August 31st 2005 - updated down the page -  Latest: MAY 10th 20108

The Mississippi River, 3,779 km (2,348 mi) long, is the second longest river, after the Missouri, in the United States. Its triangular drainage area, covering about 40% of the country and including all or part of 31 states, is approximately 3,250,000 sq km (1,250,000 sq mi), the third largest in the world.
The Mississippi enters the Gulf of Mexico about 160 km (100 mi) downstream from New Orleans, through a 26,150-sq km (10,100-sq mi) delta. Because almost 550 million metric tons (500 million U.S. tons) of sediment are deposited annually, the delta extends about 91 m (300 ft) each year.

It must have been about 1990 I attended a meeting of the AAAS in New Orleans to talk about extending the Internet to Russia and learned the above facts about the Mississippi, which shocked me. I spent more time talking in the bar about the vulnerability of the land in the river valley and of the city of New Orleans than about penetrating the Iron Curtain with data networks and systems to discuss (as a priority) greenhouse gases and climate change. In 1993 the Mississippi flooded badly once again and many people along its banks who had survived previous inundations gave it up as a no-win situation.

Katrina was no greater in wind-speed than the other severe hurricanes of recent times, but its size and the track it took left New Orleans with no defense from a pincer attack from the skies, the sea and then from the river which would catch the torrential rain. As if this was not enough, the city is below the level of the river to the west and the lake to the east and the sea,  so cannot drain naturally.  The situation will deteriorate.

The death toll is moderate by disaster standards thanks to the evacuation, but the recovery is going to be hard and the dangers of disease are now severe. It will pose a huge challenge to the region and to America. That this has occurred is, nevertheless, not in the least surprising. Many will wonder if the rebuilding of the town should not be based on a reassessment of the risks and how to mitigate them. The same town in the same place will be subject to the same or worse dangers in the future. [See entry for Augut 27 2008]

You may know the story of the man who, towards the last decades of the 20th century, decided the world was becoming dangerous, politically, morally and biologically, so he took his family (I think they were in Canada) to a place where he thought they would be far away from all that - the Falkland Islands. OK, he was particularly unlucky, but the principle stands: we can't all rush for safe places and high ground or shelter. We each have to assess the costs, benefits and risks of what we do and where we live and work and if, when, where and how we bring children into the world.  If our environment is unsuitable, we must adapt to it, or change it, or move elsewhere, or stop breeding. It's not yet rocket science.
JB - AUG 31 2005

Addendum 01:00 Sept 1st: President Bush has just described the situation as a natural disaster. If he considers maintaining a city below sea level, at the choke point of a river draining most of the United States, in a region where hurricanes strike regularly, while ignoring the effects of climate change and continuing with an industrial and social policy that has probably contributed to it more than the rest of the world, to be 'natural', then I beg to differ. This was a man-made disaster from every perspective.

SEPTEMBER 1st 2005
In view of what we are hearing today from a range of people in America and elsewhere, in New Orleans and outside it, I have come to the reluctant conclusion that Hurricane Katrina was a very good thing. It hurts me to say that. As an American as much as anyone (I was recently reminded my maternal Great Great Grandfather was Vice President - the youngest as it happens - and a Great Grandfather on the other side invented the Tuxedo), I am not about to abandon just yet the proposition that 'there is nothing wrong with America that can't be cured by what's right with America'. But when I hear about the call for massive deliveries of toothpaste to the beleaguered areas (we had the same crap in Indonesia) I realise it is necessary for some even bigger catastrophes before the world is going to wake up. I have not brushed my teeth since 1960, when I discovered it was just one of the thousands of very bad ideas that together would bring humanity to the state it is now in, facing the economic nonsense and environmental issues it now mistakes for problems not of its own making. Now we have a man complaining he hasn't had a bath for 3 days. I haven't had a bath or a shower for a month, and don't need one. The more people wash, the more they need to wash to stay clean and not pong - mind you, eating and drinking properly and taking the right exercise helps a lot.

It is hard to choose between the stupidity of people on the spot (I include some of our TV reporters) who do not understand why help cannot instantly arrive (no communications, no fuel, roads blocked, no infrastructure, huge distances to cover by ships bringing aid) and the stupidity of the authorities who do not appear to have anticipated these events. These are lessons that America and the world needs to learn. Katrina, I repeat, was a very good thing. Good for America and good for the world. A woman screaming she hadn't eaten for 5 days had enough fat on her to live comfortably for another 3 weeks without food, but would admittedly need some water.

I have to say I was glad, at the end of today's report by Jon Snow on UK's Channel 4 from the heart of the devastation, to see the smile wiped off his face and hear his admission that for some reason his imagination is defective, and only by going there could he appreciate the level of catastrophe and what it means to have lost everything. Some of us can imagine it only too well. We can also imagine the difficulties facing those who set out immediately to bring in task forces to take care of the absolute priorities:
When a surrounding area with all communications and power, about the area of England, has been 'taken out', it takes some time before you can make even a dent on the above priorities, or even one or two. They all had to be done at once. Yet all the fool reporters from every network could do for days was to wonder why it was not all happening immediately. Reporters take it for granted people can always 'set up a meeting' and then attend it. Try doing that with no communications, power or transport. You don't even know where anyone is, or if they are even alive, or on their way to find you.

