August 29, 2015

MYTH?:

The Myths of Katrina : Ten years after the storm, falsehood about warnings, violence, and recovery persist. Here's the truth. (Marta Jewson and Charles Maldonado, 8/28/15, Slate)

Hurricane Katrina itself was a natural phenomenon, but most of the flooding in and around New Orleans was the result of the poor construction and design of the city's flood-protection system by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, causing more than 50 breaches. Researchers estimated that water pouring in through the broken levees may have caused as much as 84 percent of the flooding. The extent of the flooding also made it harder to push the water out of the city because many pump stations were flooded. Some that worked were useless because they were just recirculating water in and out of the breaches.

The other problem: A disaster of this scale had been predicted, and levee failure had been discussed.

A Katrina-like catastrophe was predicted as recently as one year before the storm. In 2004, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness conducted the "Hurricane Pam Exercise." The exercise modeled a Category 3 hurricane hitting New Orleans, overtopping the levee system and flooding the city with up to 20 feet of water.

The Pam model showed levees being overtopped, but it did not predict that the levees would break.

That possibility, however, did appear in the Times-Picayune's 2002 series, "Washing Away." That series described a worst-case scenario storm, one even more intense than Katrina, hitting the metro area. Experts interviewed in the series described a scenario where the city's levees, combined with its bowl-shaped geography, would trap storm surge water inside for weeks or months in the event of major overtopping or a breach.

"Hundreds of thousands would be left homeless, and it would take months to dry out the area and begin to make it livable. But there wouldn't be much for residents to come home to. The local economy would be in ruins," reporters Mark Schleifstein and John McQuaid wrote.

More troubling, though, were the unheeded warnings of possible levee failure one year before Katrina.

In 2004, residents who lived near the 17th Street Canal, which was breached in the storm, reported water pooling in their yards to the water utility, the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board. This was a sign that the levees were likely leaking, an early signal of their instability. But the Corps of Engineers was never informed of the problem. [...]

Like the unpredictable natural disaster myth, New Orleans' low elevation has played a role in political debates about whether the city is a worthwhile investment. Some have even asked why the city was built in the first place.

This one is half true: About half of New Orleans is below sea level. But even some areas above sea level, including much of the Lower 9th Ward, flooded after Katrina because of levee failures.

In a 2007 report, Tulane University geographer Richard Campanella found that 51 percent of the urbanized area in metropolitan New Orleans was above sea level. In 2000, 185,000 people in the city lived above sea level.

So if half a city is below sea level, along a major river in a hurricane zone there may be problems?  I missed the myth part.

Isn't the real myth that anyone was to blame but the residents?


MORE:
Lessons Learned From the Response to Katrina's Havoc : Experts cite overreliance on local and state governments that were overcome by a storm of such historic proportions (VALERIE BAUERLEIN, Aug. 28, 2015, WSJ)

Mr. Brown still largely blames former Mayor Ray Nagin and former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco for the fiasco, arguing that the two were at odds and moved too slowly to evacuate New Orleans.

"It was a miserable situation for those people, but I refuse to accept responsibility," he said. "I went on every network that would have me and encouraged people to get out of New Orleans by any way they could. To this day, it truly angers me that the mayor and the governor did not do their jobs."

Mr. Nagin, now serving a 10-year sentence in federal prison for wire fraud, influence-peddling and money laundering in crimes that took place before and after Katrina, couldn't be reached for comment. In a 2011 self-published book, Mr. Nagin, a black Democrat, argued that race, class and politics played a role in the delayed federal response, as many of those left behind were poor black people.

Ms. Blanco, a white Democrat, said the state successfully evacuated 1.3 million people from coastal areas, and was relying on FEMA to bring in buses immediately after the storm to help the thousands who either "could not or did not leave."

"If those buses had run on time," she said, "the president would not have been embarrassed, Michael Brown would have kept his job and they wouldn't have had to scapegoat me," she said.

Experts say the nation's disaster-response system relied too heavily on local and state governments that were overwhelmed by a storm of historic proportions and generally ill-equipped to respond rapidly. And FEMA, the agency in charge of marshaling federal resources for disasters, didn't have a direct reporting line to the White House.

Yes, the solution to such storms is to depopulate the city.

Posted by at August 29, 2015 7:30 AM
  

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