Tuesday, September 06, 2005
BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (Reuters) - Hurricane Katrina left behind a landscape of oil spills, leaking gas lines, damaged sewage plants and tainted water, Louisiana's top environment official said on Tuesday.
In the state's first major assessment of the environmental havoc in southern Louisiana, Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Mike McDaniel said large quantities of hazardous materials in damaged industrial plants, the danger of explosions and fires and water pollution were his main concerns eight days after the storm struck.
Preliminary figures indicate 140,000 to 160,000 homes were flooded and will not be recovered, he said. 'Literally, they are unsalvageable,' he said.
He said it would take 'years' to restore water service to the entire city.
'It's almost unimaginable, the things we are going to have to deal with,' he said.
Crews have found two major oil spills, one of 68,000 barrels at a Bass Enterprise storage depot in Venice and another of 10,000 barrels at a Murphy Oil facility in Chalmette, McDaniel said.
But huge amounts of oil also oozed from cars, trucks and boats caught in the flood.
'Everywhere we look there's a spill. It all adds up,' he said. 'There's almost a solid sheen over the area right now.'
High-level radiation sources, including nuclear plants, have been secured, and authorities were trying to determine the status of rail cars in the area as well as searching out large caches of hazardous materials in industrial plants.
Although there is a disease risk from contaminated water in the streets of New Orleans, McDaniel said it was too early to call the stagnant liquid a 'toxic soup.' State and federal agencies had begun quality testing. "I'm saying that's a little bit exaggerated," he said. "To say it's toxic, it sounds like instant death walking in it. Let's get some better data.
Independent experts have said the New Orleans flood water, may cause environmental damage as it flows from the city to Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River.
More than 500 Louisiana sewage plants were damaged or destroyed, including 25 major ones. There were about 170 sources of leaking hydrocarbons and natural gas, officials said.
Katrina damaged large areas of wildlife habitat but it was too soon to assess the long-term impact, McDaniel said.
"One thing about nature, it's resilient," he said. "Nature will recover."
Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials
Committee on Energy & Commerce
U.S. House of Representatives
Assessing the Present Environmental Status
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