Health hazards soar in wake of Hurricane Katrina
This time New Orleans wasn't so lucky. Eighty percent of the city is under water; the convention center, intended to be the emergency response command center, is inaccessible. The Louis Armstrong airport is also flooded, and Interstate 10, the main route conventioneers take to reach downtown, has had sections lost and other stretches submerged beneath floodwaters.
New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin said the hurricane might have killed thousands in his city, which would make Katrina the nation's deadliest natural disaster since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, which killed up to 6,000.
The most catastrophic damage in terms of lives lost and property ruined occurred in parts of New Orleans seldom seen by out-of-towners â€” the city's West End and Ninth Ward along Lake Pontchartrain. Floodwaters rose to rooftop levels, stranding homeowners and completely destroying thousands of homes and businesses.
The Superdome was surrounded by three feet of standing water, and the temporary shelter for thousands of homeless was being evacuated mid-week, as was the rest of New Orleans. Superdome refugees were being bussed to the Houston Astrodome, more than 300 miles away.
The French Quarter, familiar to just about anyone who's ever worn a convention badge in New Orleans, remained remarkably dry.
OSHA has made moves in recent days to make recovery and cleanup workers aware of the myriad deadly hazards they face â€” downed electrical wires, use of chain saws and heavy machinery, falling debris, chemical releases and toxic water, mold and falls among them. The agency has released five public safety announcements on specific emergency response hazards, including flooding and electrical dangers.
Recovery and cleanup workers are urged to call 1-800-321-OSHA or log onto www.osha.gov for more information.
OSHA is contacting major power companies supplying energy to the areas affected to remind them to hold safety briefings for employees at power restoration staging areas in affected communities.
Federal response efforts have been blasted by a number of former federal, state and local disaster chiefs, who charge the war of terror has drained disaster resources to dangerously low levels and slowed rescue, recovery and cleanup work.