New Orleans: key questions for the days ahead

class=img_thumbleft> 1) Aside from the 30-40,000 who gathered at the Superdome, how many survivors are left in New Orleans now, and how will they be gotten out before disease or dehydration overtake them?

2) Where and how will refugees be settled after the immediate evacuation crisis of the first week or so? Authorities are saying no one will be able to return for months, but the more salient fact is that a staggering number will have no means to "rebuild" and no reason to come back at all.

3) How soon can the levee breaks be closed? It appears that no more water is flowing through them for now, since the water level in the city is now equal to that in Lake Pontchartrain, but more wind and rain from future tropical storms of any magnitude could change that.

4) How much of New Orleans' urban infrastructure--buildings, water systems, sewer and septic systems--is intact, or even repairable, at this point?

5) If the answer to question 4 is "little if any," does it make sense to build another city on that site?

6) What is in the water trapped inside the New Orleans basin? What sorts of chemical and biological toxins, and in what concentration? This bears most directly on the health of the people still trapped there, but also on the cost of cleaning the site after it's drained, and the potential enviro/health risks of living there in the future.

7) Speaking of draining New Orleans, where do they propose to pump the water once they're finally able to do so, and what will be the environmental and epidemiological consequences of putting it there?

8) What is the real status of refineries and of productive drilling platforms in the Gulf? Yes, we know that a lot of oil rigs were torn loose; at least one wound up on a Mississippi shore 60 miles away. But there's a lot this does not tell us about the region's oil business--most of the rigs erected in the Gulf at a given time are exploratory drills that aren't pumping oil in significant quantities. How badly damaged is the region's oil-processing capacity--and conversely, how much of spiking fuel costs are pure gouging?

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