Hurricane Katrina Ugliness: The Train They Call the City of New Orleans (Part 2)

Mike Shedlock reports on the Ugliness that occurred in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — and tells us several other bad things about it as well.

Previously, we discussed the good and the stupid aspects of Hurricane Katrina and the City of New Orleans. A very quick synopsis is that there is nothing good at all about it, but plenty of stupidity could easily be found. More important however, is how this impacts us now looking ahead. Before we address that critical idea, let’s first discuss the bad and the ugly.

Here is the ugly:

Looting: “Some officers joined in taking whatever they could, including one New Orleans cop who loaded a shopping cart with a compact computer and a 27-inch flat-screen television.

“Officers claimed there was nothing they could do to contain the anarchy, saying their radio communications had broken down and they had no direction from commanders.

“‘We don’t have enough cops to stop it,’ an officer said. ‘A mass riot would break out if you tried.’

“Inside the store, the scene alternated between celebration and frightening bedlam. A shirtless man straddled a broken jewelry case, yelling, ‘Free samples, free samples over here.’

“Another man rolled a mechanized pallet, stacked 6 feet high with cases of vodka and whiskey. Perched atop the stack was a bewildered toddler.

“Throughout the store and parking lot, looters pushed carts and loaded trucks and vans alongside officers. One man said police directed him to Wal-Mart from Robert’s Grocery, where a similar scene was taking place. A crowd in the electronics section said one officer broke the glass DVD case so people wouldn’t cut themselves.

“‘The police got all the best stuff. They’re crookeder than us,’ one man said.”

Hurricane Katrina Ugliness: Gas Gouging

Mish, what about gas gouging?: Hmmm, good question. Let’s take a look. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Georgia governor enacts anti-gouging law”:

“Lines at Atlanta area gas pumps grew along with prices this afternoon as word spread of possible fuel shortages.

“By noon today, several metro Atlanta gas stations had posted prices above $3.15 per gallon. Some metro area stations were charging as much as $4.75 a gallon, according to a Web site that keeps track of such things,

“Prices were rising so fast in some areas that signs at gas stations no longer matched what was being charged at the pumps.

“Declaring that there’s ‘credible evidence’ of price gouging at the gas pumps, Gov. Sonny Perdue late Wednesday signed an executive order threatening to impose heavy fines on gasoline retailers who overcharge Georgia drivers.”

That seems pretty ugly doesn’t it? Well what about the bad?

I am afraid I do not have time to report about everything that is bad. It would be an endless task. It’s everywhere you look: homeless, dead, people out of work, property destroyed, rising gas prices, power outages, fuel shortages, lack of food, lack of drinking water, overabundance of every other kind, of water, etc., etc., etc. Here are a few lowlights for those who insist.

Utilities see wide damage to systems: “Utility systems torn apart by Hurricane Katrina continued to assess damage to power lines in the Gulf region on Wednesday and warned of extensive damage.

“Some utilities have begun to make progress returning power to customers but said the hardest hit areas are still likely to face weeks without electricity and predicted vast repair efforts.

“Estimates of outages calculated from reports by major power companies in the region were still near 2 million on Wednesday, and officials indicated these figures remain fluid.”

Gas shortages in North Carolina: “North Carolina suppliers usually have a 5-7-day supply of gasoline on hand, but they haven’t been resupplied since Sunday, [North Carolina Gov. Mike] Easley said. Some off-brand gas stations already have reported shortages, he said.

Gas supplies in Florida:

“At least four of 17 suppliers in Florida told local stations to expect less frequent deliveries of fuel…

“Florida ports have about 159 million gallons of fuel on hand — enough to last about seven days under normal circumstances, said Cragin Mosteller, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.”

Hurricane Katrina Ugliness: Oil Rigs Missing

Let’s now get to the heart of the matter. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, “20 Oil Rigs Missing in Gulf of Mexico”:

“‘We have confirmed at least 20 rigs or platforms missing, either sunk or adrift, and one confirmed fire where a rig was,’ Petty Officer Robert Reed of the Louisiana Coast Guard told AFP…

“According to the latest tally on Wednesday from the federal Minerals Management Service, a total of 561 platforms and rigs have been evacuated in the Gulf of Mexico, which accounts for a quarter of U.S. oil production.

“Over 91% of normal daily crude oil production in the Gulf — 1.5 million barrels — is now shut down, and more than 83% of natural gas production, the MMS said.

“Among the firms reporting missing rigs was Newfield Exploration Company, which said an aerial survey of its operations in the eastern Gulf showed that one of its platforms at Main Pass 138 ‘appears to have been lost in the storm.’

“‘As of this morning, boats and helicopters are mobilizing to better access damages, identify any environmental impacts and begin the repair process,’ Newfield said in a statement.”

Here are some Dow Jones Newswire headlines:

* Mississippi R Traffic to Be Halted ‘Many, Many Days’ — USCG
* Katrina ‘Cataclysmic Event’ for Energy Facilities — Industry
* at Least 2 Refineries Inaccessible Due to Floods — Industry
* Power Outages a Major Obstacle to Refinery Restarts — Industry

According to The New York Times, “Carriers Are Stricken by Cancellations and Lack of Fuel”:

“The airline industry felt the brunt of Hurricane Katrina yesterday, with some airports running low on jet fuel and carriers canceling hundreds of flights. Meanwhile, Wall Street feared that the financial problems of the sickest airlines could grow worse.

