for National Geographic News
Broken levees are allowing floodwaters to pour into New Orleans, endangering thousands of residents in a city that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina Monday.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on its Web site Tuesday that floodwaters rushed into the streets when canal levees on opposite sides of the city ruptured. Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco responded by ordering everyone out of New Orleans.
Dozens of deaths across the Gulf Coast already have been attributed to Hurricane Katrina. Authorities fear flooding in New Orleans could increase the toll and create a potentially serious public health problem.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration's regional office in Dallas, Texas, is coordinating the rescue effort for New Orleans. But a FEMA employee in Dallas refused to answer questions this morning about the agency's response and hung up without giving her name.
New Orleans is below sea level and is crisscrossed by canals connecting Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico. Levees were built around the canals to protect the city from flooding when surrounding water levels rise.
Hurricane Katrina's 140-mile-an-hour (225-kilometer-an-hour) winds pushed a 20-foot (6-meter) storm surge onto the Louisiana coastline. The storm's powerful winds continued to force raging waters against the city's levees as Katrina roared northward into neighboring Mississippi.
The levees initially held, but gave way Tuesday.
The Times-Picayune reported that a 200-foot (61-meter) break opened in the levee on the 17th Street Canal in the western part of the city.
On the eastern side of town, two breaks opened in the levee on the Industrial Canal, the newspaper reported. The combined length of the breaks in the Industrial Canal is about 500 feet (152 meters), and more fractures are expected.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working to close the breaches, the Times-Picayune said. In the meantime, life in New Orleans will be dangerous and uncomfortable.
"The significant problems they're facing are having (drinkable) water, clean food, a way to dispose of human waste, and shelter," said Bernard H. Eichold, the public health officer for nearby Mobile County, Alabama.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES