3 Pieces re Levee Story


Richard Moore

Date: Fri, 02 Sep 2005 02:51:35 -0500 (CDT)
From: <•••@••.•••>
Subject: NY Times - 3 Pieces re Levee Story
To: •••@••.•••

three NY times pieces here.  First the news story.  Then Krugman's column.  
Then the Times 9/1 editorial "Waiting for a Leader"

Engineers' warnings and pleas for money went unheeded
By Andrew C. Revkin and Christopher Drew  The New York Times

New York -  The 17th Street levee that gave way and led to the
flooding of New Orleans was part of an intricate, aging system
of barriers and pumps that was so chronically underfinanced
that senior regional officials of the Army Corps of Engineers
complained about it publicly for years.

Often leading the chorus was Alfred Naomi, a senior project
manager for the corps and a 30-year veteran of efforts to
waterproof a city built on slowly sinking mud, surrounded by
water and periodically a target of great storms.

Naomi grew particularly frustrated this year as the Gulf Coast
braced for what forecasters said would be an intense hurricane
season and a nearly simultaneous $71 million cut was announced
in the New Orleans district budget to guard against such
storms. He called the cut drastic in an article in the
magazine New Orleans City Business.

In an interview Wednesday night, Naomi said the cuts had made
it impossible to complete contracts for vital upgrades that
were part of the long-term plan to renovate the system.

This week, amid news of the widening breach in the 17th Street
canal, he realized that the decades-long string of near misses
had ended.

"A breach under these conditions was ultimately not
surprising," he said. "I had hoped that we had overdesigned it
to a point that it would not fail. But you can overdesign only
so much and then a failure has to come."

No one expected that weak spot to be along a canal that, if
anything, had gotten more attention and shoring up than many
other spots around the region. It did not have broad berms,
but it did have strong concrete walls.

Shea Penland, director of the Pontchartrain Institute for
Environmental Studies at the University of New Orleans, said
it was particularly surprising because the break occurred
"along a section that was just upgraded. It did not have an
earthen levee. It had a vertical concrete wall several feet

Now the corps is scrambling. After failing to close a
300-foot, or 100-meter, break in the canal through which most
of the floodwaters were entering New Orleans, federal
engineers decided to take the battle with Lake Pontchartrain
to the lakefront.

They are preparing to drive corrugated vertical steel plates,
called sheet pile, into the mud near where the narrow canal
meets the lake, sealing it off so that the big breach farther
in can be more methodically attacked, Naomi said.

The decision was made after a day of fruitless efforts to
figure out how to drop concrete highway barriers or huge sand
bags into the torrent. For the most part, the water between
the lake and the filled bowl of the city has leveled off,
officials said.

Weaknesses in the levee system were foreshadowed in a May
report on the New Orleans-area hurricane protection plan and
budget gap. The district headquarters concluded that "The
current funding shortfalls in fiscal year 2005 and fiscal year
2006 will prevent the Corps from addressing these pressing

They also meant that there was far too little money to conduct
a thorough study of how to upgrade the city's protections from
the existing standard, sufficient to hold back a hurricane at
Category 3 on the five-step intensity scale, to a level of
ruggedness sufficient to withstand floods and winds from a
Category 5 storm.

Hurricane Katrina was on the high end of Category 4 and,
despite the extreme flooding, is still seen by many hurricane
experts as a near miss for New Orleans. Since 2001,
Louisiana's congressional delegation had been pushing for far
more money for storm protection than the Bush administration
had been willing to accept.

Naomi said all the quibbling over the region's storm budget,
or even over taking New Orleans to full Category 5 protection,
which would cost several billion dollars, seemed tragically

"It would take $2.5 billion to build a Category 5 protection
system and we're talking about tens of billions in losses, all
that lost productivity, and so many lost lives and injuries
and personal trauma you'll never get over," Naomi said.
"People will be scarred for life by this event."

He said there were still no clear hints as to why the main
breach in the flood barriers occurred along the 17th Street
canal, normally a conduit for vast streams of water pumped out
of the perpetually waterlogged city each day and which did not
take the main force of waves roiling the lake.

Andrew C. Revkin reported from New York for this article and
Christopher Drew from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Cornelia Dean
contributed reporting from New York.  Copyright ? 2005 The
International Herald Tribune | www.iht.com



September 2, 2005

A Can't-Do Government


Before 9/11 the Federal Emergency Management Agency listed the
three most likely catastrophic disasters facing America: a
terrorist attack on New York, a major earthquake in San
Francisco and a hurricane strike on New Orleans.

"The New Orleans hurricane scenario," The Houston Chronicle
wrote in December 2001, "may be the deadliest of all." It
described a potential catastrophe very much like the one now

So why were New Orleans and the nation so unprepared? After
9/11, hard questions were deferred in the name of national
unity, then buried under a thick coat of whitewash. This time,
we need accountability.

