24 hours ago things didn't look all that bad along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts, but that was only because communication with the hardest hit areas was completely out. When dawn broke today, and rescue crews began to move in full force, the sheer magnitude of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina became frighteningly apparent. Some are now calling the storm the worst natural disaster in the nation's history.
While everyone had been worried over the weekend about New Orleans, that city missed (at least initially) the worst of what Katrina had to offer. It was the cities of Gulfport and Biloxi in neighboring Mississippi that took the brunt of the storm's fury, and the death toll there may not be known for days. Those were also the communities that were decimated by Camille in 1969.
Damage extends even further to the east into Alabama. As the waters recede in coastal areas there, they are revealing bare concrete slabs where homes once stood.
Of additonal concern for the entire country is that the Gulf of Mexico normally accounts for about one third of our domestic oil production. However, 95% of that capacity has been lost for the time being, and it's unclear how long it will be until everything is back up and running. Even the pipelines that run up to the northeast are shutdown at the moment.
Yesterday Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said "I can't say that I feel that sense that we've escaped the worst, she said. "I think we don't know what the worst is right now."
As it turns out, she was only too right.
This morning two levees holding the waters of Lake Pontchartrain were breached, and the city of New Orleans--which had survived the initial storm relatively intact--began to flood. Authorities have been dropping 3000 pound sandbags into the breach, but that is not expected to much good. With so much of the city located several feet below sea level, this is the worst news possible.
One hospital has already been forced to move its patients to the Superdome, which now holds an estimated 30,000 people. But conditions inside are becoming increasingly more miserable. The air conditioning failed along with the power early yesterday, and now floodwaters have begun covering the playing field.
As a result, Blanco has ordered the city evacuated. But with the rising waters and impassable roads, it's not clear how that will be accomplished. The remaining residents, however, may not be eager to leave since they're busy looting. What they plan to do with their new found wealth is unclear, since most of them no longer have homes in which to store the goodies.
In the meantime, rescue efforts continue, often with helicopters plucking people from their rooftops. What is not known, and what may tragically not be known for some time, is how many more people remain trapped inside their attics, unable to summon help even as floodwaters continue their relentless rise.