“And with gasoline selling for upward of $3 a gallon in some parts of the country, versus $1.88 for jet fuel, airlines were worried that refineries might choose to produce gasoline rather than jet fuel, which would be less in demand.” As of Aug. 31, here is a status of key energy facilities:

Hurricane Katrina Ugliness: Off to the Astrodome

On the human side of things, The Guardian is reporting, “Katrina Refugees Will Go to Astrodome”: “A slow exodus from the smelly and sweltering Superdome began Wednesday as bedraggled refugees boarded giant trucks and then buses for a trip to more comfortable surroundings in the Houston Astrodome.

“The evacuation was kept almost secret to avoid a stampede. People were taken a few at a time through a garage, then to trucks that plowed through 4 feet of water and delivered them to the buses…

“With no air conditioning and little electricity, the heat and stench inside the Superdome were unbearable for the nearly 25,000 refugees housed there. As the water pressure dropped lower and lower, toilets backed up. The stink was so bad that many medical workers wore masks as they walked around…

“‘These conditions are atrocious,’ [Dr. Kevin Stephens Sr., director of special needs at the dome] said. ‘We’ll take trucks, planes, boats, anything else, I have to get these people out of here.'”

“By midafternoon, medics were hauling people off one after another because of heat-related problems. Even as the evacuation was going on, people walked through waist-deep water to get to the Superdome.

“Tempers flared in the crowd. One woman yelled: ‘You’re just lying to us! You had us standing all day in this heat, and you’re lying to us. You’re not taking us anywhere!’

“The officer yelled back, ‘Look, ma’am, do you think I’m in charge? Do you think I’m making decisions? I told you what they told me.'”

I could go on and on and on. Unfortunately, I do not know where to stop. Heck, I do not know where to begin. Should I begin or end with the human tragedy, or the destruction of refining capacity and infrastructure? At any rate, and for the time being, the United States can release all the petroleum it wants from strategic reserves, but point-blank, there does not seem to be refining capacity to produce gasoline. Many refineries have been damaged by this storm, as noted in the link above. It could take weeks or longer to be back up to full capacity. Extra supplies of crude do us no good unless we can refine it.

Hurricane Katrina Ugliness: Wall Street Is Salivating

OK, Mish, where to from here?

Wall Street is salivating over this disaster. Interest rates are falling and billions of dollars in handouts are awaiting the right companies. Interest rate futures plunged and the U.S. dollar fell. This was great news for U.S. multinational corporations, but bad news for U.S. consumers and taxpayers. Who cares about them anyway?

Bernie Schaeffer had this to say in Schaeffer’s addendum on Wednesday, Aug. 31, after a huge stock market rally in the face of this disaster:

“Now I get it. The markets have become invulnerable to ‘nonrecurring events.’ Presumably, such events would also include a hedge fund blowup that leads to a derivatives meltdown, a major terrorist attack on a large U.S. city, or an event that takes down a large portion of worldwide oil production capacity. An old adage on Wall Street was ‘Never confuse brains with a bull market.’ These days, it might go something like this: ‘Never confuse a market that is structurally supported by complacent derivatives players and by abnormally high liquidity that is threatened by a tightening Fed and an inverting yield curve with a market that is invulnerable to external shocks.'” Thanks Bernie, I could not have put it better myself!

In the meantime, 1 million people or so are displaced, without a home, without a job, without any money or clothes, and, in many cases, without any hope. In the face of that, homebuilder stocks staged a big rally today, as if any of those people will be buying a home anytime soon. Who cares? After all, lower interest rates might prolong the housing party for a few more months.

Unfortunately, for those displaced by Katrina, it is going to take months, if not much, much longer, for things to get back to normal. We’ve now got a million new homeless and currently jobless people from New Orleans. There are another million without power, bankrupt airlines unable to buy jet fuel, a lack of refining capacity, and looting by police in a major city.

We were headed for a recession anyway, but rest assured it will all be blamed on Katrina, rising oil prices, or both. Wall Street has its “out” now, and that is all that matters. Any excuse is good enough for Wall Street, but this upcoming lie is perfect simply because it will be so believable to so many. No one will blame the real cause: rampant credit growth and speculation, with falling loan standards on top of it, all supported by a bubble-blowing Fed.

It will be interesting to see exactly how the BEA handles the upcoming jobless numbers. The job losses should be staggering. That said, it gives “someone” a very, very easy out. All the government has to do is over-report the job losses to make the reports that follow look good. I expect huge “one-time” over-reporting of job losses, conveniently blamed on Katrina. Rest assured, anything that can be blamed on Katrina, will be…and then some.

No doubt there are those who think this is inflationary. Rest assured it is not. One million people suddenly put out of work with no income and destroyed houses is simply NOT inflationary. Rising gasoline prices without rising incomes is not inflationary, either, regardless of what anyone tells you. This is going to cut into consumer discretionary spending big time, and, unlike Sept. 11, there is NOT going to be a big housing boom to bail us out.

The train they call The City of New Orleans just wrecked. More cities will follow.

Let’s close with a song:

“Nighttime on The City of New Orleans,
Changing cars in Memphis, Tenn.
Halfway home, we’ll be there by morning,
Through the Mississippi darkness, rolling down to the sea.

“And all the towns and people seem
To fade into a bad dream,
And the steel rails still ain’t heard the news.
The conductor sings his song again,
The passengers will please refrain,
This train’s got the disappearing railroad blues.

“Good night, America, how are you?
Don’t you know me, I’m your native son?
I’m the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done.”

— Steve Goodman


Mike Shedlock – “Mish”

September 6, 2005