Why is it flooding in New Orleans

Washington, August 31 - The Almighty, the mayor only says, nobody has the Almighty under control. Ray Nagin, the head of the city of New Orleans, is a very sober, level-headed man. Even now, in the midst of the catastrophe, he tries to remain matter-of-fact and calm. But now that he has to watch his city go under, he has no words. Words that could indicate the extent of the disaster that has struck people.

It is indeed a test of biblical proportions that Hurricane Katrina brought over the city of New Orleans and in general over the coasts of the states Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama along the Gulf of Mexico, over the cities of Gulfport, Mobile and Biloxi and the many small coastal communities, of which often nothing but a single pile of rubble is left.

And when everyone in New Orleans was already hoping on Monday evening that the exam was over, it only came over town with full force. The old, swinging metropolis of the south, the Big Easy, called itself New Orleans. Now there is only dark desolation and sadness over the sunken city.

It was only on the morning after the storm that the extent of the disaster became very clear. Two dikes have broken and can no longer withstand the pressure of the water masses. Lake Pontchartrain, in the north, pours into the streets of the city. Canal Street, otherwise a busy shopping street, has been transformed into a canal.

More than 80 percent of the entire city area has now been flooded. And the water continues to rise. It is easy to find its way to the French Quarter, the oldest and the highest. But Mayor Nagin expects that 100 percent of his southern metropolis will soon be overtaken by the water.

Exhausted Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco announced the complete evacuation of New Orleans, including the shelters, early Wednesday morning. The situation is untenable and heartbreaking, people should pray. There's every reason to believe that New Orleans, on three sides by the water, is below sea level. Huge dykes and gigantic pumps have protected the city - so far.

Swallowed by the hurricane

Experts had known the danger for a long time - there was only no remedy, only the hope that things would always go well, as before. But this time the dikes have broken in two places. And US Army pioneers failed to stuff them. They threw sandbags weighing tons into the gaps by helicopter. But the raging waters enlarged the hole faster than the soldiers could add. In the meantime, consideration is being given to sealing the gaps with sand-filled containers, at least in a makeshift manner.

But so far the water has continued to flow, so that even parts of the city above sea level are flooded. In some places the water is more than six meters high. And the pumps begin to fail.

Only the bridges protrude from the highways that span New Orleans like a spider web. Interstate10, the main artery, has been interrupted and entire driveways have collapsed. Parts of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, one of the longest highway bridges in the world at almost 40 kilometers, have simply disappeared, as if swallowed by a hurricane.

Both city airports are under water. And the rising tide threatens to interrupt the last intact connections to the outside world.

The city council has had to move: New Orleans - or what's left of it - is now administered from the Louisiana capital, from Baton Rouge. Even the newspaper that Times-Picayune, had to give up. On Tuesday an internet edition was published, in the evening the employees were taken out of the flooded editorial office on trucks.

The City Hospital Charity Hospital and the Tulane University Hospital, where they saw themselves prepared for all eventualities on Sunday, also had to be evacuated. The patients in the intensive care unit were flown out by helicopter. Two prisons were evacuated, the inmates sometimes had to wait hours in the sun on streets surrounded by water before they were transferred to other prisons in Louisiana.

And on the other hand, water is becoming increasingly scarce. Tap water, if it is still flowing, is dirty. Faecal matter and industrial sewage have mixed with the flood that has poured over the city. Electricity is only generated by private generators, but diesel is running out for them.

In the concrete bowl

The conditions are now intolerable in the Superdome, the huge football stadium whose roof was badly damaged by the hurricane. The arena was only intended as a shelter for the hours of the storm, now it is the last refuge from the floods for tens of thousands. Nobody really knows how many people are in the concrete bowl.

Governor Blanco spoke of up to 20,000. Mayor Nagin named the number of 12,000 to 15,000 people who camp on the plastic seats and the aisles. The situation was "very difficult" for those trapped, he said after a brief visit to the Superdome, and that should be an understatement.