Fear Factor: Is NOLA Ready for Katrina Part 2?

New Orleans plans to issue a mandatory evacuation order if a Category 3 or stronger hurricane comes within 60 hours of the city. Unlike Katrina, there will be no massive shelter at the Superdome, but instead, a plan designed to encourage residents to leave. The state has arranged for buses and trains to take up to 30,000 people to safety. The city expects an evacuation to take 24 to 36 hours.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has put 3,000 National Guard troops on alert, while FEMA has readied supplies, such as water, food and generators, to distribute in the region.

But it's not the city's organization level that has residents who have ridden out storms in the past fastidiously planning their exits; it's their shaken faith in the levees that were built to protect them.

"It feels like [the city] has a definite plan of action to evacuate the indigent and those with health problems," said 37-year-old Michelle Gibbs, who lives in Lacombe, right outside New Orleans. "I'm not confident about the levees holding."

Hurricane Gustav vs. Katrina

But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains that the system is different now than it was in 2005.

"Well, you know, I am not prepared to say what level of storm we can protect against," said Col. Jeff Bedey, who oversees the federal flood protection system in New Orleans. "The system is stronger today than pre-Katrina."

But all across the city, residents are packing up because of that shaken faith. Experts believe their fears may be well-founded.

"The general preparedness planning has been very, very much upgraded," said Irwin Redlener, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. "Gov. Jindal has a handle on all the resources available. ... He's also putting alerts out to citizens and very extensively telling people what they need to do, what they need to be aware of.

"All of the prospective planning things seem to be in a far better shape than pre-Katrina," he added. "But I'm not so sure about the levees. ... We could conceivably be on the verge of a real-life testing of the stability of the levee repairs."

For Klaus Jacob, a special research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, it's more complicated.

"You have to realize the levees were built in the late '30s, and over the decades they evolved," Jacob said.

Year after year, land in the extreme Mississippi Delta, where New Orleans sits, sinks, said Jacob. Combine that with rising sea levels caused by global warming, and you've got a problem on your hands.

"The land sinks, and the levee sinks with the land; therefore they do not do as well a job as the engineers planned," he said.

Levees and Floods

Similarly, it's the levees that Sandy Rosenthal gets passionate about. A lifelong New Orleans resident-turned-activist, she lives uptown.

Speaking with a slight but unmistakable N'awlins accent, Rosenthal said, "If you would have asked me the day before Katrina [if I trusted those levees], I would have told you absolutely. They're built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Now even with the assurance that the levees are stronger than they were, I myself have little faith in those levees."

Like his fellow residents, Derrick Rogers, a 28-year-old sales manager who lives in the Broadmoor neighborhood and is working on his MBA at Tulane University, has already made reservations at hotels in Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C.

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