I visited New Orleans for CSCW2002, thanks to my friend Elizabeth and the BBC. It is sad to see such a unique city laid waste. The conference was great, but I also took time to explore the French quarter and look at the architecture of the timber buildings, now probably lost forever. I also went up river to see the Audubon Zoo, which was/is one of the best in the world.
In the zoo they had a swamp exhibit, I guess the whole place is like that now. They also had a mud hill, called Monkey hill, one of the highest points in the surrounding area, when the zoo was built, the hill was made from spoils I think. Kids in the area used to take turns walking to the top, as there was nothing similar for miles around. I guess it might have been 30-40 feet high. The Zoo seems to have fared alright, with only some flamingoes dead, see Mongabay and Dallas News, but who can tell how they'll hold out.
Back then, New Orleans was very proud of the future investment in their levees, the American army were building major improvements, but their funding seems to have been withdrawn or reduced in scope. The whole thing is sort of like a hollywood disaster movie, but no one hired Bruce Willis to save the day, Euan's take is a bit different.
I can't comprehend how hard it seems to be to get bottled water to those in need, they can drive coaches in and fly helicopters in. A litre of water is one kilogram, so 10,000 is ten tonnes, so a truck can hold 30-40 thousand litres of water, so a convoy of 10 trucks could give most people a litre of water a day, but it seems that people are dying of thirst. Water is on the way, but by boat. The shooting and looting are difficult to understand too, looting more so, people have nothing so need clean clothes, nappies, food, water. Maybe not electronics and jewellery, but a beer is just clean water... Bush and the federal Government do see to be on the backfoot, this is no terrorist attack, just something that plenty of people had predicted. To see the world's biggest military power letting its own poorest people suffer and die is hard to stomach.
On a slightly brighter note, there are some rapid and interesting web applications being developed by individuals, see the geowanking mailing list for information. BBC News picking up on some geohacking, visualisation and other interesting internet based ways to help. Fast work, new apps in 2-3 days, mainly mods on Google Maps. Finally this image from Nasa, shows the scope of the flooding.