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Riding Out Katrina in the Superdome

If you've watched the news, you've seen the long lines of people waiting to get into the Louisiana Superdome to ride out the storm. Nobody knows exactly how it will work, but here is an amalgamation of the most probable estimates on what these people will probably face.

It's a near certainty the electricity will go out about midday Monday. The Dome has backup power but it is only for lighting -no environmental controls- and the backup lighting is not full power. The Dome is about 20 stories high, but people will be scattered all thru it.

If the worst happens -and at this point it seems implausible that it won't- the bottom 2 stories will fill with water. Dirty nasty foul water full of chemicals and raw sewerage. Further the bathroom facilities are only expected to function for the first day.

So in rough terms, 40,000+ people will be trapped in a building with no plumbing, little light and no air conditioning. The temps after the storm rolls thru will probably be in the low 90s. Considerably hotter in the building.

There is an elevated paved deck that surrounds the Dome. It will most probably be above water but inaccessible until probably daylight Tuesday. Once the people can get out to the deck, they will still be trapped there because the city will be underwater. They will be an island. We have no idea how long it will take to remove the water from the city. I've seen estimates from 10 weeks to 10 months... yes months. *

There is a helipad (maybe 2) where choppers can land to drop potable water, food, tents and other supplies, but sanitation will be scarce to put it mildly. We really have no idea how long people will be there.

In theory they can be removed by boat... But how do you move 40,000+ people by boats that will be navigating their way thru a flooded city? And where do you put them?

And this is assuming the building has no structural problems.

These are all guesses obviously- we've never done it before. But it is pretty much commonly accepted these people will face days or probably weeks of hellish conditions few of us can imagine.

* Note: The shortest estimate I've seen is 10 weeks. I think even that is long. If we blow holes in a few of the levees, the water will mostly flow on its own. But admittedly I've never studied it.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Riding Out Katrina in the Superdome:

» Phog Blog linked with Pray for New Orleans

» Jeff Quinton - Backcountry Conservative linked with Hurricane Katrina updates

» Michelle Malkin linked with KATRINA BLOGGING: DIRE PREDICTIONS

» Random Numbers linked with Bye-Bye, Big Easy!

» A North American Patriot linked with Forces of Nature

» Macmind - Conservative Commentary and Common Sense linked with Katrina Blogging the Aftermath

» Mike's Noise linked with Katrina

» Blog o'RAM linked with When things go Bump in the Night

» Rocket Jones linked with Time to pray (updated)

» Pirate's Cove linked with Katrina On Line Journalin'

» Bogus Gold linked with How About This Weather?

» Off Wing Opinion linked with Inside The Superdome

» Politicalities linked with Katrina

Comments (53)

It's right next to the inte... (Below threshold)

It's right next to the intersection of I-10 and the Pontchartrain Expressway. They're fairly high above the average land level, so evacuation should be simple enough in the middle term.

I've seen the pumps that ha... (Below threshold)

I've seen the pumps that handle normal rainwater on TV but I don't remember if they have elevated buildings to keep the motors dry or if they do how high they are. I'm also wondering if they have backup power or if they stop when then electricity goes out.

I wonder if they're using t... (Below threshold)

I wonder if they're using the next-door basketball arena, too.

In the current case (AKA "t... (Below threshold)

In the current case (AKA "the worst one") the pumps are supposedly going to be about ten feet under water.

They're electrically powered.

Once of the Army Corps of Engineer guys on the news earlier today, when asked about getting the water out of the city, said, "the levees are what keeps the water in, and we have explosives."

If the stormsurge is large ... (Below threshold)

If the stormsurge is large enough, blowing holes in the levees probably won't drain anything for the first few days or weeks - Orleans is below sea level even in the calmest of conditions, by up to twenty feet in some places, and even if you blow the levees, water's still going to remain at those levels, probably keeping roads impassible. After all, most of the people in the SuperDome were those who were physically or monetarily unable to escape the city beforehand.