Although the failure to prevent the flooding of New Orleans over the last decades was neglect bordering on the criminal by the Federal and State governments, and no doubt confusion between the roles and responsibilities different states and federal agencies caused problems, media reporters have evidently absolutely no idea of the time it takes to assemble alternative arrangements and task forces when all the local services are knocked out, and to get them in when the bridges are down. It is easy to fly in a smart-arse correspondent, but to repair the levees, keep order and get food and water to those trapped in New Orleans takes many days. To do them all at once is impossible. I am glad Bush is getting it in the neck, but not the rescuers.

02:00 am BST 3rd September - American TV is still churning out rubbish like "It is clear we were not prepared in this country for a major disaster" . I have news for these pea-brains; it is not possible, almost by definition, to be prepared for a major disaster. Why do we have to have the mathematically and logistically illiterate given a free hand, day in and day out, to induce hysteria in the population. "We could bring aid to Bangladesh, why not New Orleans?" Of course these nuts think that when they take aid to Bangladesh that it reaches every little bunch of Bangladeshis, all over their country, in a couple of days, as they do not have reporters standing around every bush to hold a mike next to those who would be able to say they had never seen any aid at all, let alone only 5 days late.

On BBC 24 Matt Frei seems incensed that the Police nearby were not doing anything for people waiting for food and water. What should they do? They do not have any themselves. God knows what we will hear from American and British reporters and population if we ever get a real catastrophy on this planet - with any luck it will wipe out the broadcasters and we will get some peace from these useless bores.

The media continue to pour out their absurd relation of complaints about the speed of the rescuers.

But at last, on BBC Radio 4 this morning with the Thought for Today (from some excellent cleric whose name I forget), we have had somebody on the BBC talk sense about the problems in New Orleans.

Up till now the correspondents on the spot and the comments of presenters in the UK have varied form the pathetic to the offensive, all betraying an ignorance of reality that comes more and more to typify journalists the word over. Although they travel the world at our expense and often put themselves in harm's (and soldiers') way, and others of them at home have access to a near infinite store of information, this seems to bring them no nearer to any real understanding of the world of people who have to actually DO things rather than observe and write about it. They have not the slightest idea of why certain things can or cannot be done within a certain time-scale, or budget, administrative or political or physical situation. Their questions are like those of children, unimaginative and spoiled children at that.

The mistakes that led to the tragedy of New Orleans and environs were not made by the rescuers or the foreign embassies or even the people who may have advised the UK embassy not to send people in (they were almost certainly right to tell everyone not part of a growing official task force to stay right out of it). The mistakes were made by the officials, locally, state-wide and federal who had allowed this vulnerable situation to develop without making it crystal clear, to all the public involved, the risk that they ran. This risk has been perfectly obvious for may years and growing annually in spite of attempts to strengthen levees from time to time..

Of course George Bush carries some blame for that. Of course his skills at convincing people that he has the slightest clue of how anything 'works' or how people live (even if and when he does), are zero. But that does not alter the truth that those who were on the spot where it happened were damned lucky to get the help they did as soon as they did, and the help they are now going to get will be more. I wish I could say they deserved it, but they don't. If they had been prepared to elect a government (state and federal) that would have prevented this happening it would be another story, but they were not. Nor will they have learned their lesson now. People never do. Their state of mind is fostered daily by the media who have only one agenda, to sell newspapers or pedal some half-baked political agenda. The BBC seems to be busy suggesting that foreign policy (mistaken or not) should have been abandoned in case there was a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.  As for British citizens who think their embassy should have sent people in to rescue them, the answer is no. The action to take when a hurricane approaches a place like that is, if you can't get out despite warnings, go to the safest place you can and wait for rescue. Be prepared to wait a week at least.

This evening the BBC's Ben Brown has joined the moron's chorus, repeating "How can it be, in the richest country in the world, these people can be left abandoned?" or words to that effect. How can it be, with the most famous broadcasting company in the world, we have to put up with this degree of ignorance amongst their reporters. Worse still, back on the home front, the excellent Andrew Marr has been replaced as chief political correspondent by one of the really irritating TV clones who's contrived manner of speaking and cliche'd thinking is enough to make one reach for the off switch.

Now we have further evidence of the incomprehension of our media commentators. There will be an official enquiry into what went wrong and what went right with the Federal and Regional emergency planning and rescue operations.  President George W Bush will head the enquiry. This is the first sensible decision he has taken for some time. He has certainly had nothing to do with any of the preparations or the lack of them, or the carrying out of rescue operations. There is no reason why he should, being clearly not of a mind to understand these things other than in general terms, in hindsight, of their effectiveness. As President, this is one job he can do. He can have universal access to all people and all documents, and the closest personal involvement he could have had is having signed a piece of paper to approve the appointment of someone on the recommendation of others. Yet the media commentators, almost without exception, have sneered at his taking charge of the enquiry and assumed it will, therefore, not get to the truth. How wrong, as usual, they are. This may be Bush's finest hour - and by God he could do with one. He has certainly started off on the right foot by taking the job himself, as it is pretty certain nobody else would have accepted it. He will find it extremely difficult, since at the end he will have to sign off the conclusions. It is possible that he will not hold himself responsible for anything other than presiding over an incompetent administration. How could any of his aides or departments of state have bothered the President with the hypothetical arrival of a force 5 Hurricane which demolishes the levees at New Orleans and takes out the states round it? They were already busy on non-hypothetical business.  The only elephant in the room will be if GWB cancelled a programme that was already in course to deal with that problem, and that he will not be able to hide if it is true. They did after all have 20 years warning.

