentist this morning, I saw the perfect illustration to go with Schick's comment -- this assemblage of suburban assult vehicles -- so I took the photo to the right.

Maybe your President Bush is now willing to deal with the problem of global warming and the effects emission of CO2 is having.

It's 35% of the global energy that is consumed by the US. They are driving cars that are consuming 15 or up to 25 litres per 100 kilometres (in Europe the cars are consuming 8 litres on average).

"Mr. Bush, sign the Kyoto protocol! Make laws to regulated CO2 emissions in your country."

I'm sorry for the people, that have lost their home in the New Orleans area, but in my point of view political maturity and even environmental awareness is actual not existent in the US. Human are responsible for their future for themselves. If we not stop the global destruction of the environment, we and especially our children's children will have to pay the price for it.

I wouldn't say that political maturity and even environmental awareness don't exist in the US, but rather that they are rather hard to find in US policy. And ecocide neither provides for the common defense, nor promotes the general welfare, austensible reasons for the founding of this country as stated in the Declaration of Independence. Schick's general point holds whether you personally think that global warming makes category 5 hurricanes more likely or not and whether you believe in global warming or not. There are plenty of other accidents waiting to happen, and the more we damage the ecosystem, the more there are.

Have Bush & Co. learned this lesson? I doubt it. But perhaps the American public has.

MEANWHILE, Savanna, the woman who was trying to plot an escape route for her family, writes that they were just rescued by FBI agents in a Hummer. Now there is the proper use of a Hummer, not driving to the Pleasantville post office.

PS to German readers: Ich lese und schreibe Deutsch. Wenn Sie nicht auf English schreiben koennen, Sie durfen mich auf Deutsch schreiben.

First Day of School

MiddletownThis is the first day of school for my son Peter, who is going into the third grade. My daughter Elizabeth starts preschool next week. This morning I've got all kinds of school-year related things to do. (The picture to the right was taken yesterday morning in Middletown, CT, on the last day of summer vacation.)

There are many queries in my inbox about the state of flooding at specific NOLA addresses. I will try to get to as many as I can over the course of the day.

My do-it-yourself instructions are in my post How to Find Out if Your New Orleans House Is Under Water. If you can't get the results you need, email me and I'll give it a try when I get a moment.

Can I Go Back to Get My Stuff?

I'm back from my Labor Day weekend travels through Upstate New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut, and am  going through my inbox. I wasn't completely offline, but my internet access was fairly limited while I was out.

Here's New Orleans resident, whose house looks OK to me on the satellite photo:

If the neighborhood appears OK, why can't we just get some things? Is it the roads? I wouldn't stay. But all I have are the clothes on my back.

On the face of it, this doesn't seem like a very good idea. I'm not sure it's even legal, though last night in the 10 minutes of CNN TV coverage I have actually watched, I saw this gal go in with Christian Amanpour, but it may take her press credentials to get you in. (Question to those in the know: Is it legal or even possible to get in? CNN reports that people from Jefferson Parish were allowed back in today. How to interpret that in general is less clear.)

My reader escaped with her life. Why risk it for stuff? (My husband is a book collector. I understand in some detail why someone might want to go back for stuff, even in a dangerous situation.) And the return under these circumstances might be more traumatic than losing all her stuff. I hate to direct her to an agency whose head, several days back, should have been stripped naked except for a large name tag, and lowered slowly through the roof of the Superdome at its worst, but it is probably a better idea to apply to FEMA  for aid. They now have a web page for aid applications at their Individual Assistance Center:

If you have been affected by a disaster you may be eligible for federal assistance. Please select one of two options below: Register for Assistance or Review your Application. For disaster assistance information you may want to read the Applicant Guide, view information about Federally Declared Disasters by Calendar Year, or review support from other available Agencies.             

They also have a phone number for those without computers hooked up to the Internet:

Call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362)                   
The speech or hearing impaired may call (TTY) 1-800-462-7585

What they have to offer those without either Internet access or phone service is not so clear.

And what will come of an application isn't clear. See this August 30th Miami Herald article for details: Skittish FEMA may not assist individuals:

FEMA is giving aid to local governments, but has yet to decide on helping individual storm victims. One reason: criticism that it was overly generous last year.

Presumably they have backed off from the position described in the Miami Herald, but I would love to hear about the results of such applications.

MEANWHILE, CNN reports that "the" levee break has been patched. I presume they mean the biggest levee break.

On Camera Food Distribution "a Completely Staged Event" -- or perhaps not exactly?

In disasters since the invention of the news media, in each era coverage of disasters is highly mediated by the coverage of the most recent war. (I wrote an essay about this once, which I don't have to hand at the moment.) This is the era of "embedded" journalists and media complicity. I can't find words for what to say about this: [UPDATE: note transcript of segment below; two sequences were conflated.]

There was a striking discrepancy between the CNN International report on the Bush visit to the New Orleans disaster zone, yesterday, and reports of the same event by German TV.

ZDF News reported that the president's visit was a completely staged event. Their crew witnessed how the open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of 'news people' had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time.

The people in the area were once again left to fend for themselves, said ZDF.

