A Tale of Three Disasters: Hurricane Katrina, Haiti and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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After any major disaster there is widespread criticism of the government being slow to act, so it's revealing to compare timelines for three disasters where those criticisms were especially loud. For all three, the day of the disaster itself is Day 0. For Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, there were two days of precursory events that we can number as -2 and -1. For Katrina, Day 0 is defined as the date of landfall and levee breaches. For Haiti, of course, Day 0 is the earthquake. For the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Day 0 is the day the rig sank.


Katrina, 2005 Haiti Earthquake 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, 2010
Day -2: Saturday, August 27, 2005
Katrina reaches Category 3 intensity. Officials in coastal parishes (counties) order evacuations.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin announces a state of emergency and a calls for a voluntary evacuation. Nagin said the city would open the Superdome as a shelter and advises anyone planning to stay there to bring their own food for three or four days. Louisiana National Guard delivers enough water and MRE's to supply 15,000 people for three days.
Governor Blanco asks President Bush to declare a major disaster for the State of Louisiana. Bush does so.
Last Amtrak train leaves New Orleans. Amtrak had offered the city the train to use for evacuating people. But the city did not take Amtrak up on the offer, and the train leaves the station without any passengers.
  Day -2: Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Explosion on the oil rig Deepwater Horizon kills 11 workers and starts large fire
Day -1: Sunday, August 28, 2005
Hurricane Katrina reaches Category 5 intensity.
Mayor Nagin issues mandatory evacuation order.
5376 National Guard personnel are deployed.
  Day -1: Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Support ships spray water in an attempt to suppress the fire on the Deepwater Horizon.
President Obama confers with Coast Guard, EPA and FEMA about the disaster.
Day 0: Monday, August 29, 2005
At 6:10 AM, Katrina makes landfall as a Category 3 storm. At 8:15 the first levee failure occurs. Others occur throughout the day.
Day 0: Tuesday, January 12, 2010:
Magnitude 7.0 earthquake at 4:53 PM local time. Local citizens engage in self-organized rescue efforts. Argentine helicopters from the United Nations forces stationed in Haiti perform some evacuations.
Day 0: Thursday, April 22, 2010
Deepwater Horizon sinks and comes to rest on the sea floor about a quarter of a mile northwest of the wellhead.
Day 1: Tuesday, August 30, 2005
It becomes apparent that the New Orleans levee breaches cannot be plugged.
Governor Blanco ordered that all of New Orleans, including the Superdome, be evacuated. She commandeers buses using her executive powers.
Widespread reports of looting.
Total National Guard deployed reaches 10,624.
Day 1: Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Two U.S. Coast Guard cutters arrive, as do rescue teams from Cuba and Peru.
The Red Cross creates a web site to assist people in contacting loved ones.
Day 1: Friday, April 23, 2010
Coast Guard suspends search for 11 crew members missing since the blast on April 20.
The general belief at this time is that there is no major undersea leakage. Coast Guard announces that no oil is leaking from the wellhead, and a 2 by 8 mile slick is from oil spilled during the fire.
Day 2: Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Katrina has degraded to a tropical depression over Quebec
85% of New Orleans is flooded
Bush returns to Washington and overflies New Orleans to view the disaster
Day 2: Thursday, January 14, 2010
Twenty nations pledge aid with significant on-site assistance coming from Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. Supplies arriving by air cannot be distributed because of clogged streets, and supplies cannot be brought in by ship because of damage to the port. Some relief organizations express concern about relief workers being in danger from criminal gangs. Social networking sites are used on a large scale for communication and raising relief donations.
Day 2: Saturday, April 24, 2010
Oil leakage estimated at up to 1,000 barrels or 42,000 gallons a day. When the rig sank, the riser, or pipe from the well to the rig, buckled and broke, creating three leaks. Fortunately, the pipe also kinked sharply, restricting oil flow from the well.
Day 3: Thursday, September 1, 2005
Evacuations at the Superdome suspended due to safety concerns about criminal activity.
Officials gradually become aware a large number of refugees are also at the Convention Center.
Day 3: Friday, January 15, 2010
9000 bodies have reportedly been buried. Haitians illegally in the United States are granted temporary protected status, meaning they will not be subject to deportation. The U.S. supercarrier Carl Vinson arrives with 600,000 emergency rations and 100,000 ten liter water containers. The ship can also distill 400,000 gallons (about 1.4 million liters) of water per day. 
Day 3: Sunday, April 25, 2010
Storms interfere with response efforts.
Unified command approves use of submersibles  to activate the blowout preventer on the sea floor.