This evening Jeremy Paxman salvaged some of the BBC's reputation with a well chaired discussion with credible and knowledgeable participants. Further clarification in due course may lead to enlightement.

To deal with the pollution problems caused around New Orleans we will need some advanced thinking and technology. I am sure this thinking will rise to the occasion. There are some extraordinary ideas in the pipeline based on the properties of nature from the tiniest diatoms to the largest oceans.  This disaster may give the chance and the impetus to develop them. Even though the disaster was man-made, Katrina was a natural phenomenon. One main function of natural phenomena should be getting clearer these days to even the sleepiest intelligence. Run the clock back to what we mistakenly call the Big Bang, and with the knowldge we now have run it forward in the mind's eye. That's natural phenomena. In a tiny part of it, where we are, that's natural phenomena too, based on certain properties that apply throughout the whole. These events force change on life, at whatever level it has reached. At the stage we are now, only technology can deal with global warming and pollution. THere is no way we can do it by just trying to pollute less and reduce carbon dioxide by improving efficiency and moving towards less polluting cars and energy generation, even though that must be done as well. Where George Bush was right about Kyoto is that is just drop in the ocean, vastly greater measures must be taken. Where he was wrong was not to sign up for the same targets as Kyoto in the interim, thereby setting an example for the world. Going for the Kyoto targets would not have harmed the US economy unless the measures taken were the wrong ones.

So, the head of FEMA has been replaced, in respect of the job now to be done in the disaster area. That makes sense as it is now a different job. It may well be he made some mistakes. It may be he was not qualified for the job. But even if he had made no mistakes it would not have made any significant difference to the outcomes. The mistakes were made long before and shortly before the hurricane. A breach of the levees was not an acceptable risk, and dealing with the result in a satisfactory way was never possible. Federal government, Democrats* and Republicans, State and Local are all to blame in different ways so passing the buck is absolutely pointless. The buck however stops, as ever, with the incumbent President. That there were thousands of people living in poverty in a drug-ridden, crime-ridden culture was not a healthy state of affairs. The theory that these people could make their own way out of their social predicament without a disaster is as faulty as a theory they could make their way out of their physical predicament in a disaster. Lecturing the Chinese on human rights comes badly from the mouths of those who close their eyes to the situation in their own ghettos and prisons.

Tony Blair is said to have accused the BBC of deliberate anti-americanism in their coverage of the Katrina-New-Orleans events covered above. I think this is probably incorrect, the inability of the BBC's correspondents to understand the limits of immediate local and federal response to the disaster was based on nothing but ignorance..

What will be the cost of Katrina? Accountancy is a subtle art.
On the one hand....
Mon Sep 19, 4:03 AM ET

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Economic damage inflicted on the U.S. economy by Hurricane Katrina is likely to be modest, making the case for huge government aid questionable, said Glenn Hubbard, who is cited as a possible candidate to head the U.S. Federal Reserve

and on the other:
The U.S. government already has provided $62.3 billion in special funding and some lawmakers estimate the final price tag could be $150 billion to $200 billion.

I wonder how much of that estimated $150 to 200 billion estimated by the lawmakers is lawyer's fees.

*One thing is becoming clearer. Over the years, the measures to protect New Orleans devised by Democratic Party administrations starting with Jimmy Carter have been successively scuppered by Republican administrations. They have to be held to account.

New Orleans has suffered again, this time from Hurricane Rita. Perhaps it was good to get it over with as quickly as possible before more people had returned and now the hurricane season can move towards its end. But once again we see something disturbing. If you ask the inhabitants of a city the size of Houston to leave by road transport (most who have cars and trucks would not want to leave any behind), the first thing you would obviously have to plan for is special provision of fuel along the routes they will take, and very special traffic control and breakdown facilities. That is elementary. Yet either it was not done, or the planning was done by inadequate people with inadequate powers.  The only conclusion one can draw is that in times of peace and non-emergency on the soil of the USA, no thought is given to  the maintenance of structures of local and federal government to deal with the breakdown of the systems on which life in the fast lane is now lived.  Why, for instance, do high voltage electrical lines have no systems to protect transformers against the consequences of short circuits causd by the storms. Fires have been started and a lot of electrical equipment needlessly destroyed. Are supporters of Edison (whose ignorance and obstruction prevented the implementation of alternating current for years) still in such a sulk about Nikolai Tesla (rightly called the inventor of the 20th Century) that they refuse to get involved in updating their technology?

Today we have the unedifying spectacle of American politicians trying to publicly blame Michael Brown, ex head of FEMA, more than anyone else and particularly themselves, for the failure to evacuate New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina. The impression that is being reinforced about the USA is that it is federally governed by frightened people, and that their fear at this stage is the product of ignorance. It is hard to speculate if knowledge and understanding would render these people more or less fearful, and in the absence of better education or a wider experience of the realities of life on planet earth, we are unlikely to find out. What's needed now is practical help. People to contact:

OCTOBER 6th 2005
Insurance claims for Katrina have already reached 34.4 billion, making it the most costly disaster in US history. The total damage will presumably exceed that by a considerable amount. $200 Billion has been mentioned. Glenn Hubbard's contention that  "Economic damage inflicted on the U.S. economy by Hurricane Katrina is likely to be modest" is presumably  based on the idea that the money coming into circulation to meet these claims will boost the economy even though its withdrawal from interest bearing accounts or direct shares may have an adverse effect. The Federal Govenment will fund much of it out of general taxation. Some funds may of course miraculously appear from untraceable sources, encouraged by the demand for services associated with rebuilding. I still think it would have been sensible, in view of the inevitability of this disaster, to have spent state and federal funds on a serious upgrading of the flood defenses of New Orleans, which will have to be done now anyway. It is lose-lose economic management in spades. Even if economic activity is kept going, there is going to be a massive budget deficit, a bill for future generations and in the meantime big borrowing on the world markets. Spending cuts in other areas will be extremely unpopular and difficult to get through congress. The bottom line is the Republicans are in big trouble, brought on their own heads.