I don't think it would be that difficult to move people off the Dome once the storm passes. New Orleans city officials have been worried about this sort of event since as far back as before Ivan hit in 2004, and back then they were trying to plan for evacuations around the number of 300,000 highly dispersed people. There are plans with ferry owners, private boat owners, and cargo ships. Remember, New Orleans is (maybe was) a huge port, carrying somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of all U.S. cargo, as well as a crapload of seafood, oil, and nat gas. Cargo ships can carry hundreds of people, albeit in uncomfortable conditions, anywhere there's a port. It's an idea, at least.

I mostly worry about the energy. As I said, there's a lot of oil and natural gas moving around in New Orleans, and even a small amount of the former could be deadly to a major population center if it ended up in the wrong place.

The really funny thing abou... (Below threshold)

The really funny thing about this is there is only company in the world that has the equipment and the knowledge to pump all the water out inside any decent timeframe. I'll give you 3 guesses who they are. Wouldn't that just set up the biggest moonbat feeding frenzy there ever was?

I bet Kerr-McGee and all th... (Below threshold)

I bet Kerr-McGee and all the other oil drillers/movers (like Halliburton, as bullwinkle alluded to) have the right equipment nearby (Texas, say). Wonder how fast it can be moved.

My thoughts and prayers are... (Below threshold)

My thoughts and prayers are with you and everyone who is with you inside the superdome. Good luck and we wait more news.

Every update we get here in... (Below threshold)

Every update we get here in Tampa Bay, the pit of my stomach sinks even lower... Just want to wish y'all well and let you know we're thinking of you over here on the other side of the Gulf.

The real issue at the Dome ... (Below threshold)

The real issue at the Dome is not so much the water, but a question of whether it will even remain standing.

http://tinyurl.com/8g4bj (football.ballparks.com)

... to take the concrete and steel aspect out of the building's exterior and interior appearance, new construction techniques and materials were brought in, tested and incorporated into the overall design.

For example, the Superdome's outer skin is composed of 500,000 square feet (146,500 square meters) of anodized aluminum

Lovely ... sheets of aluminum flying around in 160-175 mph winds.

But wait! It gets better!

Contractors building the Superdome also found that it required efforts and techniques that were a bit out of the ordinary, especially in the construction of its roof. For this building, the largest clear span steel structure in the world ... is literally held together by its roof. In its flying - saucer-shaped design , the walls of the Superdome literally hang (for want of more descriptive term) from the roof, with the force vectors at foundation level pointing away from the center.

So basically, the outside is riveted panels of aluminum suspended from the roof. The director of FEMA has already warned that even buildings design to withstand the force of a Cat 5 hurricane will NOT be able to withstand winds of 160+ mph.

The term "death trap" comes easily to mind here. Do we never learn?

Anyone here notice how this... (Below threshold)

Anyone here notice how this story, although picking up at the last minute, hasn't had much traction in the MSM relatively speaking. If you had a busy weekend, you might not even know what's about to happen.

At a certain point, if the ... (Below threshold)

At a certain point, if the water is high enough and remains trapped, wouldn't it make sense to blow up some of the levees and let it drain?

Patricia,That's ac... (Below threshold)
Brandon in Baton Rouge:


That's actually one plan that the Army Corps Of Engineers has to help clear out the water, as by that point the levee system would be keeping the water IN rather than OUT.

I don't know if it will be ... (Below threshold)

I don't know if it will be just about how fast the flood waters can be drained from the city.
The water will be seriously nasty, potentially polluted. I'd bet that there will be a lot of discussions over the environmental effects of dumping all the contaminated water back in to the ocean or where ever they plan to dump it.
It wouldn't surpise me if it tooks months - most of it spent politicizing this soon-to-be-tragedy.

This afternoon CNN ran a se... (Below threshold)

This afternoon CNN ran a segment taped months ago about this very thing happening in New Orleans. They interviewed the head of the city (or mabye state) emergency management system. He seemed to be the guy in charge (or at least in the know). He stated it would take 120 days to pump all the water out of the city. Temp. pumps would pump out enough water to get the main pumps back up and online. Also he stated that even after the levees were purposely breached, because the city is at a max 12 feet below sea-level, there would be ten-twelve feet of water that would have to be pumped out...hence 120 days.