A city is destroyed, people are dying in vast quantities, and job one for the White House image makers remains to get public opinion off Bush's back. This makes me feel physically ill. I'm not being hyperbolic or metaphorical. It gives me a slight feeling of vertigo, a tension across my forehead, and a feeling in the pit of my stomach like I'm going to throw up.

(Appeared on Laura Rozen's War & Pieces, via Kevin Drum.)

UPDATE: Rivka has tracked it down and found the TV transcript. The story is not quite as reported by Laura Rozen's reader, though it remains repugnant:

Anchor: President Bush also paid the almost completely devastated small town of Biloxi a quick little visit as a part of his tour. Claudia Rueggeberg in Biloxi, how did the citizens react to the visit from the President?

Claudia Rueggeberg: There was a lot of variation. We talked to people here after the visit: one woman said a symbolic visit like that was better than none at all, and it was good that the President was showing his face there and looking at the situation up-close. Others tended to react with desperation. One woman burst into tears and said, full of rage, that the President shouldn't come here, he should finally see to it that help comes. All of the people, his whole entourage, these cars, they should be loaded up with supplies and not with bodyguards, and he shouldn't play the good samaritan here, and a staged visit like this doesn't help. And it actually was the case that all of a sudden this morning helper personnel showed up here, people who cleared away the rubble, who went through the houses in search of bodies, but exclusively along the route where the President traveled. Two hours ago the President left Biloxi again, and all of the helper personnel along with him.

Anchor: We know that President Bush promised quick help. Can that be felt where you are? For example, is there clean water and food?

CR: There's nothing here at all. Aside from what was cleared aside by the helper personnel this morning, the rubble is lying all over the street exactly as it was several days ago after the storm. There are no reasonable provisions; there's an emergency medical station and otherwise nothing. There is a stench of decomposition across the entire city. There are bodies that haven't been covered up in the buildings. Everything has been reduced to rubble, and help--from what we can see here and what others from other cities have also said--isn't coming.

Anchor: Thank you in Biloxi, Claudia Rueggeberg.

(Translation by Idealistic Pragmatist, based on her transcript of the ZDF video.)

Looking at the transcripts, it seems easy enough to figure out what happened. Laura's commenter, who appears to have been reconstructing from memory a news story he'd seen on TV, elided the New Orleans segment (which had Bush speaking at "one of the few" supply distribution points) and the Biloxi segment (which had cleaning crews working only along Bush's route, and disappearing afterward). Combined, these two segments became a story about supply distribution points disappearing after Bush's visit.

That story fit in well with Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu's report that construction equipment had been brought in to the levee for Bush's visit, and then removed again. And it also fit in well with the lefty blogosphere's traditional distrust of the American media ("There was a striking discrepancy between the CNN International report on the Bush visit to the New Orleans disaster zone, yesterday, and reports of the same event by German TV"), and their perceptions that foreign reporters are more likely to get it right.

Thanks, Rivka. This is, I think one of the general problems of television disaster coverage. Viewers are emotionally flooded and take in perhaps not all of the actual information content. The images are constructed in memory at a gut level without giving the viewer easy access to reviewing the information. I have watched all of 10 minutes of actual television coverage of the disaster, since we don't have cable TV and live on the north side of a hill with almost no TV reception. I think this is a real advantage.

Welcome, New York Times Readers

This morning's New York Times has a write-up on a few of us who tried to help people get the information they needed about the state of the homes in the area where Katrina hit hardest:

For Victims, News About Home Can Come From Strangers Online

UPDATE: Welcome also to readers arriving from:

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

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

I think this is only the second time I've made the New York Times. The first time was in October of 1987: My anthology The Architecture of Fear, comprised of architectural horror stories, was featured on the front page of the Home section for Halloween.

PS: And may I also recommend the high quality Katrina discussion and analysis at Making Light, BoingBoing, & Amygdala.

Rebuilding New Orleans

Looking to the future we should consider how to rebuild New Orleans. Some question the wisdom of rebuilding, but permanently relocating 1.4 million people and abandoning a nearly 300 year old city is unlikely. Especially since it is so historically important. Not to mention it IS party town USA. So we might as well start considering how to build a better safer New Orleans since we are going to be starting from close to scratch.

1. What historic things don't we want to keep. Like the Canals, are the canals still useful and are they a good idea in a city with flooding problems?  Also widen narrow roads.

2. Replace flood prone buildings with green space. The lowest lying areas should be reserved for parks, ball fields and green space. New Orleans should have areas for flood waters to go which will not put people or property at risk. Also consider not rebuilding directly next to old levies, a block of green space could reduce property damage considerably.

3. Raise the level of the city. Use rubble as fill and build on top. Large building in low areas should be build with a several floors of parking before the enclosed space starts.

4. All new levies should be rated for a category 5 hurricane.

5. Keep irreplaceable items or non duplicate services out of New Orleans. This is not the place for priceless historic treasures or corporate  headquarters.  Rebuild New Orleans to save as much history as survived and as a tourist destination but this not the place for critical national infrastructure.

6. Rebuild Roads and Bridges for evacuation not normal traffic levels.

7. Also it may be wise to avoid housing the long term disabled in New Orleans. These people are the hardest to evacuate. There is one report of 80 people dead at a nursing home. These people probably make up the majority of the dead. Only people with long term ties with New Orleans or family willing to evacuate them should be housed in long term care facilities in the city.