So, according to UK's Channel 4 TV, there were no rapes, no shootings, the murder rate actually fell, yet hysterical reporting blighted the rescue effort and even caused FEMA to withdraw their forces at one point.  The planning at local level showed a major lack of imagination.  Communications were so bust that the main hospital was being reported as having been evacuated when this had not even started. They ran out of water and oxygen but even then the only two deaths there was one expected and the other only marginally adanced due to the circumstances.  Ambulances had actually been standing by for three days, waiting for the evacuation plan to be finalised. With hindsight that looks wrong, but was it?  The TV reporting pressure caused those appearing on TV to call for reports and statistics. This wasted the time of rescuers who had to make lists of statistics of people moved and aid delivered.  Complaints that people were not being evacuated caused excessive efforts to remove those not really at risk. Reports of violence and looting caused unnecessary military operations. Many private initiatives succeeded where government had failed, yet it has to be understood that as time passed after the storm it had become easier to gain access. The storm lasted 12 hours but the communications problems were then immense and the locals had personal issues as well as their duties to perform. All in all, there is far too much blame being thrown around concerning an event which would have been difficult to cope with even without the flooding and impossible with it. One thing occurs to me - the whole operation would have been easier if we had no on-site public media coverage at all once the rescue operations got started and the broacaster put their communications equipment at the disposal of those doing the work in exchange for the chance to film it and broadcast later.

DECEMBER 19th 2005
At last it is clear that the Federal Government will provide the funds to not just repair but to improve the levees and other flood protection. Without that, there would be no point in rebuilding New Orleans - it would be better abandoned. So now there is some justification for positive social action. But see entry Feb 2 2006

Concert brings music back to New Orleans

  Sunday December 18, 09:03 AM
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Singers Arlo Guthrie and Willie Nelson staged a musical homecoming for hurricane-wrecked New Orleans on Saturday night, bringing back a taste of the songs for which the city is famed.

In a concert dedicated to assisting musicians who lost their homes, instruments and livelihoods when Hurricane Katrina flooded the city on August 29, the two pledged to help its songmakers find their voices again.

"The best music comes from difficult times," Guthrie told Reuters. "There will be an injection of something different into New Orleans as a result of the disaster ... the culture here will swallow it up, and something new will sparkle."

Guthrie embarked earlier this month on a musical tour aboard the "City of New Orleans," the train he made famous with a song of the same name by Steve Goodman.

The train, now operated by Amtrak, runs through the heart of the United States from Chicago to New Orleans.

With songs such as "City of New Orleans," "We Don't Run" and "This Land is Your Land," Nelson and Guthrie played to a packed house at Tipitina's, the local nightclub that fostered such talent as the Neville Brothers.

The blues, jazz and folk music of New Orleans is trickling back to the city, even as many musicians remain stranded elsewhere along with tens of thousands of other displaced residents.

Some fear those traditions will be changed forever by the disaster as poorer artists face a dire housing shortage. The instruments, musical scores and record collections of many were ruined in the storm, wiping out a history of song.

But on Saturday night, the mood was hopeful.

"It's nice to see a city that loves its decadence, that loves its freedom," Guthrie said. "I'm amazed at how much has already come back and I'm amazed at how much needs to be done."

Music lovers also expressed their belief in a revival.

"New Orleans musicians are very determined and very resilient," said Tipitina's owner Roland von Kurnatowski. "They're going to tough it out."

Kurnatowski rents rehearsal halls for bands and said most of his musicians had kept their bookings for the space. His club runs a charity for hard-hit artists, finding them apartments or ready cash.

Trumpet player James Andrews lost his home and his horn in the flood and now plays on a donated instrument that he said once belonged to band leader Doc Severinsen.

"We're going to bring New Orleans back, baby," he said. "It's going to take the musicians to do it. New Orleans is one of the unique things about the planet."


FEBRUARY 2nd 2006
The latest data assemble leads most people to the conclusion that to protect a rebuilt New Orleans including the lower levels would entail funding not yet even contemplated and a time-scale that would take too long. A new disaster could strike before it was ready. For this reason it seems to me it may be absurd to rebuild the lower lying area other than, initially, on a prefabricated, limited and temporary basis.

AUGUST 17th 2006

Hurricane Katrina: counting the ecological cost

new Scientist Monday August 7, 04:00 PM
By Jeff Hecht Hurricane Katrina has had a devastating impact on the environment of south-east Louisiana, experts report almost a year after the violent storm smashed the city of New Orleans, causing floods that killed more then 1500 people. Researchers say poor land management and badly planned infrastructure had exacerbated the extent of the ecological devastation.

Over 24 hours on 29 August 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than 200 square kilometres (77 square miles) of wetlands east of the Mississippi River, reported Carlton Dufrechou, head of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation in Metarie, Louisiana, US. Freshwater marsh plants were "rolled up like a carpet" by the storm, Gary Shaffer at Southeastern Louisiana University told New Scientist .

