The news from New Orleans and the coastal cities continues to worsen; Katrina will certainly be the most costly disaster in American history and the death toll is likely to bring it into the ranks of the worst disasters we have known, yet despite the horrors being played out on our televisions, there is something remarkable about this disaster that has not, to my knowledge, been much remarked on.
In October, 2001, Scientific American published Drowning New Orleans, a prescient article predicting dire consequences if a Category 5 hurricane were to hit New Orleans. The levies would be breached, untold thousands would die:
The low-lying Mississippi Delta, which buffers the city from the gulf, is also rapidly disappearing. A year from now another 25 to 30 square miles of delta marsh an area the size of Manhattan will have vanished. An acre disappears every 24 minutes. Each loss gives a storm surge a clearer path to wash over the delta and pour into the bowl, trapping one million people inside and another million in surrounding communities. Extensive evacuation would be impossible because the surging water would cut off the few escape routes. Scientists at Louisiana State University (L.S.U.), who have modeled hundreds of possible storm tracks on advanced computers, predict that more than 100,000 people could die.
Almost everything in this scenario came to pass except for one item: While the death toll is likely to be in the hundreds, perhaps even several thousand, it will be far short of the 100,000 that the LSU Scientists predicted. It is worth considering this.