I'm a civil engineer. I li... (Below threshold)
Tom Nally:

I'm a civil engineer. I live in New Orleans. I've been in and around the superdome numerous times. I'm currently evacuated to Memphis.

Structurally, I would expect that the dome would be one of the last buildings in N.O. to receive wind damage. Sure, "accessories" such as light supports and whatnot could blow away, but I'm doubtful that the superstructure of the dome will be damaged.

I'm doubtful that alumunimum panels will go flying off the roof. Aluminum might comprise the skin of the roof, but it appears to me that it is covered by a uniform, smooth layer of rubbery material.

I suspect that the volume of water in the city will be a much bigger problem than the foreign components that the water might contain.

Say that the city does fill up. Say that the pumps are initially inundated. I would expect that there is some way to partially drain the city by gravity, perhaps by strategically opening a levee here or there. The water would probably be drained to a point where the pumps could be made operational. Then, power would be restored to the pumps (either emergency or otherwise) and the pumps would begin the long, hard task.

If I recall correctly, many of the stations due have their own generators. Of course, if you can't get diesel fuel to the generators, then that's a problem.

Once pumping begins, the cannot produce a sustainable dry condition unless the levees are in good condition. If the storm effects have damanged levees near the pump stations, then the pumps would merely pump into a channel which would turn around and allow the water to leak back into residential areas through damaged locations in the levee.

It's definitely going to be a challenge. The idea that Halliburton is the lone potential savior of the area is probably overblown. I suspected that there will be thousands of contractors of all sizes who will play a role in the effort to restore the city.

---Tom Nally, usually New Orleans, currently Memphis

I'm in Houston, and have so... (Below threshold)

I'm in Houston, and have some familiarity with the impact of Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, which flooded a large number of parking garages in the Downtown/Texas Medical Center areas.

Believe me, those guys found lots of pumps, but in some of the garages downtown it still took 50 days to pump out about 250 million gallons of water.

There aren't a huge number of high-capacity pumps out there, but I'll bet most of them will be in New Orleans very soon.

The port won't do much good... (Below threshold)

The port won't do much good if it isn't left. Not to mention, hurricanes can cause blockages in channels. No channel, no port access.

Tom Nally - Stop t... (Below threshold)
Richard R:

Tom Nally -

Stop thinking like a civil engineer, think like an aeronautical engineer.

You make life by blowing air over the curved surface of a wing. What you have in the Superdome is the worlds largest lifting surface.

I'm trying to take a stab at what the Reynolds number would be, but at 170 MPH, it looks to me like the Dome is doomed.

<a href="http://joshbritton... (Below threshold)


This assessment is sobering. Bill Curl, spokesman for the Superdome at the time this interview was conducted, basically says that the Superdome isn't a shelter, that it has never been tested in a wind tunnel with sky scrapers around, which would act as a wind tunnel. This quote is pretty scary:

"According to Curl, the assumption that the Superdome can withstand hurricane force winds is just that: an assumption."

Nice to know this has never been tested.

There are a few places to g... (Below threshold)

There are a few places to get really large-scale, high-volume pumps of the sort that are going to be needed to clear New Orleans in a shorter time.

They're mostly on - or for - ships.

Either large propulsion pumps (like the ones on high-speed car ferries, but debris might be an issue), or large suction pumps that are used on things like rotary suction dredges (big ones can push over 6000 cubic yards of debris-filled muck per hour).

Getting them into place will be sort of interesting. Filtering out the crap that's going to be floating around will be another issue.

This is assuming, of course, that there are some sitting around in warehouses, and that they don't all have to be custom built.

Best of luck to you, Tom, B... (Below threshold)

Best of luck to you, Tom, Brandon and all the folks down there in NO.

My prayers are with the fol... (Below threshold)

My prayers are with the folks going through this ordeal. Today I stumbled across a website at www.SupportNewOrleans.com which supports the brave people facing Hurricane Katrina. Others have posted letters of support on the site as well.