However, storm damage varied widely across the region, experts said at the Ecological Society of America session on hurricane impacts on the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, on Monday. Freshwater swamps with full canopies of cypress and tupelo trees and intertwined root systems remained largely intact, Shaffer said. But where the lower "storey" of maple and ash trees was exposed, the hurricane felled up to 80% of them.

Tree mortality on the flood plain of the Pearl River was 12% where cypress and tupelo dominated the forest, but 50% in other forests, said Stephen Faulkner of the US Geological Survey's National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Wetlands around Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas to the west of the state used to be 90% cypress-tupelo, but even before Katrina most of that area had been converted to marsh and open water, Shaffer said.

For example, for years flood control levees have prevented Mississippi River sediments from nourishing wetlands, and 20 th -century canal systems allowed salt water to spread into swamps, killing the trees.

These damaged wetlands and the open water of eastern Louisiana offered little resistance to Hurricane Katrina, experts said. But wetlands in western Louisiana were more intact when the storm struck and went on to better withstand Hurricane Rita, which struck the region a few weeks later but took a far lesser toll on human lives. "Rita went over about 30 kilometres of wetlands before it hit populated areas, which appear to have reduced its storm surge by 1 metre to 1.5 metres," Shaffer said.

One bit of good news was that Lake Pontchartrain recovered just eight weeks after the filthy water that had flooded New Orleans was pumped into it, causing levels of dissolved oxygen to drop. The only exception is the native Rangia clams, which are expected to need five to 10 years to recover.

Efforts are underway to regenerate the old swamps. Cypress and tupelo cannot survive in salt water, but can grow quickly if planted in flowing fresh water rich in nutrients.

Shaffer has developed plans to pump tertiary-treated sewage directly into a degrading swamp, and to plant cypress and tupelo. "We fully expect them to be 10 metres tall in a decade," Shaffer told New Scientist .


JANUARY 12th 2006

An interesting Insurance Story

Punitive damages awarded in Katrina case

By GARRY MITCHELL, Associated Press Writer

GULFPORT, Miss. - A jury awarded $2.5 million in punitive damages against State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. for a Mississippi couple for denying their Hurricane Katrina claim. The decision could benefit hundreds of other homeowners challenging insurers for refusing to cover billions of dollars in storm damage.

State Farm said it will likely appeal.

Earlier Thursday, U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter Jr. had taken part of the case out of jurors' hands before they awarded punitive damages to State Farm policyholders Norman and Genevieve Broussard of Biloxi.

Senter ruled Thursday morning that State Farm is liable for $223,292 in damage caused by Hurricane Katrina to the Broussards' home. Senter left the punitive damages to the jury.

Senter's decision to make a directed verdict rather than let the jury decide the entire case appeared to surprise everyone in the courtroom. After he explained his ruling, Senter ordered a recess to give attorneys time "to get over the shock."

After the jury announced its award, the Broussards left the courthouse arm in arm.

"It's a great day for south Mississippi," Norman Broussard said.

Some of Senter's earlier rulings in other Katrina cases have favored the insurance industry, but his decision Thursday calls into question the companies' refusal to cover billions of dollars in damage from Katrina's storm surge.

The judge's decision and the jury's award also are likely to impact recent settlement talks between State Farm, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and other plaintiffs' attorneys.

Earlier this week, people with direct knowledge of the settlement talks told The Associated Press that State Farm, Mississippi's largest home insurer, is considering paying hundreds of millions of dollars to settle more than 600 lawsuits and resolve thousands of other disputed claims.

The Broussards' case wasn't directly part of those negotiations, but Hood said Thursday the verdicts only strengthen his position in the ongoing settlement talks.

"Hopefully they will come to their senses and realize that the American people are not going to stand for robber baron companies, like the insurance companies, running over people," the attorney general said.

However, Hood conceded that a company as large as State Farm isn't likely to "blink very much" in the face of a single jury award.

"I'm sure they're in shock, but that can't hurt them," said Hood, who declined to elaborate on the status of the settlement talks with State Farm.

Randy Maniloff, a Philadelphia-based lawyer who represents insurers and has closely followed the Katrina litigation, said Senter's ruling was a "huge verdict" for homeowners even if the jury hadn't awarded punitive damages.

"That settlement is looking awfully good for State Farm now," he added.

The Broussards sued State Farm for refusing to pay for any damage to their home, which Katrina reduced to a slab. The couple wanted State Farm to pay for the full insured value of their home plus $5 million in punitive damages. The Broussards claimed a tornado during the hurricane destroyed their home. State Farm blamed all the damage on Katrina's storm surge.

State Farm and other insurers say their homeowner policies cover damage from wind but not from water, and that the policies exclude damage that could have been caused by a combination of both, even if hurricane-force winds preceded a storm's rising water.

Senter, however, ruled that State Farm couldn't prove that Katrina's storm surge was responsible for all of the damage to the Broussards' home. The judge also said the testimony failed to establish how much damage was caused by wind and how much resulted from storm surge.

State Farm spokesman Phil Supple said after the jury's verdict that the company is likely to appeal the decision.

"We are surprised and disappointed by both the judge's ruling on the coverage issues and the amount awarded by the jury for punitive damages," he said in a written statement. "We believe the expert testimony supported a different result."