Day 4: Friday, September 2, 2005
Evacuations resume from the Superdome
Airlines begin evacuating refugees.
Day 4: Saturday, January 16, 2010
Reportedly, 20,000 bodies have been buried, with the death toll estimated at 200,000, with 250,000 injured and a million homeless. The Defense Department creates a Joint Haiti Task Force. The Port-au-Prince airport is being run by the U.S. military and can handle 90 flights a day. The Red Cross delivers an  Emergency Response Unit, capable of supplying basic needs to 30,000 people.
New York Times: "Haiti Quake Day 4: Slow Relief."
Day 4: Monday, April 26, 2010
Oil spill measures 48 miles by 39 miles
Day 5: Saturday, September 3, 2005
The Superdome is mostly evacuated. Estimates of those remaining range from 2,000 to 5,000. Buses begin evacuating the nearly 25,000 refugees at the Convention Center.
The National Guard reports that it has served approximately 70,000 meals at the convention center already and has supplies to serve 130,000 more.
Recriminations begin in earnest as the New Orleans deputy police commander criticizes the National Guard.
Day 5: Sunday, January 17, 2010
Haitian police open fire on looters.
Canada announces it will send 1000 troops to assist in security.
14 Red Cross Emergency Response Units are en route.
From UPI.com: "Haiti aid relief strained, slow in coming"
Day 5: Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Day 6: Sunday, September 4, 2005
FEMA announces that the Superdome and Convention Center are completely evacuated.
The Times-Picayune of New Orleans runs an open letter to President Bush saying, "Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially."
Day 6: Monday, January 18, 2010
5800 U.S. troops are in Haiti or ships offshore.
Despite safety and security concerns, the U.S. Air Force began airdropping supplies to the countryside.
Day 6: Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Estimates of oil leakage raised to 5000 barrels a day, based on dimensions and spread of oil slick.
Controlled burn of oil attempted.
Day 7: Monday, September 5, 2005
Principal levee breaches are closed.
Day 7: Tuesday, January 19, 2010
The U.S. Navy reports having 17 ships, 48 helicopters and 10,000 personnel in Haiti.
Canadian forces open a second airport for 24 hour operations, relieving congestion at the Port-au-Prince airport.
A baby girl is rescued from the ruins of a hospital.
Day 7: Thursday, April 29, 2010
Homeland Security Secretary declares oil spill "of national significance."
EPA begins planning for oil slick to reach the Gulf Coast.
Louisiana governor Jindal declares emergency.
Day 8: Tuesday, September 6, 2005
Mayor Nagin reports that water levels in flooded areas have dropped significantly.
Nagin orders a forced evacuation of holdouts in New Orleans.
Day 8: Wednesday, January 20, 2010
 
Day 8: Friday, April 30, 2010
The Louisiana National Guard prepares to help combat the oil spill.
First bird covered in oil is caught and cared for.
Day 9: Wednesday, September 7, 2005 Day 9: Thursday, January 21, 2010
Mass burials continue, up to 10,000 per day.
Aid deliveries continue to experience problems.
Day 9: Saturday, May 1, 2010
Booms readied to keep oil out of Lake Ponchartrain.
Day 10: Thursday, September 8, 2005 Day 10: Friday, January 22, 2010  Day 10: Sunday, May 2, 2010
offshore fishing in the spill area closed.
DailyKos publishes rebuttal of claims that the spill is "Obama's Katrina."
Day 11: Friday, September 9, 2005
Michael Brown is removed as director of hurricane relief efforts but remains head of FEMA.
Day 11: Saturday, January 23, 2010
The Haitian government declares an end to rescue efforts. The Commander of the Argentine force in Haiti claims that 14 million field rations have been sent.
Day 11: Monday, May 3, 2010
Day 12: Saturday, September 10, 2005 Day 12: Sunday, January 24, 2010  Day 12: Tuesday, May 4, 2010
 First of two relief wells begun.
Day 13: Sunday, September 11, 2005 Day 13: Monday, January 25, 2010
The European Union announces plans to send 300 police officers to Haiti.
Day 13: Wednesday, May 5, 2010
BP attaches shutoff valve to one of three leaks.
Day 14: Monday, September 12, 2005
Most of the flooding in New Orleans has been pumped out.
Michael Brown becomes the official fall guy and resigns from FEMA.
Day 14: Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Brazilian troops use tear gas to disperse rioters at a food distribution site.
Day 14: Thursday, May 6, 2010
Containment dome arrives for a planned effort to capture flowing oil.
Later Events
By a month after the storm, refugees are temporarily sheltered in all 50 states and about half of the nation's ZIP codes. National Guard units from all 50 States assist in New Orleans
Later Events
A teenage girl is recovered alive on January 27. The last buried survivor is rescued on February 8. He had some access to food and water while trapped. By February some military aid missions are departing, refugee camps are achieving some organization, and commercial flights resume to Port-au-Prince.
Later Events
A containment box is lowered over the well but is clogged by methane hydrates. Speculation begins that methane hydrates may have led to the initial blowout. Media coverage virtually ceases by May 10.