Richard R - those are also ... (Below threshold)

Richard R - those are also my concerns about the dome. I wrote a post about it on my blog earlier tonight. The lift generated by the air rushing over the Superdome's roof could literally pry it apart.

The rushing air could also wrench apart that parking deck, smashing pieces into the side of the stadium.

I'm very concerned for those people in there.

How long before the contrac... (Below threshold)

How long before the contractors starting gouging the survivors?

Anyone want to make a bet w... (Below threshold)

Anyone want to make a bet with me that by Wednesday we'll all be saying, "Wow, that could have been much worse." and everyone will be either back home or on their way home?

After the last worst hurricane we've ever seen (Which turned out to be a dude) i'm a little bit skeptical of all the hysteria. We don't live in a third world nation. Tsunami's kill 100's of thousands in third world countries, in America, they get only the youngest, the oldest and the sick/feeble.

Many people still do... (Below threshold)

Many people still don't realize how violent the weather has become in recent years and just how destructive this new breed of storms can be. Forget your references. These puppies are off the scale, any scale.

400 people died in Mumbai in rainstorms that normally don't happen there. North-east China got a typhoon last month, highly exceptional for that latitude. China's rain, flood and landslide body count stands at double what it usually is halfway the rain season. Last year Sichuan got a once-in-150-years rainfall, this year they are at once-in-100. Still people don't take the weather's wrath seriously.

Weather has gotten really wicked. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and if you can: get out of the way.

Due to the big difference in wind speed outside and inside the Dome, it will most likely be peeled of its skin, whatever it is made of, leaving only the steel skeleton structure standing, and exposing its temporary inhabitants to the hurricane itself.

Along with the water will come a lot of sand making the future draining process near impossible for many weeks. Before getting rid of the water in the city, canals will have to be cleared of the mud hindering any ship of a decent size. It's gonna take months before even the port can be used again as before, not to mention rebuilding the harbour facilities which are all on the shoreline and smack in the line of fire. Major disruption of oil, gas and other supplies to the entire U.S., doing to the economy what Kobe's 1995 earthquake did to that of Japan.

All this filthy water sitting there is gonna make life in the city impossible due to mosquitos and disease. It's gonna be a ghost town for quite a while.

Good Luck.

Actually, Baggi, hurricanes... (Below threshold)
John in NH:

Actually, Baggi, hurricanes in the US tend to kill the stupid (who chose not to leave) and the poor (who can't leave).

I really feel badly for you... (Below threshold)
DogMan (from Miami):

I really feel badly for you guys. We went through Katrina here in Florida and she seemed much stronger than a CAT 1 IMHO although I haven't seen the actual readings as yet.
I have however been through many many CAT 1 hurricanes and Katrina surely seemed stronger than a level 1 but probably not stronger than a 2. I was here for ANDREW (circa 1992) and that was basically a living hell for the duration and many many weeks thereafter. Andrew was later proven to be a CAT 5 hurricane as they are now callling Katrina. For anyone in the dome or still in New Orleans who is reading this...the sound is the worse part -- it creates a continual humm and vibration that is beyond belief and it constantly keeps your mind wondering if the structure you are in is simply just going to vibrate apart --- yes..the humm is that deep and penetrating....sadly...... you guys will be hearing that sound in your minds for a long time after Katrina says goodbye....

Our thoughts are with you and our prayers go out to you!
God Bless you all and keep the faith in Christ!

if its any consolation i ju... (Below threshold)
Dogman (from Miami):

if its any consolation i just heard on the news that this is now a CAT 4 storm ..having been recently downgraded...that is certainly a step in the right direction

A friend of mine who was in... (Below threshold)
jd watson:

A friend of mine who was in the military at the time rode out Camille in an APC.

The Galveston Hurricane of ... (Below threshold)

The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 that killed 6,000 people was CAT 4.

The Galveston Hurricane of ... (Below threshold)
John S.:

The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 that killed 6,000 people hit without warning. The 6,000 people were on an island that wasn't evacuated. My prediction: The damage will be 1/10 the overhyped predictions. Gas prices still will go up another $2 a gallon.