Jack Denton, one of the couple's attorneys, said they are "very pleased" with the jury's verdict but declined further comment.

"Obviously we have other trials coming up and don't want to jeopardize those cases," he added.

Thursday's verdict follows another federal judge's ruling that favored policyholders in Louisiana. In November, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. sided with New Orleans homeowners who argued that the language excluding water damage from some insurance policies was ambiguous.

Duval allowed a lawsuit against The Allstate Corp., The St. Paul Travelers Companies Inc. and other insurers to proceed, but said the issue of "flood exclusion" could be appealed immediately by the companies.

In his closing argument Thursday, one of the Broussards' attorneys, William Walker, said State Farm had breached their contract "in a bad way" by denying their claim. State Farm "acted like a chiseler," he said, adding, "The pocketbook is what they listen to."

State Farm attorney John Banahan urged jurors to "use your head and your heart" in deciding on punitive damages and to reject an attempt by the Broussards' attorney to demonize the company as an "evil empire."

Robert Hartwig, chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute in New York, said before the jury announced its decision that a punitive damage award would be "distressing" for insurers.

"It adds even more cost and more uncertainty to the other problems that already exist in the Mississippi homeowners insurance market," he said.


Associated Press writer Michael Kunzelman contributed to this report.

JANUARY 31 2007

New Orleans plan sees 10-year, $14 bln rebuilding

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans' latest plan to recover from Hurricane Katrina calls for a 10-year rebuilding program costing $14 billion that will leave some neighborhoods still sparsely populated.

The proposal, compiled by planning experts and residents, calls for $1.2 billion in incentives for elevating homes either by raising the ground level or by putting them on stilts, $831 million to repair or rebuild schools and $650 million to rehabilitate low-income housing.

Billions more would go to rebuild sewer and drainage systems and invest in the local economy, devastated when 80 percent of the city was flooded by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The new proposal doesn't advocate converting flood-prone neighborhoods into parks as did previous recovery plans that failed to gain popular support.

The plan says all city neighborhoods could be rebuilt but encourages residents to locate in "clusters" of homes to make delivery of city services easier.

Troy Henry, a consultant who managed the plan's development, said many of the city's residents are more open to rebuilding in a different part of the city than they were shortly after Katrina struck in August 2005.

"No one wants to live amidst the blight forever," Henry told Reuters.

Only about half of New Orleans' 455,000 pre-Katrina residents have returned. Many neighborhoods remain sparsely populated, with potholed streets and debris-littered yards. The city's tourism and convention business has yet to recover.

Before becoming a blueprint for rebuilding, the plan must win the approval of the city's Planning Commission, City Council and Mayor Ray Nagin, who has said he would be inclined to approve it.

FBRUARY 1st 2007

Warming linked to stronger hurricanes

By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer 

PARIS - Global warming has made stronger hurricanes, including those in the Atlantic such as Katrina, an authoritative panel on climate change has concluded for the first time, participants in the deliberations said Thursday.

During marathon meetings in Paris, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change approved language that said an increase in hurricane and tropical cyclone strength since 1970 "more likely than not" can be attributed to man-made global warming, according to Leonard Fields of Barbados and Cedric Nelom of Surinam.

In its last report in 2001, the same panel had said there was not enough evidence to make such a conclusion.

"It is very important" that the language is so strong this time, said Fields, whose country is on the path of many hurricanes. "Insurance companies watch the language, too."

The panel did note that the increase in stronger storms differs in various parts of the globe, but that the storms that strike the Americas are global warming-influenced, according to another participant.

Fields said that the report notes that most of the changes have been seen in the North Atlantic.

The report — scheduled to be released Friday morning — is also a marked departure from a November 2006 statement by the World Meteorological Organization, which helped found the IPPC.

The meteorological organization, after contentious debate, said it could not link past stronger storms to global warming. The debate about whether stronger hurricanes can be linked to global warming has been dividing a scientific community that is otherwise largely united in agreeing that global warming is human-made and a problem.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Kerry Emanuel, who pioneered much of the research linking global warming to an uptick in hurricane strength, looked at the original language in an IPCC draft and called it "a pretty strong statement."

"I think we've seen a pretty clear signal in the Atlantic," Emanuel said. The increase in Atlantic hurricane strength "is so beautifully correlated with sea surface there can't be much doubt that there's a relationship with sea surface temperature."

But U.S. National Hurricane Center scientist Christopher Landsea has long disagreed with that premise. While he would not comment on the IPCC decision, Landsea pointed to the meteorological organization's statement last fall.

AUGUST 29th 2007

Meanwhile in New Orleans, suicides are no longer reported these days. If you think we have problems in the UK, read this. We don't know the meaning of floods or crime.

Slow recovery goes on in crime-weary New Orleans

By Jeff Franks  - Reuters

The recovery of New Orleans slowly drags on two years after Hurricane Katrina but one thing back in full swing since the killer storm is crime, particularly murders.

The drumbeat of violence that made New Orleans a U.S. murder capital before Katrina slowed after it struck on August 29, 2005, but the pace picked up as people returned to the city.

So far in 2007, police say 136 people have been murdered in New Orleans, compared to 161 for all of last year. August has been particularly bloody, with 19 killings in a 14-day period ending August 25, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.

New Orleans, beset with an explosive mix of poverty, drugs and guns before and after Katrina, is no stranger to murder.

It has had one of the nation's higher per capita murder rates for years and peaked in 1994 with 425 homicides. In 2004, the year before Katrina, there were 265 killings.

