Hurricane Katrina, one of the largest
and strongest storms on record, caused
massive devastation to New Orleans and surrounding areas in Louisiana,
Alabama and Mississippi. Part of a growing trend, scientists have been
predicting a greater intensity for hurricanes as a result of global
In fact, a study published in the
journal Nature, notes the
accumulated power of hurricanes has more than doubled in the past
30 years. Kerry Emanuel, a climatologist at Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (MIT) and author of the study writes, "My results
suggest that future warming may lead to an upward trend in tropical
cyclone destructive potential and - taking into account an
increasing coastal population - a substantial increase in
hurricane-related losses in the 21st century."
Meteorologists have called Katrina one of the most powerful
storms on record. New Orleans, which sits 10 feet below sea level,
experienced some of the most significant damage, with a storm surge
of 20 feet flooding the city and submerging up to 80 percent of the
buildings and homes.
Adding Insult to Injury
But the danger to New Orleans and surrounding areas isn't over
now that the storm has passed. Following the massive storm surge,
the chemical plants in this part of the country, known as "Cancer
Alley," also flooded, releasing untold amounts of toxic poisons
into the region's waterways and impacting flooded homes and water
supplies as well. Standing water of up to 20 feet in some areas
exposed local homes to toxins such as chlorine, vinyl chloride,
gasoline, and used motor oil.
Tests by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have already
revealed high levels of lead in the floodwaters.
The entire region faces severe air and water pollution. "We're
talking about an incredible environmental disaster," says Ivor van
Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University
In Mobile, Alabama, an oil rig was knocked off its platform by
the storm and slammed into a bridge. It is still too early to
assess the damage to other rigs and underwater pipelines, but
production in the area has been halted, and gas prices around the
nation are soaring as a result. Meanwhile, oil tankers, gas
stations, and refineries damaged by flooding are contributing to
the toxic waste spilling into the region.
Experts have warned about the potential storm risk to New
Orleans for years, and the city's levee system is now only
worsening the impact of the storm, by keeping flood waters inside
the city, with nowhere to drain. The result will be a lake of toxic
chemicals, gas and storm debris. "So, we're looking at a bowl full
of highly contaminated water with contaminated air flowing around
and, literally, very few places for anybody to go where they'll be
safe," according to van Heerden.
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