Friday, September 02, 2005

George W. Bush: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

Sound familiar? Didn't Rice claim that no one expected terrorists to use planes as missles not so long ago? How dumb do these people think we are?

Article from the Houston Chronicle, from 12/01/01. Republished recently:

The foretelling of a deadly disaster in New Orleans
FEMA ranked hurricane scenario highly likely in '01

By ERIC BERGER

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Dec. 1, 2001, in the Houston Chronicle. Because of its relevance to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, it is being republished.

New Orleans is sinking.

And its main buffer from a hurricane, the protective Mississippi River delta, is quickly eroding away, leaving the historic city perilously close to disaster.

So vulnerable, in fact, that earlier this year the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked the potential damage to New Orleans as among the three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country.

The other two? A massive earthquake in San Francisco, and, almost prophetically, a terrorist attack on New York City.

The New Orleans hurricane scenario may be the deadliest of all.

In the face of an approaching storm, scientists say, the city's less-than-adequate evacuation routes would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill one of 10 left behind as the city drowned under 20 feet of water. Thousands of refugees could land in Houston.

Economically, the toll would be shattering.

Southern Louisiana produces one-third of the country's seafood, one-fifth of its oil and one-quarter of its natural gas. The city's tourism, lifeblood of the French Quarter, would cease to exist. The Big Easy might never recover.

And, given New Orleans' precarious perch, some academics wonder if it should be rebuilt at all.

It's been 36 years since Hurricane Betsy buried New Orleans 8 feet deep. Since then a deteriorating ecosystem and increased development have left the city in an ever more precarious position. Yet the problem went unaddressed for decades by a laissez-faire government, experts said.

"To some extent, I think we've been lulled to sleep," said Marc Levitan, director of Louisiana State University's hurricane center.

Hurricane season ended Friday, and for the second straight year no hurricanes hit the United States. But the season nonetheless continued a long-term trend of more active seasons, forecasters said. Tropical Storm Allison became this country's most destructive tropical storm ever.

Yet despite the damage Allison wrought upon Houston, dropping more than 3 feet of water in some areas, a few days later much of the city returned to normal as bloated bayous drained into the Gulf of Mexico. The same storm dumped a mere 5 inches on New Orleans, nearly overwhelming the city's pump system. If an Allison-type storm were to strike New Orleans, or a Category 3 storm or greater with at least 111 mph winds, the results would be cataclysmic, New Orleans planners said.

"Any significant water that comes into this city is a dangerous threat," Walter Maestri, Jefferson Parish emergency management director, told Scientific American for an October article.

"Even though I have to plan for it, I don't even want to think about the loss of life a huge hurricane would cause."

New Orleans is essentially a bowl ringed by levees that protect the city from the Mississippi River to its south and Lake Pontchartrain to the north. The bottom of the bowl is 14 feet below sea level, and efforts to keep it dry are only digging a deeper hole.

During routine rainfalls the city's dozens of pumps push water uphill into the lake. This, in turn, draws water from the ground, further drying the ground and sinking it deeper, a problem known as subsidence.

This problem also faces Houston as water wells have sucked the ground dry. Houston's solution is a plan to convert to surface drinking water. For New Orleans, eliminating pumping during a rainfall is not an option, so the city continues to sink.

A big storm, scientists said, would likely block four of five evacuation routes long before it hit. Those left behind would have no power or transportation, and little food or medicine, and no prospects for a return to normal any time soon.

"The bowl would be full," Levitan said. "There's simply no place for the water to drain."

Estimates for pumping the city dry after a huge storm vary from six to 16 weeks. Hundreds of thousands would be homeless, their residences destroyed.

The only solution, scientists, politicians and other Louisiana officials agree, is to take large-scale steps to minimize the risks, such as rebuilding the protective delta.

Every two miles of marsh between New Orleans and the Gulf reduces a storm surge — which in some cases is 20 feet or higher — by half a foot.

In 1990, the Breaux Act, named for its author, Sen. John Breaux, D-La., created a task force of several federal agencies to address the severe wetlands loss in coastal Louisiana. The act has brought about $40 million a year for wetland restoration projects, but it hasn't been enough.

"It's kind of been like trying to give aspirin to a cancer patient," said Len Bahr, director of Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster's coastal activities office.

The state loses about 25 square miles of land a year, the equivalent of about one football field every 15 minutes. The fishing industry, without marshes, swamps and fertile wetlands, could lose a projected $37 billion by the year 2050.

University of New Orleans researchers studied the impact of Breaux Act projects on the vanishing wetlands and estimated that only 2 percent of the loss has been averted. Clearly, Bahr said, there is a need for something much bigger. There is some evidence this finally may be happening.

A consortium of local, state and federal agencies is studying a $2 billion to $3 billion plan to divert sediment from the Mississippi River back into the delta. Because the river is leveed all the way to the Gulf, where sediment is dumped into deep water, nothing is left to replenish the receding delta. Other possible projects include restoration of barrier reefs and perhaps a large gate to prevent Lake Pontchartrain from overflowing and drowning the city.

All are multibillion-dollar projects. A plan to restore the Florida Everglades attracted $4 billion in federal funding, but the state had to match it dollar for dollar. In Louisiana, so far, there's only been a willingness to match 15 or 25 cents.

"Our state still looks for a 100 percent federal bailout, but that's just not going to happen," said University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland, a delta expert.

"We have an image and credibility problem. We have to convince our country that they need to take us seriously, that they can trust us to do a science-based restoration program."

