August 29, 2006

Lesson Unlearned

A battered Mardi Gras float in a Gretna, LA, warehouse destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

One year ago today, Hurricane Katrina made its second and third landfalls as a Category 3 Hurricane. While the media continues to portray Katrina as the "perfect storm" because of the destruction it caused in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, the simple fact is that Katrina could have been far worse. New Orleans did not suffer a direct hit.

At some point in the unforeseen future, the perfect storm will hit New Orleans, and the billions of dollars we are pumping into rebuilding the city will be realized for the misallocation of funds that it is as it slides beneath the waves for a final time, perhaps with a far greater loss of life than the 1,836 souls that were lost when Katrina bypassed New Orleans.

We should have learned; you don't build a major city in a hole in a swamp surrounded by the Mighty Mississippi on the once side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other an expect it to last. Katrina should have been our wake-up call to relocate or abandon the Big Easy for higher ground; instead we are pumping millions of dollars into a city that the Army Corps of Engineers predicted would fall into the sea within 50 years even before Katrina chewed up an already receding Louisiana coastline.

A pre-Katrina map of what the Louisiana coastline may look like in less than 50 years.

We have not learned the lessons that this mighty near miss tried to teach us, and are now doomed to repeat our mistake in the future. It is arrogant and foolish to think Band-Aid solutions will resurrect a city so close to its natural death.

So what would have been the "proper" response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina? Rebuilding elsewhere. Surely, the millions of dollars flowing into the slowly drowning city of New Orleans would have been better spent in relocating it to higher ground further inland, where it could have a legitimate chance to rebuild and prosper, instead of looking forward to the dark further of The Next Time, when the futility of our efforts to combat the forces of nature will be realized on a stark day after.

But instead we rebuild New Orleans to fail, no stronger, weaker in many regards, and doomed to repeat as scene of massive tragedy. We have failed to learn from the recent past, and will be forced to live with the consequences in the future.

Update: In the comments, some folks are making the correct observation that not all of New Orleans flooded as a result of Hurricane Katrina, and that some spots are indeed above sea level. To them I say, "for now."

New Orleans, on average, is eight feet below sea level, and sinking three feet per century.

The simple fact of the matter is that all of New Orleans (and the Mississippi Delta in general) is built upon a bed of silt hundreds of feet thick, and this fine material is constantly compacting. The rate of subsidence varies from spot to spot, but all of the Mississippi delta is subsiding, and all of New Orleans is sinking along with it.

That is according to the U.S Geological Survey.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at August 29, 2006 08:12 AM | TrackBack

There's another dimension to this discussion. Just after Katrina, I passed the following on to Dale Franks at QandO, who posted it here:

"If New Orleans is rebuilt below sea level, have we not just shown our terrorist enemies what one well-placed truck bomb would do? A ton or thereabouts of fertilizer and fuel oil would be all that would needed to submerge New Orleans again."

I've thought about it since then, and I can't find any flaw in that analysis. Unless there is going to be a 24 hour guard on the entire levee system, this still looks to be a quite feasible strategem. And, with no notice to evacuate, the loss of life would likely be worse than with Katrina.

Posted by: Billy Hollis at August 29, 2006 08:53 AM

Much of the Netherlands is below see level. They actually had a flood that lost more than a 3rd of the country. The question the nation should be asking itself is are we willing to spend the resources to re-build and maintain NewOrleans in the current location.

Posted by: james at August 29, 2006 08:54 AM

Like most all-or-nothing examinations, we end up with a baby tossed with the bathwater. Just as it's foolish to rebuild New Orleans just as it was, it's equally foolish to abandon the city to the crows. Not all of New Orleans is 20 feet under sea level. Much of New Orleans - in fact, much of the nicer part - is in areas of much higher standing. Of course, what happened is that as the city grew, the poorer elements could only afford to expand into housing in the least desireable areas - those most prone to flooding.

New Orleans is a very viable city with important port, industrial, and tourism industries. There is no reason to restore the blight that was much of the 9th ward - these areas should be restored to marshland condition. But there is no reason to turn New Orleans into Machu Pichu either...


Posted by: MEC2 at August 29, 2006 08:59 AM

No doubt, your general warning about lessons not being properly learned is going to turn out to be true. I'm willing to bet the levees won't be rebuilt to the necessary standards, etc. I'd be delighted to be wrong about this, but I doubt it.

