FILE – In this Sept. 11, 2005, file photo, homes remain surrounded by water in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Some experts are afraid that the Hurricane Florence can inflict damage comparable to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina in a part of the country that is even difficult to evacuate, months after the disaster planners simulated a Category 4 Hurricane strike alarmingly similar to the real-word scenario now unfolding on a piece of the east coast. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Pool, File)
ATLANTA – a few months ago, disaster planners simulated a Category 4 hurricane strike alarmingly similar to the real-word scenario now unfolding on a dangerous vulnerable piece of the east coast.
A fictitious “Hurricane Cora” barreled in southeastern Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay to save Washington, D. C., in the story created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Argonne National Laboratory.
The result was catastrophic damage, which has some experts concerned that Hurricane Florence could produce a catastrophe similar to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina and in a part of the country that is even difficult to evacuate.
The simulated hurricane knocked out power for most of the gas stations in the Mid-Atlantic region, damaged a nuclear power plant and sent waste in major shipping channels, among other problems, according to a Department of Energy simulation of the manual.
“What they tried to do was make a worst-case scenario, but it is a very realistic scenario,” said Joshua Behr, research professor at Virginia’s Old Dominion University, which is involved in the disaster modeling and simulations.
Florence is also a Category 4 storm and is now forecast to strike the general area. On Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center “cone” view of Florence projected path included the Hampton Roads, Virginia, region, where Cora would arrive.
Senior leaders from the White House, along with more than 91 federal departments and agencies, participated in the “national level exercise” in late April and early May, FEMA said.
The fictional storm made landfall in the densely populated Hampton Roads region, bringing a 15-foot (0.3-meter) storm surge and up to 9 inches (23 cm) of rain in certain areas within the first six hours. That cut off main routes used for escape as well as for practitioners in the Hampton Roads area and elsewhere.
In the scenario, and Cora also hit the hurricane-force winds in three nuclear power plants. A was damaged. Thirty-three large power substations against the risk of storm surge and major flooding.
Major roads and bridges were also damaged and debris blocked the Newport News Channel and other waterways. Coast Guard Station Cape Charles, lost power, and the Coast Guard Station Chincoteague was heavily damaged by the strong winds. The ferocious fictitious storm also damaged and closed Reagan National Airport in Washington.
The make-believe hurricane threatened hundreds of cell towers, and the area where the power was knocked out included 135 data centers in Virginia and the other 60 in Maryland.
The Cora scenario projected hurricane-force winds inflicting ‘irreparable damage’ to houses and significant damage to critical infrastructure within a distance of 50 miles away from the hurricane center.
The manual makes no mention of dead and wounded, with the emphasis instead of on infrastructure.
Another striking similarity between the scenario and the Hurricane Florence path: already saturated ground on that part of the Mid-Atlantic coast.
“What I fear is that the saturation, in combination with a storm, which kind of stalls,” said Behr, who has studied vulnerable populations in the paths of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast and in the Hampton Roads region.
As parts of the east coast are swamped with water, this could lead to a disaster on the scale of Katrina, Behr said. And recover from a disaster in the Hampton Roads region would also parallel the aftermath of Katrina, he added.
“I think those patterns are going to manifest in Hampton Roads if and when a big storm hits,” he said. “The vulnerability of our population are similar to that of New Orleans. Displacement, pain, suffering, loss of property. All those things will play in a way which has parallels with how Katrina played.”
Evacuation is known to be challenging in Hampton Roads, a coastal area is inhabited by 1.7 million people in cities such as Norfolk, Virginia and Virginia Beach.
“I have heard people say Virginia Beach is the world’s largest cul-de-sac, in the sense that there is not a lot of ways to evacuate,” said Michelle Covi, assistant professor in the practice with the Old Dominion University and Virginia Sea Grant, a scientific group that works with other universities in the region on such issues.
“You can’t go to the north because of the Chesapeake Bay,” she said. “You can’t really go to the south, and in this case, you would not want to because of the storm is that way. You generally want to the west, but again there are a lot of water in the body.”
In Charleston, South Carolina, where the average height is about 11 feet (3.4 metres) above sea level, storm surge and flooding from a hurricane in the pouring rain has the same effect — cutting off access, said Norman Levine, associate professor at the College of Charleston.
“It washes over roads, and ends on reaching the point where you are isolated small sea-island communities,” he said.