Continue reading "Rebuilding New Orleans" »

Lost in Katrina

Kathryn is away and asked me to keep blogging on Katrina. I am her sister Karen who usually writes the Lunar Development Weblog. I figured a good place to start is to put the power of the web to use in getting help for those in need who have acess to it. Below are sites which can provide help or help locate family and friends.

Louisiana Government

Red Cross Family Locator


NASA Stennis/ Michoud Employee Contact Board


NOLA.COM Missing Persons


NASA- Katrina

Homeland Security

Craiges List- Katrina

MSNBC -Looking for

MSNBC- Add to Safe List

MSNBC -Safe and Looking for Lists

Continue reading "Lost in Katrina" »

New Orleans: Notes from My Parents

From my father:

Dear Kathryn,

   Hello from Houston.

   Mom saw your blog and wants to know if the St Alphonsus Church [2045 Constance St.] is
OK.  This if the place where my  father was baptized  and which we would
have visited if we had made a trip to New Orleans.



From my mother:



On Constance Street,there are two churches.  One is the oldest Catholic church in Louisiana.  One built by the Irish and one by the Germans. The German church had old wooden sculpture and the original organ was still used.  The other church has beautiful stained glass.

This area is between the French quarter and the water.  The street where grandpa Louis [Lois A. Cramer, my great-grandfather -KC] lived when he was a baby was Tchoupitoulas St., which is parallel and right by the Mississippi and perpendicular to Constance street.

It would have been an interesting area to visit.


I'll check later today.

UPDATE: So I'm on a slow, borrowed computer with a tiny little monitor and so checking things by satellite is much more difficult than on my Mac G5 with two big monitors at home where I have a veritable mansion of screen realestate to work with.  On the other hand, to my complete astonishment, I see that Google Maps has made the job easier by adding a "Katrina" button to New Orleans Google Maps searches. So I typed in 2045 Constance St. and bounced back and forth between the before and after satellite views at various magnifications. If I was at home on my own equipment, I would also check the much more detailed NOAA photos, which would give a much better idea. but I'm not.  So here is my tentative opinion on St. Alphonsus Church. First, I can't really tell which building in the image is the church, so I don't really know what I'm looking at. Secondly, the church appears to be located near the flooding stain so may be in standing water some of the time, but not deep water, most likely. Most importantly, I have a hard time matching up the builings in that block because some of them are missing. I don't know which they are, but there are disturbing absences.

Can anyone do any better?  I would be interested to receive comparative jpegs using different methods to assess this location, since it is an historically significant church and since it would be very useful to be able to compare tactics.

UPDATE 9/16: Using the Microsoft VirtualEarth Katrina site, I got this nice shot. Looks like the church came through pretty well:


Associated Press & Digital Globe Make Zoomable New Orleans Satellite Map Available
Meanwhile, New Orleans Burns

050902_neworleans_blast_hmed_5ah2_1Lis Riba writes in the comments to the previous post:

Just seen over the wires:

The Associated Press is offering Internet access to a satellite image that covers most of New Orleans, detailed enough that viewers can zoom in to check on particular neighborhoods and streets.
The image's resolution is high, at 2.4 meters per pixel. It is posted in a format that allows quick viewing of any area a user zooms in on. Users can quickly see what areas are under water and what structures are still standing.

The initial image was taken Wednesday and supplied by the company DigitalGlobe. AP will offer updated satellite images as as they become available.

The image is available at:

I tried it. It works and will simplify for many  the kind of tasks I was up to yesterday. The NOAA images are better. AP could improve upon this by integrating the much more detailed NOAA images into the interface.

MEANWHILE, New Orleans burns.

For those needing the information, vua Matthew Harris, here are links to scanner feeds with live audio. I have not listened to them myself. (1000 user max) Orig Feed, LAPD/NG *BW Provided by NJ (1000 user max) Fema/etc Feed *BW Provided by NJ ( (1000 user max) Astrodome Huston PD Feed *BW Provided by NJ - All 3 scanner streams (Both NOLA+Astrodome), 4000 slots combined. Astrodome scanner mirror Astrodome mirror2 (1000 listeners max) (1000 listeners max) (200 Slot) (1000 Slot) (located in Europe) (1000 user max aggregate with below) (located in Texas, USA) (1000 user max aggregate with above) (located in Taxas, USA) (32 clients max, located in Columbus, OH, USA) (600 max clients) (located in Dallas, Texas, USA)


Continue reading "Associated Press & Digital Globe Make Zoomable New Orleans Satellite Map Available
Meanwhile, New Orleans Burns" »

Welcome, Forbes and BBC Readers

The Forbes web site has published a rather good article on the various web efforts to use Google Earth and Google Maps to provide more information about the media's disaster images. I am quoted extensively. And just a moment ago, I noticed that the BBC has published a similar, also quite good, article along the same lines.

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

Continue reading "Welcome, Forbes and BBC Readers" »

Escape Routes for Hurricane Victims

They're All Going to Visit Relatives?

Astrodome_fullCNN reports that the Astrodome is full and is not accepting any more refugees.