Conclusions

The three disasters are different in kind and overly close comparisons may be misleading. Katrina and Haiti were large scale, rapid onset disasters, but the scale of the Haiti earthquake was far larger than that of Katrina. Perhaps ten per cent of the population of New Orleans was trapped in the Superdome and Convention Center, but everyone in Port-au-Prince was affected. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a more slowly evolving disaster and it is possible that the oil leaks did not begin until some time after the rig sank, possibly as a result of the riser pipe settling, kinking, and rupturing. It was probably also difficult at first to tell oil from the well on the sea floor from oil spilled during the fire.

Despite the scorn heaped on President Bush the Younger, remarkably enough, the response to Katrina was the most rapid of the three disasters. By Day 6, the refugees at the Superdome and Convention Center had all been evacuated. In Haiti, aid deliveries continued to be erratic well after Day 6. This, of course, is not a criticism of the aid agencies, who had to contend with blocked streets and crowd control. It wasn't until Day 6 of the Deepwater Horizon spill that the extent of the discharge was fully known, and Day 9 before oil booms began to be mobilized in earnest. On the other hand, it was only around Day 4 or 5 that stories began appearing in the press critical of the response times for all three disasters.

Disasters are gigantic sticky globs of entropy. By definition they make it impossible to move freely, get accurate information, or deliver aid. My own experience in Kurdistan in 1991, where there were no serious obstacles to delivering aid, showed me just how complex and laborious any disaster relief is. And workers can't simply drop what they're doing to assist some individual problem that may be acute for the individual but miniscule in comparison to the whole disaster. A driver of a food truck taking food for hundreds of people cannot - must not - stop to take someone to the hospital. The absolute bottom of the barrel for news coverage of Hurricane Katrina came when a BBC correspondent harassed aid workers - interfered with emergency operations - about an unburied body. The State Department should, very bluntly, have revoked his visa and deported him. Critical news coverage is one thing, interfering with emergency workers is another thing altogether.

Ray Nagin's advice before Katrina, if followed, would have prevented a lot of grief and hardship, but it still fell short of the mark. After a major disaster, people need to be prepared to cope for a week or more before aid begins arriving in quantity. Americans have the idea the disaster happens on Monday, FEMA arrives on Tuesday, they write checks on Wednesday, the builders come on Thursday, and everything is back to normal by the weekend. It just isn't so.

References

Katrina

ThinkProgress.Org: Katrina Timeline, http://thinkprogress.org/katrina-timeline/
National Geographic: Hurricane Katrina: The Essential Time Line, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/09/0914_050914_katrina_timeline.html
Wikipedia: Timeline of Hurricane Katrina, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Hurricane_Katrina

Haiti

Wikipedia: Timeline of relief efforts after the 2010 Haiti earthquake , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_relief_efforts_after_the_2010_Haiti_earthquake
Merced Sun-Star: Timeline of the earthquake in Haiti, http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2010/01/18/1275723/timeline-of-the-earthquake-in.html

Deepwater Horizon

Offshore-Technology.com: Deepwater Horizon: A Timeline of Events, http://www.offshore-technology.com/features/feature84446/
Newswatch: Energy: Timeline: The Deepwater Horizon disaster, http://blogs.chron.com/newswatchenergy/archives/2010/05/timeline_the_de_1.html
MediaMatters: Memo to media: Timeline contradicts "Obama's Katrina" claim, http://mediamatters.org/research/201004300053
DailyKos: Breaking:President obama was not slow in his response to the oil Spill,
http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2010/5/2/862750/-Breaking:President-obama-was-not-slow-in-his-response-to-the-oil-Spill.


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Created 8 May 2010;  Last Update 02 June, 2010

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