First question: Why have aid and security taken so long to
arrive? Katrina hit five days ago - and it was already clear
by last Friday that Katrina could do immense damage along the
Gulf Coast. Yet the response you'd expect from an advanced
country never happened. Thousands of Americans are dead or
dying, not because they refused to evacuate, but because they
were too poor or too sick to get out without help - and help
wasn't provided. Many have yet to receive any help at all.

There will and should be many questions about the response of
state and local governments; in particular, couldn't they have
done more to help the poor and sick escape? But the evidence
points, above all, to a stunning lack of both preparation and
urgency in the federal government's response.

Even military resources in the right place weren't ordered
into action. "On Wednesday," said an editorial in The Sun
Herald in Biloxi, Miss., "reporters listening to horrific
stories of death and survival at the Biloxi Junior High School
shelter looked north across Irish Hill Road and saw Air Force
personnel playing basketball and performing calisthenics.
Playing basketball and performing calisthenics!"

Maybe administration officials believed that the local
National Guard could keep order and deliver relief. But many
members of the National Guard and much of its equipment -
including high-water vehicles - are in Iraq. "The National
Guard needs that equipment back home to support the homeland
security mission," a Louisiana Guard officer told reporters
several weeks ago.

Second question: Why wasn't more preventive action taken?
After 2003 the Army Corps of Engineers sharply slowed its
flood-control work, including work on sinking levees. "The
corps," an Editor and Publisher article says, citing a series
of articles in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, "never tried
to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in
Iraq, as well as homeland security - coming at the same time
as federal tax cuts - was the reason for the strain."

In 2002 the corps' chief resigned, reportedly under threat of
being fired, after he criticized the administration's proposed
cuts in the corps' budget, including flood-control spending.

Third question: Did the Bush administration destroy FEMA's
effectiveness? The administration has, by all accounts,
treated the emergency management agency like an unwanted
stepchild, leading to a mass exodus of experienced

Last year James Lee Witt, who won bipartisan praise for his
leadership of the agency during the Clinton years, said at a
Congressional hearing: "I am extremely concerned that the
ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters
has been sharply eroded. I hear from emergency managers, local
and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that
the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared."

I don't think this is a simple tale of incompetence. The
reason the military wasn't rushed in to help along the Gulf
Coast is, I believe, the same reason nothing was done to stop
looting after the fall of Baghdad. Flood control was neglected
for the same reason our troops in Iraq didn't get adequate

At a fundamental level, I'd argue, our current leaders just
aren't serious about some of the essential functions of
government. They like waging war, but they don't like
providing security, rescuing those in need or spending on
preventive measures. And they never, ever ask for shared
sacrifice. Yesterday Mr. Bush made an utterly fantastic claim:
that nobody expected the breach of the levees. In fact, there
had been repeated warnings about exactly that risk.

So America, once famous for its can-do attitude, now has a
can't-do government that makes excuses instead of doing its
job. And while it makes those excuses, Americans are dying.

E-mail: •••@••.•••



September 1, 2005 

Waiting for a Leader

George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life
yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and
the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to
be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a
day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a
quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long
laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets
delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public
that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and
promised that everything would work out in the end.

We will, of course, endure, and the city of New Orleans must
come back. But looking at the pictures on television yesterday
of a place abandoned to the forces of flood, fire and looting,
it was hard not to wonder exactly how that is going to come to
pass. Right now, hundreds of thousands of American refugees
need our national concern and care. Thousands of people still
need to be rescued from imminent peril. Public health threats
must be controlled in New Orleans and throughout southern
Mississippi. Drivers must be given confidence that gasoline
will be available, and profiteering must be brought under
control at a moment when television has been showing long
lines at some pumps and spot prices approaching $4 a gallon
have been reported.

Sacrifices may be necessary to make sure that all these things
happen in an orderly, efficient way. But this administration
has never been one to counsel sacrifice. And nothing about the
president's demeanor yesterday - which seemed casual to the
point of carelessness - suggested that he understood the depth
of the current crisis.

While our attention must now be on the Gulf Coast's most
immediate needs, the nation will soon ask why New Orleans's
levees remained so inadequate. Publications from the local
newspaper to National Geographic have fulminated about the bad
state of flood protection in this beloved city, which is below
sea level. Why were developers permitted to destroy wetlands
and barrier islands that could have held back the hurricane's
surge? Why was Congress, before it wandered off to vacation,
engaged in slashing the budget for correcting some of the
gaping holes in the area's flood protection?

It would be some comfort to think that, as Mr. Bush cheerily
announced, America "will be a stronger place" for enduring
this crisis. Complacency will no longer suffice, especially if
experts are right in warning that global warming may increase
the intensity of future hurricanes. But since this
administration won't acknowledge that global warming exists,
the chances of leadership seem minimal.

The New York Times

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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland
blog: http://harmonization.blogspot.com/

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