News Stories

Katrina: The REAL Aftermath

A team of engineers who have studied the failure of the 17th Street canal levee in New Orleans say they have found a cost-effective and efficient way to prevent future flooding. And psychologists in New Orleans says there is widespread mental illness, caused by trauma, among New Orleans residents. A problem that has been entirely ignored by the mainstream media is MOLD, which could mean that current renovations will have to be torn down again.

Civil engineers Hanif Chaudhry and Ahmed Kassem examined the breach of the New Orleans levee and found that temporary barriers made of wood, steel or concrete that hold back water may prevent the widespread flooding that results from levee failure.

Like millions of Americans, Chaudhry watched as engineers raced against time to close the breached levee. But he watched with a civil engineer?s eye and says, "It was apparent that the ordinary dumping of sandbags would not work and that a more systematic approach utilizing knowledge and experience gained from the closing of rivers might have been better." He figured out that the attempts to close the breached levee failed because the velocity of the water flowing through the breach was too high for the size of the sandbags that were used. He says, "Even sandbags that weighed 10,000 pounds washed away. Our laboratory tests confirm this and show that it would have taken sandbags weighing about 50,000 pounds to stay."

In his laboratory, he constructed a scale model of the canal, the breach and the surrounding area, which included a number of homes. Using a concept for closing rivers, he added stones between the homes to obstruct the water. The houses also acted as barriers to the water. Although this didn?t stop the flow completely, it backed up water to the breach location, reducing the flow velocity and allowing the use of smaller sandbags. He believes that if the same method had been used in New Orleans, the city's flooding would have been much less.

One of the legacies of Katrina is mental illness?and mold. Health professional Anu Dixit visited New Orleans and found the mold problem was overwhelming and neglected. When inhaled, mold spores may germinate, attaching to cells along the respiratory tract and causing problems in those with weak immune systems. Some spores release potent toxins that can cause very severe symptoms and lung lesions in children. Mold spores are also major allergens. When toxic mold invades a building, there is no way to remove it and the structure must be destroyed. There is no word about whether the flood-damaged houses in New Orleans are being tested for toxic mold, but if this is found, major portions of the city will have to be torn down?even if the houses have already been renovated?and rebuilding will have to start all over again.

The proportion of people with a serious mental illness doubled in the months after the hurricane compared to a survey carried out several years before the hurricane. However, thoughts of suicide did NOT increase, which shows our intrinsically strong people are. "The increase in mental illness among Katrina survivors is not surprising, but the low suicidality is a surprise," says health care worker Ronald Kessler. "Our concern, though, is that this lowering of suicidal tendencies appears to be strongly associated with expectations for recovery efforts that might not be realistic."

The vast majority of pre-hurricane residents of the affected areas in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi experienced a significant loss in one or more of the areas of finances, income, and housing. More than one-third experienced extreme physical adversity and nearly one-fourth experienced extreme psychological adversity. At the same time, evidence was found of an enormous amount of strength and personal growth in the sample, with the vast majority of survey respondents saying that their experiences with the hurricane helped them develop a deeper sense of meaning or purpose in life.

Most of the survivors of Katrina who have psychological problems have post-traumatic stress reactions. Many survivors of visitor experiences, including Whitley, have been diagnosed with this problem. Symptoms include nightmares, anxiety and irritability.

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