WASHINGTON (AFP) -One million evacuees, and up to 350,000 left homeless: that would be the results of a hurricane hitting New Orleans, according to a year-old document from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency made public.
The government document appears to contradict claims by top US officials that nobody had anticipated the outcome of a powerful hurricane hitting Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina did last week.
The 2004 FEMA document was made public by opposition Democrats in the US House of Representatives.
It explains that a hurricane of between category three and five in strength (on the Saffir-Simspon scale) hitting the southern state of Louisiana would create "a catastrophe with which the state would not be able to cope without massive help from neighboring states and the federal government."
State and federal emergency management officials "believe that the gravity of the situation calls for an extraordinary level of advance planning to improve government readiness to respond effectively to such an event."
In the event of a hurricane hit "over one million people would evacuate from New Orleans. Evacuees would crowd shelters throughout Louisiana and adjacent states."
The hurricane water surge "would block highways and trap 300,000 to 350,000 persons in flooded areas. Storm surge combined with heavy rain could leave much of New Orleans under 14 to 17 feet (six meters) of water. More than 200 square miles (518 square kilometers) of urban areas would be flooded."
The document also warned that it would take weeks to drain the water out of New Orleans because "inundated pumping stations and damaged pump motors would be inoperable" and because the flood protection levees "would prevent drainage of floodwater."
It also noted that rescue operations "would be difficult because much of the area would be reachable only by helicopters and boats," and that hospitals "would be overcrowded with special-needs patients," noting that "backup generators would run out of fuel or fail before patients could be moved elsewhere.
"The New Orleans area would be without electric power, food, potable water, medicine, or transportation for an extended time period," the document read, and warned that "damaged chemical plants and industries could spill hazardous materials."
It added that "standing water and diseases could threaten public health," and that there "would be severe economic repercussions for the state and region."