A reader asked a question a few minutes ago that seems to me a very important one: How can she help plot escape routes out of New Orleans given the information available on the Internet?

Could you direct me to a blog or outline a process whereby I might assist my sister and brother-in-law plan/plot a car route out of NOLA in the next few days?

They are on the "Esplanade Ridge", right below the Fairgrounds, and have not been flooded, thankfully.  I'm trying to keep an eye on the flood levels to be able to inform them from this end (New Jersey).

Which is the best satellite source for monitoring daily levels?

The first post-Katrina satellite maps came out only in the last day or so, so real-time satellite monitoring of flooding is probably out of the question. A really detailed topo map would help, but would work better in combination with access to recent satellite photos that would tip you off to missing infrastructure. I've heard that the water in the city moves with the tides, so tide charts would be helpful: cover lower-lying areas at low tide. Other ideas?

Living Next to the Levee
Also in my email this evening, I got this note and picture:

I just want to say thank-you for posting the Levee Break pictures.

In 1998 I was Director of Telecommunications for Entergy.  I rode out Hurricane Georges in the house located at 6812 Belaire Dr. NOLA.  In the attached picture you can see our backyard being the spot where the Levee broke at the 17th Street Canal.  The picture is oriented with East being the top.  There is either one or two houses complete gone just north of our house.  Directly across the levee is Bucktown to the west which looks now relatively dry, but was flooded during the storm based on other satellite photos.

Today on CNN, they were dropping sandbags directly in our backyard trying to fix the break.  The Levee has been completely built up since we left in 99. You see see the Levee wall is relatively new cement.

It is a terrible tragedy and our thoughts are with all of our friends in Nawlins.


And here is the picture that came with it:



Not the Rapture
To anyone from the Washington Post reading this, can you PLEASE can the moralizing in the photo captions of your otherwise excellent photo galleries?


How can you even consider publishing passages like People who had resisted early evacuation orders, including many elderly and infirm . . . ? Age, infirmity, and poverty are lifestyle choices? This is a natural disaster, not the Rapture.

9/5 UPDATE: Boingboing reports:

The Coast Guard has set up links on its Homeport website so that people can request a rescue for a specific missing or stranded person in the area affected by Katrina.

Wow. That's great. I hope the rescues actually take place if you request one. But that's a huge improvement on the previous situation.

Continue reading "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?

Continue reading "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" »

How to Find Out if Your New Orleans House Is Under Water

IMPORTANT UPDATE, 9/7: There is now a clickable depth map for New Orleans at

Here is my discussion of how to use it in combination with Google Maps to check out your house. Also, my Katrina album has some some more sample images. Furtehr UPDATE: the depth map is now searchable by address.

IMPORTANT UPDATE, 9/17: VirtualEarth's Katrina Flyover  has excellent aerial photos searchable by street address. The interface does not work on all browsers. If you have trouble, see my post describing a workaround.

Another IMPORTANT UPDATE, 9/17: Much more detailed instructions for using Google Earth to check on your house are posted HERE.

The best way to check if a New Orleans address is under water is by using Google Earth and the techniques and overlays created by the Google Earth Current Events Community.  Since GE doesn't have their Mac version out yet, I myself can't do it that way.

UPDATE: Here are the promised Google Earth instructions from our hero Shawn:

1) Install Google Earth
2) Click the NOAA Overlay Link from Google Earth Community BBS
a) Mississippi Coast -
i) Click "Open This Placemark"
ii) Either open file or save to disk and double click.
c) Check the Current Events Board for many more overlays of specific areas.
3) Once overlay is open in Google Earth, Enter your full address in the search field in the upper left corner.   That will center the view on your address.


If you can't or don't want to do it that way, here is a shot-cut.

Step 1: Go to Google Maps and enter the address. Click on the button that says "Hybrid" on the upper right. You will get an image with a speech ballon pointing to a thumbtack showing the location of the address on the satellite photo.
[IMPORTANT UPDATE: Bless their hearts, Google Maps has added a "KATRINA" button to New Orleans areas searchs, so they have automated some of the process I descibe here! Yee haw!]

Step 2: Click up and down the vertical ladder-like bar to see the image at various scales until you feel you can find the place on a satellite image.

Step 3: Compare your image to this superimposition of the FEMA flood map on a New Orleans satellite photo, created by the Google Earth Current Events Community. Here is a small version. Click on it for a much bigger picture.


If the address you are checking is fairly centrally located, you can also check your address image against the DigitalGlobe satellite picture of the flooding.

I hope to post some good Google Earth instructions later. I'll be out for several hours, so if you have some, post 'em in the comments until I get back.

OR PERHAPS I'VE BEEN TO OPTIMISTIC: While I was out driving around Pleasantville a little while ago, a reporter on NPR described all of New Orleans as being flooded. Perhaps she was being hyperbolic. But the more important question for those who need to know about specific addresses in New Orleans may be how deep the water and how swift the current; this all combined with information about the rise and fall of the tides.

BY THE WAY: If you get ahold of Before and After pictures of your house, BE SURE TO KEEP COPIES so you can submit them with your homeowners insurance claims, applications for FEMA aid, and other such. It seems to me that providing physical evidence specific to your address would be likely to expedite claims processing.