Hi! Ummm. I was hoping for... (Below threshold)

Hi! Ummm. I was hoping for on-going updates, especially from the Superdome. Paul posted once and not again, correct? Is that because power is out at the dome? Along with the rest of the world, I'm praying that tomorrow morning is sunny and finds us safe and much wiser with more dedication.

Godspeed to all in Katrina'... (Below threshold)

Godspeed to all in Katrina's path. Hoping for miracles. Paul my prayers are for you and your neighbors.

Television news is reportin... (Below threshold)
Tim in PA:

Television news is reporting that the Superdome has lost sections of its roof.

See this earlier post of mi... (Below threshold)
Tom Nally:

See this earlier post of mine:


Well, I was doubtful that the skin of the roof of the superdome would come off...but clearly I was WRONG!

Prior to that, I expressed doubt that the superstructure of the dome would receive damage. I hope I'm not wrong about that one, but who knows?

Regarding contractors "gouging" the survivors, here is my take. Say that a contractor is only allowed by legal authorities to increase his prices by, say, 10% over what he would normally charge. There is nothing in there that would motivate a Houston contractor or an Atlanta contractor to come to New Orleans to provide services. It wouldn't be worth a mere 10% increase in fees.

If I'm a plywood supplier in Oregon, I have no motivation to send product to the Gulf area.

In other words, rising prices are a signal to the market that there is tremendous need for product at the point where prices are rising. If prices are held level, there is no motivation for additional product to flow to the area in need.

---Tom Nally, New Orleans

Statement about the Superdo... (Below threshold)

Statement about the Superdome off MSNBC. I feel bad for the people who took shelter there.. "At the Superdome, where thousands sought shelter, a hole opened in the roof and rain was leaking in. A few hours earlier, the power failed, triggering groans from the crowd. Emergency generators kicked in, but the backup power runs only reduced lighting and is not strong enough to run the air conditioning."

Tom,Very interesti... (Below threshold)


Very interesting take on supply and demand. That really is the nature of capitalism. So, perhaps there has to be incentive for suppliers and service people to go to help, but the cost capped and absorbed by the larger group, not the individual.

Watching the process in Florida, I can see there are many sides. If not managed by government in some way, the outcome can be bad. People with resources grab the available service people and products, those in need get served last and so on.

Nothing is simple. The pictures coming out of The Superdome are stunning. Blessings to all.

I have a particular concern... (Below threshold)

I have a particular concern about vehicles left on the streets. With a sufficient depth of floodwater they get transported along until they get slammed up against a building. If that ruptures the fuel tank you get gasoline on the surface.

John S.I know, but... (Below threshold)

John S.

I know, but I just wanted to make the point that Cat 4's are nothing to sneeze at.

Thankfully, it looks like you're going to be right about the damage, and unhappily about the gas prices as well. I don't fault the politicians for taking this seriously, it could have been "underhyped" if the storm continued on its original track.

Can Mr McNally advise us of... (Below threshold)

Can Mr McNally advise us of the additional risk posed by a 3 to 5 foot tear in the roof of the Superdome? It's not just the external liner, the folk inside are looking up at daylight. Can emergency repairs be carried out from the inside?

From <a href="http://www.ww... (Below threshold)

From http://www.wwltv.com/

Two holes ripped in Superdome roof, visible from facility floor, according to Associated Press reports.


St. Bernard Parish spokesman Larry Ingargiola says the parish's two shelters at Chalmette High and St. Bernard High are suffering major damage. He said Chalmette High shelter is losing its roof, and St. Bernard High has plenty of broken windows and glass. He estimates 300-plus refugees at the two sites.

Entergy says 317,000 customers were without power as of 6 a.m. Cleco reported 40,000 without power in St. Tammany Parish.

St. Bernard Parish officials say most of the parish has no power.

Monty,I'm no struc... (Below threshold)


I'm no structural engineer, but I would imagine that NO ONE would be going near the roof as long as high velocity winds are flowing over the top. It would be too easy for someone to get critically injured or killed by flying debris, if not popped out like a cork out of a bottle.

With only 9,000 people in the Dome, they should be able to fit into the reinforced concrete underhang by the concession area and be relatively safe.