12 Thoughts:

Blogger Zeppellina said...

ITV in the UK did an hour long news report from New Orleans.
Both BBc and ITV have highlighted the fact that warnings have been presented for years.
Both said that the budget for the levies was cut recently in order to help fund the fight against terrorism.
FEMA recently ran a test on how they would cope...the reality, of course being so horrendously different.
Charity hospitals, according to staff being interviewed in NO, asked to be evacuated days ago, but no help or supplies came. Their patients are dying.
All hardened journalists in the field are saying the same thing...they have not seen anything resembling this in years...and likening the situation to some of the worst they have seen in 3rd world countries.
The world is shocked. The richest country in the world could not help its own people when they desperately needed it.
Even worse than that, we have heard reports saying it is the fault of the people for having been there in the first place.
But prisoners and the poor were obviously not worth evacuating in the first place.
I know Americans are angry. They should be. Surely now the US administration will begin to see the value in looking after people who have not had the chances that others have had.
I`m sorry this is a bit of a ramble, but I cannot believe that the richest country in the world can organise overseas missions at the relative drop of a hat, but neglect their own people to this extent.
I feel so upset, so angry and so helpless when watching every news program and report.
The American people deserve better than this.

Friday, September 02, 2005 6:19:00 PM  
Blogger Kyahgirl said...

Excellent post. Yes, its infuriating to see such terrible loss. I watched a documentary a good ten years ago on the city of N.O. and the bleak future it faced.
I only hope that people can put this aside for now and focus on helping.
The suffering is hard to imagine.

Friday, September 02, 2005 6:35:00 PM  
Blogger Demotiki said...

Zep,

What was the title of that one hour show on the BBC? I want to download it off of bittnet.

Of course you are right, if the US could put a man on the moon in 1968, they should be able to put some poor folks on busses in 2005.

The reality is that this administration has always exhibited Nero like incompetance. It's not surprising then that Bush sits and fiddles his thumbs while New Orleans burns.

I was especially shocked at how images of violence and looting have been used to distract attention from the massive failures of FEMA and other federal agencies. Once again the Republicans are playing the "race card."

Friday, September 02, 2005 8:38:00 PM  
Blogger Zeppellina said...

Demokiti,it was a specially extended one hour news report today by ITN (we call it ITV in Scotland).
Both the BBC and ITN are on the ground right now, as are a lot of other correspondants, in New Orleans.
BBC News 24 journalist has just shown a bundle of people in the city centre, with no food or water, very distressed and angry, and, 5 police cars within sight on the same street, all dealing with one looter.
The biggest crime these people have committed is being poor.
I agree entirely, demokiti, there are questions to be asked as to why FEMA
and other agencies appear to have had no cohesive emergency strategey.

Friday, September 02, 2005 9:12:00 PM  
Blogger pawlr said...

Word over on dailykos is that the Red Cross was never allowed into the city to distribute food and water. Not because of a lack of safety or access, but rather they were prevented by Louisiana Homeland Security, because helping people would have created a bottleneck and "made it harder for them to evacuate". The mind reels...

Saturday, September 03, 2005 12:33:00 AM  
Blogger pawlr said...

More followup on this story..

Saturday, September 03, 2005 12:36:00 AM  
Blogger pawlr said...

Look at bullet #2 on this page of the Red Cross website. In case it mysteriously disappears in the next few days, it reads:

"The state Homeland Security Department had requested--and continues to request--that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city."

In black and white - the Government would rather people starve and die where they stand than hamper an evacuation that took 4 days to commence.

Saturday, September 03, 2005 12:45:00 AM  
Blogger Zeppellina said...

WOW!
Thanks for that link, Pawir...it is shocking...but it also confirms reports coming in on BBC News 24 early this morning.
They showed arial shots of the long line of FEMA trucks and spoke to one of the drivers, who said that the FEMA trucks were fully loaded up with water and supplies on MONDAY, but were not allowed to take them into New Orleans until FRIDAY, when they got the official go ahead.
It`s also noticeable that Bush took 5 days to visit the City, and that
things really only stated to move after the UN offered specialist assistance and relief teams the other day.
News 24 also visited an empty Wallmart store, apparently where the police headquarters are based. They got no supplies either, and ate the food from the shelves to keep going?
Does the US administration realise that the whole world is watching them?
This is downright criminal.

Saturday, September 03, 2005 5:06:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Impeach this motherfucker right now. I'm sick and tired of this shit. Even Fox News' talking heads are outraged. This is what a fascist state looks like -- get them all out of power and under indictment.

I've fucking had it with these assholes.

Saturday, September 03, 2005 10:18:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

George W. Bush has been a towering mistake. How many more Americans need to die for a mistake? Not to mention others around the world.

We have serious, adult problems here. They have not only gone unadressed, but BushCo has also added to them (i.e., Iraq). Put this yahoo on his fucking mountain bike in Crawford in perpetuity (if he can keep it upright) and let the adults take care of them.

Saturday, September 03, 2005 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Demotiki said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Saturday, September 03, 2005 3:18:00 PM  
Blogger Demotiki said...

If starving your fellow citizens is not a "high crime" I don't know what is. 2006 is too far away, we need to get rid of this administration before they bring about the Rapture they so desire. If they had the sense, they would realized that the Rapture would leave behind those who pen up little children and the elderly without food or water and watch calously as they starve or die of thirst.

Saturday, September 03, 2005 3:23:00 PM  

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