DigitalGlobe's New Orleans Before and After Images Are Up

Digitalglobal17thDigitalGlobe has a fine gallery of extremely detailed Katrina satellite photos up, and Shawn points out via email that the busy folks in the Google Earth Current Events Community have already figured out how to used them in Overlays, so you can, for example, superimpose a street grid, to have a good look at what happened to your house or that favorite spot (at least, as of yesterday).

Shawn showed me some extremely useful New Orleans big picture Before and After shots. Unfortunately, the DigitalGlobe usage agreement specifically prohibits publication of altered images without their consent. So I can't show you, but if you can run Google Earth, the overlays these people have come up with should allow you to look up specific places fairly easily. Shawn writes:

DigitalGlobe put out new Sat images a couple hours ago, now a lot people people biting their fingers can look up where they want in GE and see the flooding over a lot of NOLA.

And here's the Overlay as made by GE User Equitus from this forum post:


For a sense of the resolution, note that the big 17th Street levee break is clearly visible toward the bottom right of the sample DigitalGlobe image to the left.

NOTE TO THE FOLKS AT GOOGLE EARTH: Finish your Macintosh version! People need it.

MEANWHILE, the September 1st New York Times editorial begins

George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.

I confess I have been paying almost no attention to Bush's behavior at all. In his "management style," his minions will tell him when he's needed and he doesn't rise to occasions until they do. So I expected very little.

But what has happened to New Orleans seems to me to be rather like a stroke. There is a saying about strokes, TIME IS BRAIN: The longer treatment takes, the more brain damage occurs. Never mind that a "mandatory" evacuation should have provided a plan for the poor to get out, the New Orleans second-round evacuation currently in progress needed to start a lot earlier. The longer it takes, the less infrastrcture there is to do it with. The longer it takes, the more people roast, unrescued, trapped in their attics, or float away when the water gets above the roof, or try to make a break for it and drown.

BUSH UPDATE: Have received scathing reviews for his speech yesterday, Bush tries to do better on Good Morning America this morning, claiming, I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees. See Echidne for further details. I don't have the stomach for it this morning. (Via atrios.)

Continue reading "DigitalGlobe's New Orleans Before and After Images Are Up" »

Google Earth Helps Place the Flow from a New Orleans Neighborhood into the Canal in Context


This is the Google Earth superimposition of this photo I posted yesterday, showing water flowing out of a neighborhood, over the levee at Surekote Rd. and into the canal. (In case you're wondering, those little rectangles are the rooves of houses. The big red rectangles are city blocks.) The Google Earth group working on this has created a number of such superimpositions. I asked Shawn if he could please do the Surekote picture for me. Thanks Shawn.

UPDATE: I've now got an album up of this kind of image: Katrina Floods New Orleans, 2005.

A FURTHER TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCE for the Google Earth users: Shawn writes, via email

Check this one out...

It's a google maps hack, allowing users to add markers with information on the area.

In a fastmoving disaster situation, this looks to be especially useful.

FINALLY (at 11:03 PM), I'm tired and want to go to bed. But Xeni's readers have provided her with more links  over at Boingboing. Goodnight.

Continue reading "Google Earth Helps Place the Flow from a New Orleans Neighborhood into the Canal in Context" »

NASA's First Katrina Before and After Comparison


The images are shown in false color to make water visible against the land. Water is black or dark blue where it is colored with mud, vegetation is bright green, and clouds are light blue and white. The large images provided above provide a broader view of the region. They show flooding along the Mississippi and Alabama coast, particularly around Mobile Bay and parts of coastal Mississippi. The large images are at MODIS’ maximum resolution, but both the August 30 and August 27 images are available in additional resolutions from the MODIS Rapid Response Team.

NASA images courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC

[My husband David points out that their description is confusing. I believe the turquoise blue color is shallow water in the city of New Orleans.] See also their Mississippi and Alabama coastal comparison photo.

And the water has had another 24 hours to rise since that photo was taken.

NASA update 8:48 PM, 8/31: The Washington Post has a NASA simulation using satellite maps of how much of New Orleans disappears under water as water levels rise.

(Via BoingBoing, hat tip to Lis Riba.)

MEANWHILE, there begins to be talk of a death toll in the thousands. (My personal estimate is that this is an event on the scale of the French heat wave in terms of its body count; I'm guessing low five figures.)

"We know there is a significant number of dead bodies in the water," and other people dead in attics, Mayor Ray Nagin said. Asked how many, he said: "Minimum, hundreds. Most likely, thousands."

The frightening estimate came as Army engineers struggled to plug New Orleans' breached levees with giant sandbags and concrete barriers, while authorities drew up plans to clear out the tens of thousands of people left in the Big Easy and all but abandon the flooded-out city.

There will be a "total evacuation of the city. We have to. The city will not be functional for two or three months," Nagin said.

Most of those storm refugees — 15,000 to 20,000 people — were in the Superdome, which had become hot and stuffy, with broken toilets and nowhere for anyone to bathe. "It can no longer operate as a shelter of last resort," the mayor said.

Nagin estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people remained in New Orleans, a city of nearly half a million people. He said 14,000 to 15,000 a day could be evacuated.