Apartment building on Wrigh... (Below threshold)

Apartment building on Wright Avenue in Terrytown has collapsed with people inside, according to Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee. Rescue crews have not been able to get to the scene as of 9:30 a.m.

Karen Swensen says there is 3 feet of water downtown near the Hyatt. She reports several office windows coming out whole from buildings.


Evacuation? Think small! (b... (Below threshold)

Evacuation? Think small! (boats that is) Remember how the Brits evacuated Dunkirk: with plenty of small boats -anything that floats. If there is anything that is in excess down south it is small boats -there should be at least one in every yard.

My best to the people of Ne... (Below threshold)

My best to the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

I have heard that the roof of the Superdome is damaged, but I do not share many of the concerns abut it, even with the roof damage. Part of the reason a house can lose its roof during a major windstorm is that the wind is able to get under the roof -- eaves, vents, what have you -- and, when combined with the lack of pressure overhead from the speeding wind, creates the same kind of lift that an airplane gets, but in this case is enough to separate the roof from the rest of the house. The typical house is rather square and the typical house roof tends to be flat or gabled. This is not the case with the Superdome.

The Superdome is a very roundish structure, which is good aerodynamically in that it encourages the wind to go around it. From the pictures I've seen, the roof appears to a shallow inverse cone, which by itself encourages the wind to go around it and not through it. Furthermore, the roof itself appears to be slightly recessed from the top of the facade, which further encourages the wind to go around and not through. From an aerodynamic standpoint, the Superdome is probably the best able of any standing structure in New Orleans to withstand hurricane force winds.

Now, I understand the damage to the roof has occurred, but the news stories indicate that the damage came in the area of a few air vents. This is where the wind comes in under the roof and creates the lift. But I would guess that with most structures with large freestanding roofs the damage would have been far worse (though the storm is not over yet). Such buldings are deathtraps in such weather. The Superdome is not because of its relatively aerodynamic design.

Moral of the story (as far as I can tell): want to survive windy weather, build a dome-shaped house for yourself.

The interesting thing about... (Below threshold)

The interesting thing about Galveston is that they SHOULD have evactuated. Had the National Weather Service listened to the experienced hurricane forecasters from Cuba rather than insisting that our forecasters were "better", we would have guessed that the hurricane was going out toward the Gulf, rather than just veering off into the Atlantic. That, and as the hurricane approached, the weatherman on the island should have figured that a hurricane was coming, but didn't and waited until it was too late to raise the hurricane flag.

hi i live on the east coast... (Below threshold)

hi i live on the east coast of england which has bad winter storms and surges but cannot imagine what you guys are going through. The dome sounds like the last place I would like to be so I wish you all the very best and look forward to hearing of your safe exit from this force of nature

Hi My brother, Jam... (Below threshold)
Jonathan Trout:


My brother, Jamie Trout, sent me an email saying that he was being evacuated into the Superdome on Sunday evening UK time. Does anyone know if there is a way of getting messages in or out? Any estimates on how long they are going to be in there?

Thanks, Jonathan Trout, London

Any company in the MEP engi... (Below threshold)
Alex B, Austin,TX:

Any company in the MEP engineering consulting business displaced due to hurricane Katrina should contact me at the following email address ([email protected]). My company ATS Engineers located in Austin, TX has space to support a small company in the rebuilding that will take place in New Orleans.

It's amazing to see this ki... (Below threshold)

It's amazing to see this kind of thing happening in the United States.

Interesting that before the... (Below threshold)
Reg Hilbert:

Interesting that before the winds calmed down, Louisiana's Governor stood on the steps of the capital building half way across the state and, with no engineering background, without having seen the dome herself, without sending any of her staff down to look at the dome, without having the input of any engineer, without any personal investigation, she simply looked in to the television camera and stated matter of factly, "the Superdome will have to be razed." Lots of fingers of blame were directed at Washington, but the whacked out, tipsy leadership in a time of crisis and ridiculously baseless statements such as that about razing the dome, suggest that the dear Governor is bonkers. The voters of Louisiana have nobody to blame but themselves.






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