Archive for August, 2005

Gas Panic

August 31, 2005

There is officially a gas panic underway in Georgia. Word arrived this morning that the major pipeline serving metro Atlanta was down because of Katrina (the pumps are in Louisiana, and have no power to run), and the radio has been buzzing all day with rumors that the city will be gas-less by the weekend.

Yesterday, unleaded at my neighborhood station was $2.48. At lunchtime today, it was up to $2.68. Four hours later–ten minutes ago–it was $2.98. A station a half-mile away was all the way up to $3.29. There are three stations on my route home from work. They all had long lines, the first actual gas lines I’ve seen since the 1970’s. I hear from a friend in Columbus that every station there cut off gas service at 4PM Eastern.

Is it a real shortage? Is it price-gouging? You got me. But I’m glad I topped off my tank during my lunch break.

UPDATE: Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue says,

“There’s no reason to panic. There’s plenty of gas on the way and the only way we’ll have problems locally is if we rush out and hoard,” the governor said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference. “Stay calm and conserve, don’t just run out to top off your tank. Just continue with normal fueling habits.”

Hurricane Katrina knocked out power to two pipelines that bring gas and jet fuel into the region. The lines have been down for two days while the Metro typically holds onto a 10-day supply of gasoline.

“That does affect our gas supply and it’s led to an increase in gas prices,” the governor said of the pipeline problem. “This is a temporary problem due to Hurricane Katrina and will be resolved soon. It is not a cause for alarm or panic. It is not a long-term situation.”

Governor Perdue said he contacted the state’s gas distributors Wednesday morning and has been assured that they are working to address the supply problem. He said that a significant amount of the state’s gas supplies are not affected because they arrive at the port, not by pipeline.

If he’s right, this is just a case of the station owners cashing in on a rampant rumor mill. If he’s wrong, it’s going to be a not-fun week in the ATL.

I hope he’s right–and if he is, you can bet the bank people are going to remember which stations raised prices the most, and the fastest.

MORE: Wow. Fox News just showed one BP station in Atlanta that’s charging $5.87 a gallon for regular unleaded, and $6.07 for premium. No way in hell that isn’t gouging. Nobody in town was much above $2.50 over the weekend.

MORE MORE: A friend “in the business” says Perdue is wrong, sort of:

The BP and Citgo terminals in Doraville, GA are out. Not allocated. Out. The Colonial pipeline is down and will be until tonight. They’re flying a generator in tonight and will have one of the pipelines operating sometime tonight. The other one won’t be operating for a couple of days. The problem is that it takes between eight (8) to twenty-one (21) days to get the fuel up the pipeline. Now the good news (if you want to call it that) is that there’s fuel available. But it won’t be cheap for the terminals or the state.

This is really a geographically controlled problem. Everybody west of the Mississippi is fine. Everybody north of Tennessee and North Carolina are fine. It’s just the Southeast. Most of our fuel comes out of New Orleans and now we’re going to have to get it from other places. Those other places are further away than New Orleans and that distance costs money. Diesel fuel is getting hit more than gasoline. So my earlier statement about the terminals being out was meant for the diesel fuel. For obvious political purposes, there won’t be a gasoline shortage. The truckers and machine operators on the other hand…


Shoot To Kill

August 31, 2005

We talk a lot about how disasters bring out the best in people, and that’s often true. Certainly it’s the case among the vast majority in Katrina’s wake today.

On the other hand, this particular disaster has also brought out the absolute scum of the earth, and given them free reign for a time:

Late Tuesday, Gov. Blanco spokeswoman Denise Bottcher described a disturbing scene unfolding in uptown New Orleans, where looters were trying to break into Children’s Hospital.

Bottcher said the director of the hospital fears for the safety of the staff and the 100 kids inside the hospital. The director said the hospital is locked, but that the looters were trying to break in and had gathered outside the facility.

The director has sought help from the police, but, due to rising flood waters, police have not been able to respond.

Bottcher said Blanco has been told of the situation and has informed the National Guard. However, Bottcher said, the National Guard has also been unable to respond.


[New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas] said looting has also escalated and an atmosphere of lawlessness has developed as police resources have been almost entirely devoted to search-and-rescue operations for people trapped by floodwaters on roofs and in attics. “Widespread looting is taking place in all parts of the city” – from uptown and Canal Street to areas around the housing projects, Thomas said.

“People are going in and out of businesses at Louisiana and Claiborne (avenues), taking clothes, tennis shoes and goods,” Thomas said. “It is inconceivable to me how people can do this.”

“People are leaving the Superdome to go to Canal Street to loot,” Thomas said. “Some people broke into drug stores and stole the drugs off the shelves. It is looting times five. I’m telling you, it’s like Sodom and Gomorrah.”

More unfortunately, at least some elements of the notoriously-corrupt New Orleans police force are getting in on the looting themselves:

At the Wal-Mart on Tchoupitoulas Street, an initial effort to hand out provisions to stranded citizens quickly disintegrated into mass looting. Authorities at the scene said bedlam erupted after the giveaway was announced over the radio.