In light of the situation, I can't imagine why the current Washington Post headline reads More than 25,000 People to be Evacualted. More? Yeah, I'd say 50,000 - 100,000 is more than 25,000. A whole hell of a lot more. From what planet are they reporting on this story? Perhaps NASA could be persuaded to give them a lift back.

UPDATE 9/7: NASA has more Katrina photos up.

Continue reading "NASA's First Katrina Before and After Comparison" »

not too far from filling in the bowl

Helicopter_1Where to begin? How are they going to evacuate the people still in New Orleans? (Transporter beams? Scottie, where are you when we need you? In military helicopters? The caption to the Times-Picayune photo to the left reads, Acadian Ambulance workers rush two small children from a Louisiana National Guard helicopter as they were evacuated from the Superdome. Story problem: there are 20,000 people in the stadium. Oh, never mind.) The current plan for evacuating the stadium, according to an MSNBC story from a few minutes ago, seems to be this:

With the city still flooding after levees failed, officials on Wednesday made plans to bus the 25,000 evacuees at the Superdome and other shelters to Houston's Astrodome. . . .

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said everyone still in the city, now huddled in the Superdome and other rescue centers, needs to leave. She said she wanted the Superdome evacuated within two days. . . .

Houston officials later said those evacuees would be sent via 475 buses to the city's Astrodome. The stadium's schedule was cleared through December to make it available.

How many are there left? Let's see: a city of 1.3 million people; 1 million flee. How many remain? Or let's say the city was 90% evacuated. How many remain? And how will they know when they've got them all?

And about those broken levees: How are they going to fix them with so much water rushng through? I spent last week at the beach, so every time I think about plans I heard about involving sand, I keep thinking of a small child trying to fix a damaged castle in the face of the rising tide. I gather there is some new plan involving lots of cement blocks that are on trucks somewhere enroute.

And what if the levees can't be fixed? Was that perhaps the thought behind Governor Blanco's remark that some of those taking refuge in and now trapped in the stadium "do not have any regard for others”? That perhaps it would be okay if only the Good were saved?

Yesterday, some of us noticed that in some photos water seemed, incomprehensibly, to be flowing out of a neighborhood and into the canal. The explanation, which I came across this morning is chilling. If you can stand it, read the whole thing:

Flooding will only get worse by Mark Schleifstein, Times-Picayune staff writer

The lake is normally 1 foot above sea level, while the city of New Orleans is an average of 6 feet below sea level. But a combination of storm surge and rainfall from Katrina have raised the lake's surface to 6 feet above sea level, or more.

All of that water moving from the lake has found several holes in the lake's banks - all pouring into New Orleans. Water that crossed St. Charles Parish in an area where the lakefront levee has not yet been completed, and that backed up from the lake in Jefferson Parish canals, is funneling into Kenner and Metairie.

A 500-yard and growing breach in the eastern wall of the 17th Street Canal separating New Orleans from Metairie is pouring hundreds of thousands of gallons of lake water per second into the New Orleans area. Water also is flowing through two more levee breaches along the Industrial Canal, which created a Hurricane Betsy-on-steroids flood in the Lower 9th Ward on Monday that is now spreading south into the French Quarter and other parts of the city.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin warned Tuesday evening that an attempt to plug the holes in the 17th Street Canal had failed, and the floodwaters were expected to continue to rise rapidly throughout the night. Eventually, Nagin said, the water could reach as high as 3 feet above sea level, meaning it could rise to 12 to 15 feet high in some parts of the city.

Louisiana State University Hurricane Center researcher Ivor van Heerden warned that Nagin's estimates could be too low because the lake water won't fall quickly during the next few days.

And then there's this bit from another Time-Picayune story:

With solid water from the lake to the French Quarter, the inundation and depopulation of an entire American city was at hand.

"Truth to tell, we're not to far from filling in the bowl," said Terry Ebbert, the city's director of homeland security. The waters were still rising at 3 inches per hour, and eventually could move close to the French Quarter levee.

In the media hype leading up to landfall, there was the illusion that other than those performing essential functions, anyone else left in New Orleans was either tucked away in the stadium or was a French Quarter drunkard. The quantity of media reports of people needing to be rescued from their houses tells a different story. Do they even know how many people stayed behind?

MEANWHILE, I see from earthhopper's photogallery on Flicker that Shawn's Google Earth initiative is yeilding fruit (and this presumably overnight):


The second one seemed to be attributed to "Mickey" on the Google Hacks site. I don't have any attribution for the other one. I would also appreciate descriptive details from those who have them.

UPDATE: Shawn tells me a group attribution for a group of about nine Google Earth users is in order. (I presume the poster, dOLLYLLAMA also deserves credit.)

New Orleans-Mississippi-Flood/Damage Compilation

New Orleans Flood Damage
~A collection of overlays, placemarks and photos, by various contributors.

~Check video link

thanks:Modest baggydog Shawn_McBride drew10dall vyruss equitus jay_babin,johnmora,mwarren,reuters,AP
If i forgot to mention please forgive, I wanted to get this out fast.


