August 28, 2005
THE BBC is running reader reports on Katrina.
Watching the TV footage of backed-up traffic trying to escape New Orleans, I’m surprised that they haven’t switched the inbound lanes over to outbound as well. And listening to interviews of people stuck in New Orleans I’m struck by how many people don’t understand that if you wait for orders to evacuate, by then everyone else will be trying to evacuate too and it will be much harder. I suspect, however, that part of people’s slowness to respond stems from the overhyping of previous hurricanes.
UPDATE: Reader Clifford Grout emails:
The inbound lanes of ALL major roads out of New Orleans have been switched to outbound. Called “contraflow”, it’s been going on for about 18 hours now. Working much better this time than the cock-up we had during Ivan.
I am in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and we are battening down the hatches here, too. My parents and in-laws, both living in New Orleans, left yesterday for parts north and west. As a child, I survived both Betsy and Camille, many more since then. This one scares me.
That’s not what I’m seeing on the TV feeds, but perhaps they’re not representative. There’s been so much hurricane hype in the past that I’m reluctant to make too much of this, but I certainly would have gotten out already.
Joe Gandelman has a roundup.
MORE: Reader Mark Hessey emails regarding the contraflow:
I did see a couple of clips where they had done it, but it appears to be piecemeal rather than universal policy. Yet the media keeps reporting that it’s been done, even as they show that it hasn’t on screen.
I hope the New Jersey OEM people are watching for future reference — they do have plans in place for taking that action in a number of shore communities, but if it’s not implemented in a timely fashion it does no good.
I’ve just posted an image from the WDSU webcam showing outbound lanes packed and inbound lanes empty. Doesn’t look like contraflow there. Listening to the reports on cable, it doesn’t sound as if the city of New Orleans has done a very good job of responding so far. The evacuation should have been ordered earlier, efforts to get people out of the city seem to have been inadequate, and the huge lines at the Superdome while people are searched for alcohol and weapons seem like a bad idea to me. I hope that it all works out.
Terry Teachout is rounding up links to webcams, etc.
And here’s an article that makes for sobering reading.
Also Brendan Loy is back.
STILL MORE: Reader Tom Nally emails:
In the New Orleans region, the state and the munipalities did activate plans for flowing people out of the city in both the inbound and outbound lanes of the interstates.
This is formally known as “Contraflow”.
My family escaped by taking I-55 north, and we are now in Memphis. On I-55, both the northbound and southbound lanes were used for northbound traffic, not only in the parishes immediately bordering Orleans Parish, but also going a good 60 miles or so into Mississippi. In fact, I-55 did not revert to its normal traffic flow until we were 62 miles south of Jackson, MS. I was stunned by this demonstration of interstate cooperation.
The problems evacuating New Orleans are due to the fact that too many evacuees have chose to evacuate to the west, going to Houston and points westward. Had they chosen to evacuate north, they would have had few problems. We had zero problems.
Interesting; I don’t know what accounts for these pictures. Enjoy Memphis!
MORE STILL: Stormtrack has a lot of useful links, too.
EVEN MORE: Mel Park emails from Memphis with a positive take on the evacuation:
Friends of ours from New Orleans made it safely to our home in Memphis. Who knows how long they will be here, however. As they said getting out of their car, they may be homeless in a few hours.
As your readers are pointing out, the evacuation planning that has occured since Hurricane Ivan has turned an impossible situation into a bearable one. During Hurricane Ivan our friends had tried to evacuate up I-55 to Memphis but that was impossible. Gridlock forced them west on secondary highways westward and they ended up weathering the storm in Lafayette, LA. This time they tried to repeat the shorter treck to Layfayette but this time gridlock forced them north. They left New Orleans at 6:00am this morning. One lane of I-10 leaving the city was designated for westbound traffic and it was not moving at all. Thousands of drivers were adding to the gridlock by speeding past on the right and cutting off drivers in that one lane. By the time they gave up and switched into the lanes designated for I-55, that is, for Mississippi and Memphis, traffic was surging. They had lost the advantage of their early start but traffic still moved at a reliable 40-50 mph. Traffic control was everywhere. For example, the I-12, I-55 intersection had been a practically unnegotiable choke point last summer during Ivan. Today it has been a well-controlled flow where the authorities are directing traffic along parallel routes in order to distribute the entry of merging traffic onto 1-55 over several intersections.
Besides the contraflow system lasting well into Mississippi, as a reader pointed out, forethought was evident by the signs already out at off ramps designating those where public shelters were being set up. This means that evacuees with not planned destination will be able to find shelter. Good planning.
Sounds like we’ll probably need it. I have to say, though, that from what I’ve seen New Orleans hasn’t been on the ball. The evacuation was too late, there don’t seem to have been many efforts to get people out of the city or to shelter, and whenever I see city officials on TV I get an unpleasant vibe, like in the first half-hour of a disaster flick. I hope that I’m wrong about this, and that everything goes as well as possible, which I’m afraid will still mean “not that well, really.”