While many people carried out food and essential supplies, others cleared out jewelry racks and carted out computers, TVs and appliances on handtrucks.

Some officers joined in taking whatever they could, including one New Orleans cop who loaded a shopping cart with a compact computer and a 27-inch flat screen television.

From New Orleans’ best columnist, Chris Rose, now one of over a million refugees on the road:

We had catfish and pulled pork in a barbeque joint in Natchez and the folks there – everyone we have met along our three-day journey – has said the same thing: Good luck, folks. We love your city. Take care of it for us.
Oh, my city. We have spent hours and hours listening to the radio. Image upon image piling up in your head.

What about school? What about everyone’s jobs? Did all our friends get out? Are there still trees on the streetcar line? What will our economy be like with no visitors? How many are dead? Do I have a roof? Have the looters found me yet? When can we go home?

Like I said, it consumes you as you sit helplessly miles from home, unable to help anyone, unable to do anything.

If I could, what I’d do first is hurt the looters. I’d hurt them bad.

But you have to forget all that. You have to focus on what is at hand, what you can reach and when you have three little kids lost at sea, they are what’s at hand and what you can reach.

Citizen Keith Williams has a good idea on how to restore order (but he’s not waiting for it to be put into effect):

Uptown resident Keith Williams started his own security patrol, driving around in his Ford pickup with his newly purchased handgun. Earlier in the day, Williams said he had seen the body of a gunshot victim near the corner of Leonidas and Hickory streets.

“What I want to know is why we don’t have paratroopers with machine guns on every street,” Williams said.

Lock and load.


August 30, 2005

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is illustrating the dangers of opining with too little data. As the storm moved north yesterday, a number of commentators, both online and in the major media, were already starting to yowl that the pre-storm predictions of mass destruction were overblown and unwarranted. After all, they said, the thing went through New Orleans, and look–the city’s still there. There’s no ‘giant bowl of toxic gumbo’ (to paraphrase many, many comments). Heck, I can see the Superdome on CNN, and it’s beat up, but it’s not an island or anything!

With one of the major levees failing this morning, several parishes under water (few of which could be reached by people with cameras yesterday), an entirely unknown death toll, hundreds of people trapped by flooding, and untold devestation on the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf coasts, it’s starting to look like the instant post-storm criticism was itself premature.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune has, for the first time in its history, published an electronic-only edition today–a notably ironic achievement, since almost nobody in the city has electricity, much less internet access. It’s in .pdf format, and it’s heartbreaking.

Here’s similar coverage from the Biloxi Sun Herald.

UPDATE: After riding out the actual storm yesterday, the Times-Picayune staff is now evacuating their building in downtown New Orleans.

Tuesday, 9:40 a.m.

The Times-Picayune is evacuating it’s New Orleans building.

Water continues to rise around our building, as it is throughout the region. We want to evaucate our employees and families while we are still able to safely leave our building.

Our plan is to head across the Mississippi River on the Pontchartrain Expressway to the west bank of New Orleans and Jefferson Parish. From there, we’ll try to head to Houma.

Our plan, obviously, is to resume providing news to our readers ASAP. Please refer back to this site for continuing information as soon as we are able to provide it.

MORE: Just heard from a friend of mine that his sister’s family is evacuating Baton Rouge due to a rapid rise in the Mississippi River. The situation in New Orleans is deteriorating; this from WDSU’s hurricane blog:

11:04 a.m.: Looting Out Of Control
New Orleans police say looting is out of control in many parts of the city. Officials are focusing on the rescue effort, but a crackdown on looting is expected after the martial law declaration. — WDSU anchor Kriss Fairbairn

10:30 a.m.: Martial Law Declared New Orleans is under martial law, according to state officials. It could be weeks before displaced residents are allowed to return. — WDSU chief meteorologist Dan Milham

10:27 a.m.: Blanco Expects Death Toll To Be High
Gov. Kathleen Blanco said her office has not confirmed any deaths but expects the loss of life to be high. — WDSU chief meteorologist Dan Milham

10:25 a.m.: Superdome ‘Miserable’ The Superdome is filthy. Garbage bins are overflowing with trash and the bathrooms are filthy. In addition, the plumbing does not work. City officials say conditions are “miserable.” — WDSU chief meteorologist Dan Milham

10:21 a.m.: Water, Travel Conditions Poor Residents are urged to avoid drinking the water in New Orleans. It is not safe. The only way in and out of New Orleans is the Crescent City Connection. — WDSU chief meteorologist Dan Milham

10:20 a.m.: Twin Span Bridges Destroyed
The twin span bridges into east New Orleans have been destroyed [These are the bridges on Interstate 10 from Slidell/Gulfport; the only highway in or out of New Orleans is now I-10 on the west side. –WC]. It’s still not clear whether the entire bridges are destroyed or just sections of them. People are warned not to drive across any high-rise bridges. Their integrity may be compromised by the impact of the storm. — WDSU chief meteorologist Dan Milham

10:17 a.m.: Hospitals Face Dire Situations
New Orleans’ hospitals are facing even an even greater crisis. Tulane Medical Center said the water is rising quickly and could disable its emergency generator. Tulane is trying to evacuate and airlift all patients from its hospital and charity hospital. Ten hospitals in New Orleans are running on emergency generators. — WDSU chief meteorologist Dan Milham

Blogging Under Fire

August 29, 2005

… but hopefully not under water.

