When Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans on Monday, it could turn one of America’s most charming cities into a vast cesspool tainted with toxic chemicals, human waste and even coffins released by floodwaters from the city’s legendary cemeteries.
Experts have warned for years that the levees and pumps that usually keep New Orleans dry have no chance against a direct hit by a Category 5 storm.
Katrina reached Category 5 level Sunday before weakening just slightly to a strong Category 4 storm early Monday. But with top winds of 150 mph and the power to lift sea level by as much as 28 feet above normal, the storm threatened an environmental disaster of biblical proportions, one that could leave more than 1 million people homeless.
“All indications are that this is absolutely worst-case scenario,” Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, said Sunday afternoon.
Estimates predict that 60 percent to 80 percent of the city’s houses will be destroyed by wind. With the flood damage, most of the people who live in and around New Orleans could be homeless.
“We’re talking about in essence having — in the continental United States — having a refugee camp of a million people,” van Heerden said.