Monday, August 29, 2005

The Cape Of Storms

As Hurricane Katrina smashes into New Orleans (and the rest of the Gulf Coast), I can only hope that the people that did not leave the city in time will be safe, as a day from now there may no longer be a city of New Orleans as we know it. The city is eight feet below sea level and has only been safeguarded against a dry, Category-3 storm, according to The Miami Herald, which goes on to say that:

More than one million people could be left stranded away from home as emergency authorities attempt to pump out the water, a task that may take as long as three weeks. The newly homeless would be left with little food, no electricity and no transportation as cars are replaced by boats. Emergency officials fear that nearly 287 years of history could be destroyed in just hours, and that half of the old Victorian homes could be lost along with the old brick buildings of the Vieux Carre, the French Quarter.

The nightmare scenario gets worse: Sewers could back up, spreading disease like malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, West Nile Virus and dengue fever, all of which pay calls at one of the nation's biggest and oldest ports. Coffins could pop out of the shallow ground. Above-ground fuel tanks might break moorings to become boat bombs. And toxic chemicals could spill into the mix if petrochemical plants to the west break up.

(More on the storm from USA TODAY.)

In Cape Town we are lucky in that we aren't in the path of hurricanes or tropical storms, although in the last few years we've had the odd mini tornado race across the Cape Flats, much to everyone's surprise. The worst weather we tend to experience, however, is heavy winter storms that have battered the cape for centuries, sunk ships, or left them stranded in shallow water, hence the informal name "The Cape Of Storms", but these are nothing like hurricanes.

Much of Cape Town's CBD is situated on reclaimed land (which basically means, of course, that the sea was pushed back to create more land - a practice that has never made sense to me), and with the ever-increasing threat of global warming and the weird changes in the weather, I've often wondered how safe this city is. Venice is sinking. New Orleans is sinking. Much of Holland is below sea level. Much of Asia was wiped out by last year's tsunami. Is Cape Town safe? Why would it be?



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