Continue reading "not too far from filling in the bowl" »

New Orleans Levee Break(s) Before and After

[Preface, September 12th, 2005: It is now nearly two weeks since this blog post was begun. In its initial draft it was quite short. As more information came in, it was revisied, corrected and expanded on the fly. Some of the information may be out of date. -KC  9/23: For info in the new breaches, see New Orleans Area in Trouble from Rita Storm Surge. -KC]

I'm probably violating all kinds of copyrights here, but since I haven't seen it elsewhere, here is that levee in New Orleans before and after the break (or at least a levee before & after). Note that the expanse of water in the after picture was formerly (or perhaps currently) occupied by houses.

The first picture comes via Matthew Harris's Flickr account, extracted from Google Earth. [SEE CORRECTED IMAGE w/ BREAK IN A DIFFERENT PLACE FURTHER DOWN THE PAGE.]


The second comes via a comment in Making Light and originates at the URL, beyond which I don't know its provenance.


I don't guarantee that these are actually the same spot, because of the vagaries of all this. There are some differences in the buildings, but I don't know when the Google Earth picture was taken.

UPDATE: At Making Light, David Bell comments

Looking at Kathryn's pictures, the red-roofed building is very prominent on the Google Earth imagery, by the north end of the canal. It's on the lake shore. In the background haze you can see the high-rise buildings of the city centre. And the trees and the buildings on the opposite side of the canal are good landmarks on Google Earth.

30d01m07s N 90d07m17s W

And that looks like a 200-foot breach, similar width to the canal.

So the marked breach on the one photo may not be the same as the other. Is there more than one? I'm on a Mac so I can't get at Google Earth.

(Additional aerial photo references appreciated.)

FURTHER UPDATE: in the comments a fellow named kevin has accomplished what I haven't. He has gotten me a corrected "before" shot. I have them from Google Maps and GlobeXplorer, but couldn't seem to either link to them, or get copies. (They're too clever for the likes of me.) I had my digital camera in my lap all ready to take pictures of my screen, when his link arrived.  Thanks, kevin!


The question that remains is what the Harris picture represents. Is it the breach that was reported earlier?

(Web collaboration is a beautiful thing.)

Matthew Harris clarifies his breach picture, saying, Note these images are not current they are from older aerial photos that have been superimposed with graphics, they are for illustration purposes only. There are two breaches:


He has a second, closer, "Before" picture:


Via email, Mark Bernstein points out that it is being reported that the I-10 Bridge has been destroyed. Here's a Before shot, taken with my digital camera pointing it at my LCD monitor. Anyone got an After pic?


And here's the Houston Chronicle write-up:

Portions of the Interstate 10 high-rise bridge over the mouth of Lake Pontchartrain, east of New Orleans and south of Slidell, have collapsed. Some sections of the I-10 twin span — a lifeline between the south and north shores of Lake Pontchartrain — are missing; others have shifted position but are still standing.

"We know that the I-10 twin span has blown over, is no longer with us," said Mark Smith, spokesman for the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Here's an AP photo of the state of the bridge. The car is the same one as in the CNN video. Watching the CNN video a couple of times, it looks like something is flopped over the steering wheel, though you can't see into the car from this angle. (Follow the link for a crisper image.
This is from the Times Picayune, where I finally did get their slide-shows to work.



An Afterthought: we blog-folk are doing this by the seat of our pants and actually getting somewhere. But as Xeni Jardin asks, "media evacuates, there is no grid, damage map?" Why do you see this attempt here and not on the CNN of MSNBC site?

This isn't a disaster movie. It's real. People care about specific people in specific places. They want to understand precisely where the water is 20 ft. deep, where the water is coming in. Many, many people have very specific, individual relationships to this city. The specifics we are being given just don't cut it. If I can look this stuff up, why don't they?

St Bernard's Parish, via dipdewdog on Flickr, provenance unknown, though it looks like a news photo:


Here is what I gather is roughly the same area from Google maps (again, via my digital camera. Anyone know how to do screen shoots in Tiger? [8/31 UPDATE: I've been given much helpful advice. Thanks.]).


[9/2: A Google Earth image for comparison is available in the album, thanks to Scott Sherris.]

Returning to the subject of breached levees, here is another photo from Flickr, this one posted by darrelf, again of unknown provenance, though it looks like a news photo. His caption reads, New Orleans, LA -- notice the water coming over the levee at the bottom.


Peter Trei notes that this break in an MSNBC graphic is not one of the ones we've been talking about, but is instead at 30 01' 12.39" N 90 04' 14.72" W ( decimal: 30.020108° -90.070756°).


I'm trying to get a good Before Satellite photo to position it. UPDATE: Trei has helped me out and sent me a couple:


He remarks:

The front page shows a breach about 150 feet long. I've managed to identify the location in Google Earth, based on the shapes of the houses. . . . Google earth shows that this is on a different canal than the others - its on the west side of the London Avenue Outfall Canal, opposite Pratt Street, a few houses south of the bridge carrying Robert E Lee Blvd.

In a subsequent email, Trei point out this MSNBC picture, which I think is of the same break as the image I got from darrelf, about which he says:

This one appears to be a highly foreshortened view of the bridge the carries State Hwy 39 over the short canal connecting the river and the Main Outfall canal.

