Analyzing the Damage to New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina
This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," August 29, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now 20 minutes past 8, and the conditions are continuing to deteriorate. Look down here in the street. You can see that the rain is just whipping down Bourbon Street, and the water is coming off the distant shutters.
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HANNITY: And welcome back to this special edition of "Hannity & Colmes." I'm Sean Hannity.
Hurricane Katrina was the strongest storm to hit New Orleans in decades. It had the potential to devastate New Orleans. In a moment you're going to meet a man who warned that the Big Easy was at risk, well, just one month ago in an article.
But first we go live to New Orleans, where our own FOX News Channel's Anita Vogel is just north of the city on Interstate 10 — Anita.
ANITA VOGEL, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Sean.
That's right, I am right along Interstate 10. I'm standing right on it. And technically I'm only two miles from downtown New Orleans, but I can't get there and neither can anyone else. Let me show you why.
This is part of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Look right down here. The entire interstate, or at least this part of it, is completely flooded because all of the rain and the back-up from Lake Pontchartrain. And this is rising, by the way. This has been rising steadily over the last couple of hours.
Part of the problem here is that these pumping lines, which you may be able to see to my right — they're almost completely submerged — are not functional because of the hurricane. Normally they would be able to help out and help get some of this water out of here but tonight, not working.
Now, this is causing all kinds of problems not only for people who are trying to get into New Orleans but also for residents who are stuck and cannot get out.
Earlier tonight, the Coast Guard had to come in using a helicopter to try and rescue some residents. We spoke to one man who got out.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I busted through the door, the vent in the roof. And I had a big pink robe, and I heard those guys circling. And I got up on that roof and did what I had to do. You know, the bottom line, you know, until I'm dead, I'm alive. And I'm going to do everything I can to save myself. It's that simple.
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VOGEL: One lucky man, rescued by the Coast Guard this evening.
Now, emergency officials are warning people, if you don't have to go back into the city, don't go. There's not much there right now but a flooded town. That man was very lucky. He was rescued off of his rooftop. And the Coast Guard and other emergency service workers will likely make these rescues by air and by boat for the next couple of days.
Sean, back to you.
HANNITY: All right. Thanks, Anita. That was a great rescue.
And many residents and officials in New Orleans are very relieved tonight after yesterday's dire warnings of cataclysmic damage. Of concern was the potential for massive flooding that could have left much of the city submerged under the Mississippi River.
Joining us now to explain what happened, what didn't happen, and why, is Dan Gilgoff. He's from U.S. News & World Report, and he warned about the danger that New Orleans faced just one month ago.
Dan, I've got to tell you, it's — it came very close to becoming what you describe in this article. Tell us what you put in there and what happened today.
DAN GILGOFF, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Sure. It came, actually, about 10 to 15 miles in wreaking total devastation on the city of New Orleans. Had this been a Category 4 or 5 storm, which we had, make a direct hit on New Orleans, we're talking about, according to the American Red Cross, on the order of 100,000 casualties. And luckily, because it was averted by 10 or 15 miles, that didn't happen.
A couple of years ago the American Red Cross actually ranked various locations in the United States for the deadliest potential from natural disaster. And New Orleans, because it's basically a giant flood prone bowl locked in by levees came in on top, with the potential for 100,000 casualties.
HANNITY: Well, you actually wrote in your piece that — you said New Orleans, as you just said, sits below sea level, locked in by an extensive levee network, and it is like a giant flood prone bowl. A Category 3, modest Category 3, you wrote, could deposit up to 27 feet of water in some neighborhoods.
You're saying if this was 10 or 12 miles to the left or 15 miles to the left, that's what we would have seen?
GILGOFF: Absolutely. Even with a Category 3 storm, which is relatively modest, we could have seen, basically, in Lake Pontchartrain a storm surge that would have overtaken the levee walls and that would have deposited up to 27 feet of water in some areas.
Those levee walls were never intended to protect from a Category 4 or 5 storm, only a Category 3. And because they really haven't been maintained properly over the last few decades, they've been sinking. So in some places they're not even adequate to fend off what they were intended for, a Category 3 storm.
ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Dan, it's Alan Colmes. You pointed out in your piece that New Orleans is more venerable now than ever, because more than 555,000 acres of coastal wetlands have gone under water since 1965. And every year they lose square mileage, don't they?
GILGOFF: That's right. Hurricane Betsy (search), for instance, that was a Category 3 storm. The most devastating storm that New Orleans has really seen in modern history. That was 1965. It claimed about 75 lives.
Now, if a Category 3 storm struck like that today, the devastation would probably be far worse, because there was basically a 30-mile buffer of wetlands, which tend to steal the thunder and the power away from hurricanes. They ward of storm surge, and that's completely gone. It's 35 miles of protection that's completely gone now.
So even a Category 3, had it been a direct hit, would have been a lot more damaging, again, causing up to greater than 25 feet of water in certain neighborhoods in the city.
COLMES: As I understand it, the Army Corps of Engineers (search) is working on this, but they have got a time frame that may not comport with this storm to correct the levee system, to get it more protection?
GILGOFF: That's right. Basically, though, even the feasibility study to see how much a proposition would be to raise those levee walls, is years and millions of dollars off. So we're probably decades off from seeing any kind of heightening of the walls.
In the meantime you had a situation just today where we saw about 20 percent of the residents, if we take the mayor's number, stayed behind. And that means we have something on the order of 50 to 100,000 people in New Orleans, and that could potentially, some of them, have been under 27 feet of water. So they actually got pretty lucky this time around.
HANNITY: All right, Dan. Thanks for the warning. Appreciate your time tonight.
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