Here are a few “live” media weblogs from New Orleans and Biloxi, Mississippi. It’s riveting and harrowing stuff; hopefully all the the bloggers below are staying (relatively) dry and safe as Katrina does its worst:

New Orleans Times-Picayune

WDSU-TV (New Orleans)

Biloxi Sun Herald

Category Five

August 28, 2005

The top winds in Hurricane Katrina are up to 175 miles an hour, the third-highest hurricane wind speed ever recorded. What’s worse, the storm is bearing down on arguably the most vulnerable spot in the continental United States, New Orleans.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune published a long series a few years back about what might happen if the city were hit by a major storm. Their analysis wasn’t pretty, and it should scare the hell out of anybody in the area (or anybody anywhere):

Georges, a Category 2 storm that only grazed New Orleans, had pushed waves to within a foot of the top of the levees. A stronger storm on a slightly different course — such as the path Georges was on just 16 hours before landfall — could have realized emergency officials’ worst-case scenario: hundreds of billions of gallons of lake water pouring over the levees into an area averaging 5 feet below sea level with no natural means of drainage.

That would turn the city and the east bank of Jefferson Parish into a lake as much as 30 feet deep, fouled with chemicals and waste from ruined septic systems, businesses and homes. Such a flood could trap hundreds of thousands of people in buildings and in vehicles. At the same time, high winds and tornadoes would tear at everything left standing. Between 25,000 and 100,000 people would die, said John Clizbe, national vice president for disaster services with the American Red Cross.

“A catastrophic hurricane represents 10 or 15 atomic bombs in terms of the energy it releases,” said Joseph Suhayda, a Louisiana State University engineer who is studying ways to limit hurricane damage in the New Orleans area. “Think about it. New York lost two big buildings. Multiply that by 10 or 20 or 30 in the area impacted and the people lost, and we know what could happen.”

An old boss of mine was a kid growing up in Jefferson Parish during Betsy (1965), when the local government broke the levee to save downtown New Orleans–flooding Jefferson Parish and tens of thousands of homes. He and his family had to be rescued from the roof of their house. This one could easily be much worse.

If you’re in the area, get out, and do it now. This is not just another hurricane that might turn away and hit Galveston or Mobile instead. You can’t afford to take that chance this time.

For everybody else, get ready to help. I don’t mean to be a harbinger of doom here, and I’m certainly hoping that Katrina fizzles out, a la Dennis, but there’s a very real possibility that this could be our tsunami.

UPDATE: Here’s the latest damage prediction from the National Weather Service. It’s very grim reading.


This Won’t Be Pretty

August 22, 2005

Remember the old “Night Flight” show on USA cable? Ran overnight Fridays and Saturdays, played a great deal of weird and wonderful stuff. One of their best recurring bits was a series of “alternative” animated shorts, and one of the funniest of those was titled, “Bambi Vs. Godzilla.”

The Gerald Ford Museum folks could do a lot worse than recycling that title for this debate:

Tribune Media Services columnists Victor Davis Hanson and Arianna Huffington will square off in a debate about whether the U.S. is “internationalist or imperial.”

Like the animated version, this matchup promised to be brutal, funny, and utterly one-sided. We can only hope C-SPAN picks it up (although it could well be R-rated for extreme intellectual evisceration).

Sweet Home

August 4, 2005

Although I moved away a decade ago, I was born and raised in Alabama. My family (on both sides) has lived there for many generations. Even so, I honestly can’t think of a single time when I could say that I was proud of the state’s government and/or elected officials.

Until now.

Alabama yesterday became the first state to enact new protections against local-government seizure of property allowed under a Supreme Court ruling that has triggered an explosive grass-roots counteroffensive across the country.

Republican Gov. Bob Riley signed a bill that was passed unanimously by a special session of the Alabama Legislature, which would prohibit governments from using their eminent-domain authority to take privately owned properties for the purpose of turning them over to retail, industrial, office or residential developers.

Calling the high court’s June 23 ruling “misguided” and a “threat to all property owners,” Mr. Riley said, “A property rights revolt is sweeping the nation, and Alabama is leading it.”

Bravo, ladies and gentlemen.

Show that much good sense with the rest of your work, and there’ll be a lot fewer wisecracks about our home state. I quite literally have never been prouder of you.