Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Author Aaron Levenstein famously noted, "Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital."

The City of New Orleans puts out a daily emergency management report that is loaded with statistics. Some of the numbers they reported this past Friday are in bold below. I think this gives an excellent snapshot on what's going on right now in the city.

On the subject of trash:

* 834 trucks hauling debris
* 76,463 cubic yards of woody waste and construction and demolition debris removed in the past 24 hours.
* 3,230,861 cubic yards of woody waste and C&D removed to date.
* 472 tons of refuse hauled in the past 24 hours; 21,538 tons of refuse hauled to date.
* 6,293 white goods collected in the past 24 hours; 147,512 units collected to date.
* Over 339,000 household hazardous waste containers collected to date.

This is just for New Orleans, mind you. This does not include Jefferson Parish, which had widespread minor flooding of homes and businesses, and St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes, where there was significant destruction of whole communities.

What does 3.23 million cubic yards of waste and debris look like? Well, put it this way: a regulation American football field measures 160 feet from sideline to sideline, and 360 feet from back of the end zone to back of the end zone, for a total footprint of 57,600 square feet. That much waste and debris piled up on a football field would stand 1,514 feet tall, taller than the Empire State Building.

And that's just one part of the trash generated by the storm. That category called "white goods" is a new one on me. I think it refers to kitchen appliances, especially refrigerators which are notoriously nasty after power went out and the food incubated for several weeks while most of us were evacuated. Almost 150,000 units--it's going to be a good year for Maytag and Kenmore stockholders!

More to come as the cleanup continues.

Emergency Medical Service:

* 26 units working 24 hours per day.
* 36 calls received within the past 24 hours.

How many people are living in New Orleans? Very few. So few that someone calls 911 for an ambulance an average of once every 40 minutes. That won't even support one hospital emergency room. Before Katrina, we had, what?, 6 or 8 fully staffed hospitals?

Restaurants and Food Services:

* 664 businesses approved to reopen by the Department of Health and Hospitals. This represents about 18 percent of pre-Katrina level businesses.

Roughly 4 out of 5 restaurants are still closed in a city that loves food only slightly less than it loves music and alcohol. There just aren't enough workers or patrons to open all but a few restaurants.

Building Inspections:

* 119 electrical inspections reported within a 24-hour period.
* 28 mechanical/gas inspections reported within a 24-hour period.
* Approximately 115,000 damage assessments inspections performed to date.

And yet, people are rebuilding. This statistic doesn't say whether these are homes or businesses, or where they are located. We do know that you only need an electrical inspection if the water was high enough to get into your outlets, typically 12 to 18 inches above the floor. So more than 100 people per day who had more than a foot of flooding are moving forward. This is not new construction at higher elevations; that hasn't started yet. This is renovation of flooded buildings at the same elevation as before.

Crazy or brave? You decide.

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