Seeing is really believing

Driving around New Orleans, the true impact of the hurricanes, particularly if one then heads down the Mississipi, has been both more surprisingly upbeat, and breathtakingly worse than one got from the television news.  The upbeat part comes from the number of houses with sheetrock or wall panels or furniture stacked outside, ready to be hauled away.  This was much more prevalent than I had expected and if someone has done this (and especially if they have also mowed the lawn) then one can expect that they will be restoring the current house.  Each neighborhood was different, however, and there were a number of places where we saw families just sitting, not sure where to start, or what to do next - many in despair.

But there is a strong sense that the town is coming back, you can get red beans and rice on Bourbon Street (it being Monday) - even though it is in a plastic container, because they prefer to use the limited power to cool the beer, rather than run dishwashers.  And there were some tourists and shops were beginning to open.  In part that is also true of the nearby oil industry,  the oil pipelines are now largely checked and in good shape, and there were three workboats down at Venice that seemed to be stocking up and ready to head back out into the Gulf, and to begin rebuilding the oil supply infrastructure out there.  Not that there is not a lot that has to be done.  

.  They are still hauling debris out of terminals, there are something between 1,500 and 2,000 boats that are ashore and that need to be moved.  But the road is now clear all the way down (if you go over the old drawbridge at Empire). It was still covered in a little water at about four points on the way down,  The Conoco Philips refinery is likely down until the end of Q1 next year, so rumor had it, while they were still working on the Murphy refinery.  The power company conga lines were sitting at the barricade across the road into St Bernard parish as we entered the other day.  Another line was heading down the road, and had almost reached Port Sulphur. (Although, since that was where the hurricane crossed the peninsula, and there did not seem to be much left to connect back into the grid.)The destruction from Homeplace south was in places total, with little being left to show where a house had stood, though buildings began to reappear as recognizable structures north of Venice.

Back at the time of the Hurricane I had raised a question as to whether it was better to leave the tanks in an oil farm full or empty.  

I think that question is now answered, with the right answer being apparently full. The tank has been lifted and set down across the feed lines into the terminal at Port Sulphur.

And as a further comment to my earlier discussion about levees and floodwalls.  Note the difference that a barge makes.

Note that the earthen levee has held the barge. It is still on the water side of the levee, and has not induced a breech at that point.

 In contrast at the Industrial Canal breech in the city, you have to look closely at the picture to see the floodwall pilings stretched across the ground in an arc from the end of the remaining floodwall (it is now replaced with a levee) and the barge is beyond, on the land side of what was a barrier.

The concrete wall that provided the visual evidence of the floodwall is fractured and all along the breech the piling was pulled out of the ground and carried far into the opening created by the force of the water, and possibly also the barge.

Good story. Have you seen much sign of oil spills? Scott McClellan, at a White House press briefing, said 8 million gallons had been spilled by Katrina (apparently in something like 45-60 individual spills with Murphy Oil being one of the larger ones I read about).
We saw several places where there had been oil spills, but by this time it appeared that they had all been cleaned up.
When there is an oil spill, is there any way of collecting the spilled oil, or is it just lost?
Generally, because if contamination, it will be lost but it depends a bit on the circumstances.   MSNBC reports there were 44 and shows a picture from Port Sulphur.  By the time we got there all of the obvious mess had been cleaned up. You can see some oil slicks on the water from sunken boats, as the report mentions and in one spot the oil had lost any remaining volatiles and was a very heavy coating on house and road but this was away from the tanks, which had in most cases been cleaned up.  If the drums spill or fracture they are surrounded by an earthern wall and if that is contained and not contaminated it can be collected and potentially reclaimed.  I was thinking more of the material that escaped into the community or into the trees. In driving through the streets immediately surrounding the Murphy refinery we did not see hte heavy oil contamination of the buildings that the report mentions, but we could have been looking in the wrong place.
The displaced tank makes me wonder if there isn't a need for a new standard or three.
  1. Should storage tanks be anchored with chains or cables so that they can only float within the boundaries of their moats?
  2. Should they be filled with water to plant them solidly (and would the fuel within be salvageable afterward)?
  3. Internal water bags which can be filled without mixing with the tank contents?  (Works for all kinds of tanks.)
  4. Should e.g. propane tanks be placed within pilings which allow them to float up without floating away?
Lack of fuel was a serious problem in the aftermath of the hurricanes.  Fixing the infrastructure so that it is harder to damage and can be brought right back into service would have speeded the recovery efforts, from faster relief and law enforcement right on up.