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50,000 Could Drown, New Orleans Could 'Cease to Exist'

Houston Chronicle | September 15 2004

Comment: This is an interesting primer for future government scaremongering tactics where people are told that asteroids are going to strike. The fact that we're in 2004 and New Orleans' flood defenses haven't been significantly bolstered to handle this sort of disaster makes even George Bush look competent in comparison.

NEW ORLEANS - More than 1.2 million people in metropolitan New Orleans were warned to get out Tuesday as 140-mph Hurricane Ivan churned toward the Gulf Coast, threatening to submerge the below-sea-level city during what could be the most disastrous storm to hit in nearly 40 years.

Residents streamed inland in bumper-to-bumper traffic in an agonizingly slow exodus amid dire warnings that Ivan could overwhelm New Orleans with up to 20 feet of filthy, chemical-polluted water. About three-quarters of a million more people along the coast in Florida, Mississippi and Alabama also were told to evacuate.

Walter Maestri, an emergency manager in New Orleans, America's most vulnerable metropolitan area, has 10,000 body bags ready in case a major hurricane hits. As Hurricane Ivan's expected path shifted uncomfortably close to the low-lying urban soup bowl, Maestri said Tuesday he might need a lot more.

If a strong Category 4 storm such as Ivan made a direct hit, he warned, 50,000 people could drown, and the city could cease to exist.

"This could be The One," Maestri said. "You're talking about the potential loss of a major metropolitan area."

Forecasters said Ivan, blamed for at least 68 deaths in the Caribbean, could reach 160 mph and strengthen to Category 5, the highest level, by the time it blows ashore as early as Thursday somewhere along the Gulf Coast.

"Hopefully the house will still be here when we get back," said Tara Chandra, a doctor at Tulane University in New Orleans who packed up his car, moved plants indoors and tried to book a Houston hotel room. Chandra said he wanted to ride out the storm, but his wife wanted to evacuate: "All the news reports are kind of freaking her out."

Houston-area emergency officials were keeping an eye on Ivan's path and have made preliminary plans should the hurricane continue to turn west.

Galveston County emergency management officials Tuesday discussed the potential for landfall there.

High tides are always a concern for Galveston County residents, and more so for those living in low-lying areas such as on the Bolivar Peninsula and West Galveston Island, the emergency management office said Tuesday. The county will continue to watch the storm and the potential for higher than normal tides to decide whether to evacuate those areas.

With hurricane-force winds extending 105 miles from its center, Ivan could cause significant damage no matter where it strikes. Officials ordered or strongly urged an estimated 1.9 million people in four states to flee to higher ground.

"I beg people on the coast: Do not ride this storm out," Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said, urging people in other parts of the state to open their homes to relatives, friends and co-workers.

At 2 a.m. EDT today, Ivan was centered about 265 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and moving north-northwest at 12 mph.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami posted a hurricane warning for a 300-mile swath from Apalachicola in the Florida Panhandle to New Orleans and Grand Isle in Louisiana. Forecasters said Ivan could bring a coastal storm surge of 10 to 16 feet.

About an hour away from New Orleans in Baton Rouge, I-10 West was filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Highway rest stops, convenience stores and gas stations were filled with people fleeing the storm. Some evacuees were worried about their homes being flooded and what they would find when they returned.

New Orleans, the nation's largest city below sea level, is particularly vulnerable to flooding, and Mayor Ray Nagin was among the first to urge residents to get out while they can. The city's Louis Armstrong Airport was closed Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, off western Mexico, forecasters were watching Hurricane Javier, a Category 4 storm on a northwest course out to sea. Forecasters said it was possible the storm could make a sharp turn toward the southern Baja Californian peninsula.


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