With the nation’s attention on the gulf coast and the coastal towns ravaged by Hurricane Katrina this week, National Weather Service Hydrologist Mike Gillispie in Sioux City says forecasters down in Louisiana are badly hampered in doing their jobs. He points out the river-measuring gauges are all probably out, and since many transmit their readings over phone lines, the ones still above water are out of touch, with the phones offline. Some satellite communications might still be working, but in the forecast offices computers can’t work with the power out and he says the River Forecast Center at Slidell, Louisiana is cut off too. That office has moved up to Memphis to try and keep producing its river forecasts. He says in addition to technical problems, it’s a strain for the forecasters who live in that region. If you live in that area, he points out you’re dealing with whether you still have a home or belongings. “Pretty much the entire New Orleans staff has been holed up at the forecast office for the last couple of days there,” he says, “along with some family members.” He’s talked with his counterparts in that region, as they watch the stubborn floodwaters in the New Orleans, a city built below sea level. Levees are the only barrier that keeps out the sea, and the waters of nearby Lake Pontchartrain. The levees failed in several places, particularly along the lake, and he says as its water pours into the city they’re having trouble patching up the levee. “Soon as they start dropping in sandbags or concrete, it gets washed out of where it needs to be, because the water is still flowing out of the lake into the city.” Gillispie’s a hydrologist in the Sioux City office of the National Weather Service.
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