The breach appears to be at opposite Jourdan Ave, near N Roman Street, at about 29 58 12.48 N    90 01 24.64 W

The thing I don't understand is that the water in this photo seems to be flowing  INTO the canal.



Here is a hybrid sat photo street map, also courtesy of Peter Trei, showing the location:


The governor has announced a complete evacuation of New Orleans, for obvious reasons.

MEANWHILE, a post-apocalypse SF novel plays itself out. This is from the Times Picayune (via email from Mark Bernstein).

Law enforcement efforts to contain the emergency left by Katrina slipped into chaos in parts of New Orleans Tuesday with some police officers and firefighters joining looters in picking stores clean.

At the Wal-Mart on Tchoupitoulas Street, an initial effort to hand out provisions to stranded citizens quickly disintegrated into mass looting. Authorities at the scene said bedlam erupted after the giveaway was  announced over the radio.

While many people carried out food and essential supplies, others cleared out jewelry racks and carted out computers, TVs and appliances on  handtrucks.

Some officers joined in taking whatever they could, including one New Orleans cop who loaded a shopping cart with a compact computer and a 27-inch flat-screen television.

Officers claimed there was nothing they could do to contain the anarchy, saying their radio communications have broken down and they had no direction from commanders. . . .

Inside the store, one woman was stocking up on make-up. She said she took comfort in watching police load up their own carts.

“It must be legal,” she said. “The police are here taking stuff, too.”


The caption on begins, President George W. Bush is handed a map by Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin.

Shawn in the comments is really onto something, figuring out a way to superimpose media images on Google maps:


Finally -- because I plan to go to bed shortly -- here is a photo from the Washington Post showing the flood waters rising around the stadium which, as far as I know, still has 10,000 people in it.


4:38 AM, 8/31: Shawn writes via email,

The google earth community is really flowing with people matching up arial photos to the levee breaks. There's one group of people setting up an auto updating google earth file. I placed all of the good ones I found at

You need Google Earth to be able to use the files he's posted there.

For more images, see my subsequent post. The superimposed images are toward the bottom.

NOTE 8/31 at 3:36 PM: the fist NASA comparison satellite photos are in.

9/1: CNN has an interesting animation/video of how the levees broke.

PS: If you are trying to make a comment and it gets rejected, email it to me at kathryn.cramer at


Continue reading "New Orleans Levee Break(s) Before and After" »

A Windfall Kite, Mass Pike Sunday Drivers, & the Oncoming Storm

Img_0042Here is a photo I took yesterday morning  returning to our motel from the beach in Marshfield, Massachusetts. Before heading home, I got the kids up at 7AM, so we could go to the beach one last time.  It was high tide, but almost immediately we found a kite. The string was stretched a long way down the beach, and at the end of the string was a wet, but flyable, Dragon Ball Z kite.  I shot this picture as we were carrying our windfall kite back to the motel just before changing clothes and checking out. This is the beach where David's grandfather built a beach house in about 1910 which remained in David's family until the 1970s, so it is the beach where David spent summers as a child. We stayed over on our way back from Maine.

So now we're home in this final week of summer before school starts. Taking stock when we got home yesterday after a long grueling drive back from Massachusetts, it began to appear that New Orleans was in significant danger of being wiped out by the incoming hurricane.

Img_0067Looking at the photos of long lines of cars streaming out of New Orleans, I was reminded of our midday experience on the Mass Pike: Here are a few Mass Pike pictures. There was some kind of huge accident west of the Millbury exit, so the Pike was closed in both directions. This set the stage for some really appalling behavior on the part of frustrated drivers. I honest to God saw someone pull out onto the shoulder of the road and cut off an ambulance with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Here are the cars driving in the breakdown lane next to a guard rail, cutting off access for emergency vehicles, and the cop car and the car it was trying to escort. Most drivers behaved themselves, but there was a significant contingent that seemed mostly unconcerned with getting out of the way of emergency vehicles that were trying to reach the accident. There were scores of minor accidents as cars jostled each other in the bumper-to-bumper traffic. From the radio coverage, I gather that the traffic jam was ultimately resolved by the arrival of a Medvac helicopter. We didn't see the actual accident site.

I wish I'd thought to get out my video camera to tape the scene of a frustrated cop trying to escort a couple in a visibly damaged car off the  highway. He got out of his car and rapped on the window of the car in from of him twice. And he also went to one of the cars trying to tag along, put his hands on his hips and asked "Why are you following me?" I didn't hear the driver's reply.

Img_0069I hope the Louisiana drivers were more considerate of each other than the people I witnessed yesterday. 

And so now, a hurricane, a huge hurricane. Lucky me, we don't have cable TV. So I don't have the opportunity to subject myself to endless looping anxiety as CNN covers the story with way too little data because it would be potentially lethal to do the usual coverage. My first words to David this morning were "Well, New Orleans isn't gone yet."

My great-grandmother, Agnes Gleason Cramer, died and was buried somewhere in New Orleans in about 1908; we don't know where. She died when my grandfather was 10 months old, as I understand it from complications from childbirth. So my grandfather never knew his mother. A few years ago, we established that the family seemed to have no copies of her picture. Last night, I had a dream that her bones were floating out to sea.