City leaders say fear of crime ranks up there with fear of another Katrina as reasons only about 60 percent of the pre-storm population of nearly half a million has returned.

A study released early this year by the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a local watchdog group, found almost 80 percent of those surveyed in New Orleans' Central City area were afraid of crime, more than before Katrina.

Crime is a constant topic of conversation in New Orleans, where many say they are arming themselves for the first time.

"There's a general sense of a need for greater security and self-responsibility since the government is failing," said attorney Stephen Rue, who recently took a gun-handling class required for a state permit to carry a concealed weapon.

"We're just hoping it doesn't turn into the O.K. Corral," he said.

"This city and this region's survival depends on getting a handle on violent crime," said U.S. Attorney Jim Letten at a conference this week. "Katrina didn't create the problems we face today, although it certainly exacerbated them."

Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans when its powerful storm surge broke the levees that protect the low-lying city.


Most economic indicators such as hotel bookings and tax collections have come back to about 70 percent of what they were before the storm, according to recently released city and tourist industry figures.

But there are still many empty homes and buildings in the hardest hit areas because the owners chose not to return or are waiting to see if things including security and levee protection improve, officials say.

Earlier this month, police released figures showing that violent crime overall was up 12 percent for the first half of 2007, compared to the same period for 2006.

Letten blamed the violence in part on "the resurgence in this city of people who are involved in the drug trade and who are trying to basically build turf for themselves" by shooting it out with drug dealers already in place.

But he also alluded to what many people believe is the crux of the problem: poor performance by local prosecutors.

Many criminals are coming to New Orleans "because they do not fear consequences of the local criminal justice system," Letten said.

Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan has been accused of allowing too many criminals back on the streets by failing to prosecute them effectively or on a timely basis.

He has blamed police for giving him poorly investigated cases and the unwillingness of many crime witnesses to testify. A study released in 2005 by the Metropolitan Crime Commission found that, in 2003-2004, only 12 percent of those arrested for murder went to prison.

Letten's office has taken the extraordinary step of filing federal charges in many violent-crime cases so that suspects will not go free if state charges fall through.

Police superintendent Warren Riley said the district attorney's office, after much public criticism, has improved in recent weeks, but he makes the point that crime is the result of deeper social problems that neither police nor prosecutors can resolve.

"Until we educate our youth, until we lower our poverty rate, until we lower our illiteracy rate, until we improve our society, we're going to have these problems," he said.

"We are in fact breeding a criminal element."

(Additional reporting by Russell McCulley)


MAY 11th 2008
Thanks to the incredible determination of the local fishermen, farmers, traders and entrepreneurs, New Orleans is recovering. It is being rebuilt and re-populated on its traditional lines. The pessimism of a year ago is giving way in places to belief in the future. All this just in time to be hit by the credit squeeze and competition from imported goods and services. That is not to minimise the possibility that a disaster similar to Katrina could strike again, as it is unclear if there is real protection against that. The one thing this may prove, however, is how much truth there is in that propostion I suggested in the early 1980s, taken up by Bill and later Hillary Clinton: "There is nothing wrong with America that can't be fixed by what's right with America". It will also test the belief of Barack Obama: "Yes, we can". 

JUNE 22nd 2008
New Orleans is not yet at risk from this trouble upstream.

Levees hold back cresting Mississippi River

By James B. Kelleher Reuters

Walls and levees held back the cresting Mississippi River on Sunday as requests for government aid poured in from homeowners and businesses swamped by the worst Midwest flooding in 15 years.

Across from St. Louis, where the river remained near the crest reached on Friday, Cahokia Mayor Frank Bergman said his city of 17,000 had escaped disaster by a few feet meters.

"We got lucky," he said as he walked a 50-year-old network of levees and flood walls that withstood the river's rise. River water that seeped under the levees at a few spots had been cordoned off by walls of sandbags.

The deluge that swamped Iowa cities and farms two weeks ago has washed down the most important U.S. waterway, swallowing up towns and thousands of acres of prime crop land in the heart of the world's largest grain and food exporter.

Drier weather in the past week, and more than two dozen levee breaks as the Mississippi overtopped its banks, appeared to spare downstream cities a repeat of the devastation seen in the last major floods in 1993.

The storms and flooding have been blamed for 24 deaths and billions of dollars in damage since late May that will take months to clean up. More than 40,000 people have been displaced, most of them in Iowa.

Bridges and highways have been swamped, factories shut down, water and power utilities damaged, and the earnings of railroads, farmers and many other businesses disrupted.

Fears that as many as 5 million acres of corn and soybeans have been lost in the fertile U.S. corn belt pushed up corn and other food commodity prices to record highs and worsened market fears of spiraling world food prices.

With no new levee breaks since Friday to relieve the flow of the Mississippi, river levels rose over the weekend north of St. Louis. The National Weather Service forecast water levels to ease by as much as a foot (0.3 meter) a day after the river crests. Monitoring the levees remained a round-the-clock task.

"We're still holding," said John Hark, the emergency management director for the city of Hannibal, Missouri, where every fraction of an inch (cm) the Mississippi rose or fell was tracked.

"We crested at 29.28 feet and we're probably going to sit here awhile -- for the next six to 12 hours -- before we see any meaningful downward movement. It went down about 1/100th of an inch here just now and that was encouraging," Hark said.

