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An Ill Wind Blows for HP's Show

Update, 5 PM CDT

HP has sent word to conference attendees and speakers: The vendor and Encompass will decide by Friday, Sept. 2 if the first Technology Forum will proceed in the wake of a Category 4 hurricane:

We are in direct communication with contacts in New Orleans and will be able to make an informed decision on the direction of the HP Technology Forum soon. We are monitoring the situation closely. We  will complete the assessment and make a decision on or before Friday, September 2, 2005.

Please be cognizant that the media coverage of an event of this magnitude can be sensationalized for effect.  While some areas have withstood damage, others may have not. However, please be assured that our decisions will be based on our ability to ensure the safety and welfare of  all attendees.

Having said it will decide by Friday gives the Technology Forum's organizers a way to see if the city has any chance of being livable in less than two weeks. Exhibitors will start setup in just 10 days. The hurricane center expert at LSU said in a dire CNN report that New Orleans is pretty much a wilderness now, and for the next week:

Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center and director of the Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes in Baton Rouge, ticked off the problems anyone returning to the city would find: "No sewage, no drinking water, contamination, threat of rapid increase in mosquitoes, roads are impassible, downed power lines everywhere, trees, debris from houses in the roads, no way to go shopping, no gas."

The water also has dislodged thousands of snakes — including poisonous water moccasins — from their homes, as well as fire ants.

"If you came back, you would be coming literally to a wilderness," he said. "Stay where you are, be comfortable; nothing's going to change. If your house is gone, it's gone. If you come back in a day or a week, it's not going to make any difference."

10 AM report

Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana this morning, just two weeks before HP CEO Mark Hurd will speak at the first HP Technology Forum and HP holds a 3000 migration roundtable. The storm was rated a Category 5 hurricane, the most devastating, as it flexed its deadly muscles over the Gulf of Mexico Sunday. The site of the HP conference — to be co-produced with the Encompass HP users group — was spared some of the worst damage, however, when the hurricane turned eastward to let the city escape a catastrophe. Some models predicted vast parts of New Orleans would be under 30 feet of water in a direct strike. Katrina is now a Category 4 hurricane, according to this blog from the NBC TV affiliate in New Orleans. That's still a storm with 125 MPH winds.

New Orleans was on target to take another Category 5 bullet — only three of these monsters have ever hit the US — back in 1992, when Andrew bore down on the site of the last HP 3000 conference held there, also in a September. I was covering the show as editor of the HP Chronicle. HP had a new CEO that summer, too: Lew Platt, who later handed over the HP reins to Carly Fiorina, who started the 3000's exit from HP. In that 1992 show, conference attendees watched wide masking tape go up on windows all day long all over the city, most of which sits below sea level. By 5 PM we were all confined to the Hilton Hotel for our safety. We danced in comfort in the ballroom, drinking the city's signature hurricane cocktails and riding out the storm outside. Everyone was told to fill their bathtubs before they came down to the party, in case the water supply got cut off. We all hoped the housekeeping had been zealous on those tubs.

Like the stroke of fortune which HP and Encompass enjoyed this morning, Andrew turned east back then, hammering a tiny Louisiana town on the Gulf Coast instead. A few weeks back we put up a podcast about this intersection of new HP CEOs and hurricanes. This morning, parts of the Superdome roof are missing and thousands of evacuees inside are sweltering because the power has gone out. But the roof of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center was intact as of this morning, although the western side of the hurricane's eyewall is passing through the city. But roofs are flying in the town, a couple of weeks before I am scheduled to be flying in to cover what HP's got to say about its future and the 3000's future plans.

One superior report from New Orleans' NBC affiliate says the French Quarter is taking some heavy licks:

Katrina came ashore about 55 miles from New Orleans, but its advancing winds are already blowing the slate tiles off the roofs in the French Quarter. The wind is blowing rain sideways and carrying debris 100 feet in the air.

Encompass executive director Mary Ellen Smith said this morning that the user group is hopeful the storm's damage won't impact the conference. They are monitoring the situation, she added, but the early reports seem to show the cleanup won't keep this replacement show for the cancelled HP World from happening. You can apply for a refund until Wednesday, Aug. 31, if you're skittish about travelling to the wilds of hurricane country. Tropical Depression Lee was forming by lunchtime today, though it could go anywhere. Odds would seem to indicate New Orleans should be safer, but you never can tell about storms.

A few of HP's 3000 managers are scheduled to storm into the city in two weeks in sessions about migration, a report on the improvements to HP 3000 storage choices, and an update on the 3000's post-2006 plans. If the conference comes off, I'll be there, too, to help chair a meeting of SIG-Itanium, flying in on 9/11 to ensure I'm in my seat for Mark Hurd's kickoff speech. After what the New Orleans residents are braving this week, any phantom jitters about flying on 9/11's anniversary seem small by comparison. We wish the best of luck for the city's survival and cleanup efforts.