Sunday, August 28, 2005

When The Levee Breaks, I'll Have No Place To Stay, or, Katrina Bar the Door

She's coming. Hurricane Katrina. A Category Five hurricane. Which, for those of you who don't know, is pretty darn strong. As in, sustained winds in excess of 135 knots (155 mph for our land-bound friends, or 250 km/h for our metric friends.)

Katrina is making sustained winds of 150 knots with gusts up to 185. And if you don't believe she's big, check out the satellite imagery, which shows a classic hurricane shape that stretches from southern Alabama to the Yucatan Channel. When Tampa, New Orleans, western Cuba, and the Yucatan are all looking at the same storm, you know you have what we hurricane veterans refer to as, in our highly technical lingo, a Big-Ass Hurricane.

Oh, and it's heading for New Orleans. Which, as you may be aware, is below sea level and sinking all the time, on account of being built on the Mississippi River Delta, which is subsiding and eroding and is a generally unstable bit of land. New Orleans is protected by a system of levees that keep the river, not to mention the Gulf of Mexico, in their banks and out of their streets.

A hurricane of this size could turn New Orleans into the Venice of the South.

(We won't even discuss the local oil and gas industry.)

I grew up in North Carolina, far enough inland that any hurricane that hit us was bound to have been pretty big when it crossed the coast, but even so, the biggest I ever rode out was Hurricane Fran, a 1996 Category Three. I slept through most of it, but I may have been too young and foolish to be properly frightened. A Five is a whole 'nother story. Evacuate. Now.

Some people will stay put and ride out the storm. They'll have a helluva story to tell, assuming they survive, which is by no means certain. I'd like to think that if I was on the Gulf Coast, I'd be heading for high ground. Like Chicago.

But I might not.

There's a certain feeling that possesses people who live in hurricane country; we think no storm is too big for us to handle, no wind is strong enough to blow us out of our homes. Pride, you know. Of ownership, of place. Of This Being Ours. And defiance, too, the primal urge to defy the elements that drives men to weather the worst gales or cross the hottest deserts or brave the coldest blizzards. That drives all explorers, in every time and place, to boldly go.

Those who do such things possess a touch of bravery, a touch of resolve, and a touch of sheer lunacy. And in the end, you had to have been there.


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