Some 130 miles downstream from St. Louis, the Mississippi was expected to crest at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, on Monday at 41.5 feet, also well below the 1993 peak of 48.5 feet.

Cahokia, a hardscrabble town of mostly African Americans, is one of several municipalities trying to get voters to approve a sales tax increase to make desperately needed repairs to 20 miles of levees.

"It's going to help people realize the seriousness of it," Bergman said. "Levees are like rubber bands. They can only be stretched and tested so many times before they break."

Next door to Cahokia, the economically depressed city of East St. Louis appeared to have been spared a potential disaster as its outdated levees held.

Iowa was hardest hit by the flooding, but parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana and Missouri have also flooded.

In Cedar Rapids and neighboring hamlets along the Cedar and Iowa Rivers, where most of the flood damage was uninsured, residents were weighing whether to stay or leave.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency had initially received more than 19,000 requests for help. U.S. government aid was expected to be in the billions of dollars.

President George W. Bush toured some of the devastation in Iowa on Thursday, and the White House said relief would be made available from $4 billion in the government's disaster fund.

Flood relief was rapidly becoming a political issue in a U.S. election year. Republican presidential candidate John McCain toured Iowa on Thursday, separately from Bush, while Democratic candidate Barack Obama filled sandbags in Quincy in his home state of Illinois earlier in the week.

Iowa's Democratic Gov. Chet Culver asked both candidates not to visit Iowa until after the crisis had passed.

(Writing by Andrew Stern; Editing by Peter Bohan)

AUGUST 27th 2008
Here we go again.

New Orleans considers evacuation as Gustav looms

By Kathy Finn Reuters

Three years after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Louisiana coast, New Orleans residents on Wednesday again confronted the prospect of an evacuation as Tropical Storm Gustav loomed.

Not since Katrina struck on August 29, 2005, have residents faced a forced departure from their homes and businesses as many still struggle to rebuild their lives in a city famed for its jazz clubs and Mardi Gras festival.

Storm levees broke under the onslaught of Katrina, flooding 80 percent of New Orleans and killing almost 1,500 people in the city and along the Gulf of Mexico coast. The hurricane caused $125 billion in wind and flood damage.

With Tropical Storm Gustav swirling near Cuba and likely to enter the Gulf of Mexico as a hurricane this weekend, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said an evacuation could begin as early as Friday -- three years to the day after Katrina inundated New Orleans.

Jindal said he had activated the state's catastrophic action team and could declare a state of emergency as early as Thursday. He also put the Louisiana National Guard on alert.

"We all need to be prepared and ready to respond, from the citizen level and at every level of government," Jindal said.

Jindal, elected as governor in October 2007, is hoping to avoid heavy criticism that fell on his predecessor, Kathleen Blanco, for not reacting quickly enough after Katrina.

Federal agencies and the New Orleans city government also faced the wrath of residents over their response to the disaster, while President George W. Bush was criticized for his role, including his initial decision to view the devastated city only from the air.

After Katrina, chaos broke out in New Orleans as stranded flood victims waited days for help. Many residents who fled the hurricane have not returned.

On Wednesday, Gustav drifted away from Haiti and the Dominican Republic after killing 16 people. Forecasters warned the storm may still become a dangerous hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, with their models showing it most likely on track to hit anywhere from the Florida panhandle to Texas.

Jindal said if the threat continues, his state could make 700 buses available for assisted evacuations, which could begin on Friday for people who need help due to medical or other conditions.

He advised other residents of the southern parishes to review their own emergency plans and be prepared to evacuate if an order is given.

The state's Office of Emergency Preparedness held a conference call on Wednesday afternoon with the presidents of all area parishes and emergency personnel to review current conditions and disaster plans.

The Louisiana SPCA announced it would shut down its shelter and begin evacuating the animals to other shelters.

(Editing by Chris Baltimore and John O'Callaghan)

AUGUST 30th 2008
Hurruicane Gustave is now level 4, that 140mph. A milion people are leaving New Orelans. There is a system for registering people leaving and knowing where they are going. Nationwide there are systems standing by to help in the event Gustav stays mean and hits where it hurts. A complete evacuation has not yet been ordered by the advice is to leave now.

AUGUST 31 - There is disagreement about the actual likely strength (3,4 or 5) of Gustav wen it reaches the Louisiana coast and whether it will hit New Orleans head on; but the mayor has made it clear he expects the worst aned everybody should leave.

Officials measured gusts of 212 mph (340 kph) in the western town of Paso Real del San Diego — a new national record for maximum wind speed in a country often hit by major hurricanes, said Miguel Angel Hernandez of the Cuban Institute of Meteorology.

SEPTEMBER 1st 2008
Gustav has come ashore with the centre 70 miles west of New Orleans and has downgraded to category 3, then 2 and finally 1. But  it is a bigger storm than Katrina, covering a wider area. There is much rain and a tidal surge to come and there are more hurricanes on the way in coming weeks. The amount of energy consumed and greenhouse gas added by the major evacuation of more than two million people by car, coach and a great many aircraft need adding up now as well as the monetary cost. If these hurricanes are going  to get worse I suggest those who live in such vulnerable places build appropriate dwellings, rather on the principle that Eskimos built igloos when they lived in the arctic without expecting rescue or oil central heating. San Francisco should expect earthqaukes and those living round Mt Vesuvius should expect eruptions. The alternative: don't breed there and don't move there.

MAY 11 2011
Even without hurricanes, the Mississippi is a perpetual accident waiting to happen.