September 2, 2005

The foreseeable burning of New Orleans

Signs are increasingly clear that, at some point in the near future—maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week—a significant portion of New Orleans will burn to the ground.

Any reasonably-conscious social historian and civil engineer can tell you the consequences of a large city with significant petroleum on the ground (and fumes near the ground), with no water pressure, little or no police protection for what minimal fire-fighting infrastructure still exists, no power, and gangs of thugs running around.  Maybe it will be arson, or maybe it will be an accident—and the explosions this morning could have been either, at least from my lack of knowledge about it at the moment.  But at some point, one of the fires around town will ignite petroleum on the ground or vapors in the air, and the fire will spread.  Depending on wind conditions, this could ignite a firestorm, though that's unlikely.


What is certain is that any fire of significant size in the devastated city will not only destroy the area in which it starts but will also spread toxic pollution, killing hundreds of already-fragile refugees who have no inside shelter and further complicating rescue efforts. FEMA and other rescue crews will likely withdraw to an area where they can be safe, leaving more to die from dehydration, exposure, and violence, plus the new threat of smoke inhalation.


And after it, FEMA and Homeland Security heads will scratch their heads and say, "This was so unexpected.  How could we have known that this could have happened?"  


Tell them they're full of bullshit.  


Better yet, call the White House comment line (202-456-1111) now and tell them that unless FEMA and other rescue crews have smoke-inhalation and other gear that should be in place when expecting a massive fire, the federal government is going to be killing hundreds more through another act of negligence. Because while I dearly hope I'm wrong, I suspect a massive fire is in the offing.


Whether you spread this message in your blogs is your choice, of course.  

Update (9:22 am EDT): The White House line is clogged. I've contacted my senior senator as well as Sen. Landrieu's office. My apologies for the strong language, if you're offended; I thought of changing it after posting and then decided that, occasionally, my professional judgment as an historian backs up the strength of such expressions. And it is ignorance at best to claim that a fire is unlikely in circumstances anything like this.

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Posted in Random comments on September 2, 2005 8:01 AM |