However, I'm not sure it is possible to evade the need to rebuild NO altogether. A major portion of the USA's agricultural and manufacturing products for export reach the sea via the Mississippi River. There appears to be no way around the need to have a major seaport in this location, and that implies a place to live for all the people who operate it, and the attendant service industries, etc.

It might be easier to relocate the people needed to operate all the petroleum industry in the area, although they too still have to live someplace.

Posted by: Mike at August 29, 2006 09:00 AM

And apparently for Mr. Owens, the answer is no. Fine, thanks for your input. Your analysis of the situation is incorrect, and James' citation to the Netherlands is entirely appropriate. You also fail to take into account that the wetlands on the Gulf Coast have been degraded not by natural causes, but because of oil and gas exploration and exploitation, and because we have redirected the flow of several rivers, chief among them the Mississippi. The important point from that being that we can repair the damage, and at a cost which allows us to maintain the port of New Orleans in its current location, as well as the current oil and gas activities.

People who propose "relocating" New Orleans somewhere else often suggest it as an alternative to the expensive process of rebuilding. 100% of those same people, however, fail to even estimate the cost of actually relocating New Orleans. To say nothing of the cost in human suffering such a "relocation" would entail. Reminds me of certain folks who talk about "relocating" Israel to Europe. Makes about as much sense too.

Many of us in New Orleans want to see the City rebuilt on a smaller footprint, utilizing the higher-ground areas of the City. At the current time, it appears that won't happen; that people will be free to rebuild wherever they wish, though without the protection of insurance, and without much in the way of federal assistance.

Congrats on the Instalanche.

Posted by: Robert at August 29, 2006 09:05 AM

Oh, and another thing: From what I've seen of those levees, a truck bomb is going to do little more than singe the grass on them. You'd need an unbelieveable amount of explosives to have much effect on earth structures of that size without drilling dynamite holes in very carefully chosen locations.

Posted by: Mike at August 29, 2006 09:06 AM

I agree with you.

If the people of New Orleans want to live below sea level, below river level and below lake level they should do it on their dime. It's not the governments responsibility to protect people from their own stupidity.

I said the same thing once on wizbang and paul replaced the body of my post with "I'm a freakin Idiot".

Posted by: tracelan at August 29, 2006 09:10 AM

New Orleans has so many geographical disadvantages, that you can be pretty sure it wouldn't be there unless it had to. And New Orleans has to be there, because we must have a port to transfer river cargo to ocean-going ships, and vice versa. the Mississippi River is the main artery of America. To run the port we must have people there.

The threat from terrorists is (I think) from the Mississippi River. You could put a whole lot of fuel oil in a large boat and detonate it against a levee, and the river is already well above sea level in New Orleans. If the river levee was breached, it would make Katrina look paltry in comparison. All that silt would cover New Orleans.

Don't think truck bomb. Think ship bomb. I hope/assume the proper officials have considered this.

Posted by: RSM at August 29, 2006 09:26 AM

I doubt the Netherlands is built on hundreds of feet of silt.

Posted by: Ross at August 29, 2006 09:41 AM

The population of today's New Orleans, much less pre-Katrina, isn't even required for the running of the ports and the petroleum infrastructure.

Posted by: Ross at August 29, 2006 09:46 AM

That's a good point. A ship could easily hold an "unbelieveable amount of explosives".

Does anyone know - is there any kind of group out there, government sponsored or not, that is studying this problem? We basically need at least 0.5 million people or so to be able to live in a really bad spot. Is there any way to rebuild the city while avoiding the below sea level problem?

Posted by: Mike at August 29, 2006 09:49 AM

Yeah, tell it to the Dutch. And actually the polder are both built on silt and rather more than 8 feet below sea level.

Posted by: Charlie (Colorado) at August 29, 2006 09:51 AM

I live just north of New Olreans in Covington, la. Although I agree that the city needs to be rebuilt smarter I don't agree that it should not rebuilt at all. Some of you act like N.O. is the only major city in America that is on a receding coastline or has other natural disaster issues. You can say the same thing about So Cal and the massive fault lines running through the worlds 5th largest economy, or the entire coast of South Florida or NYC itself that will one day get the "big" hurricane that puts 10 feet of water right through the heart of the worlds economic center of Wall Street. Should we relocate every major American city to the mid-west? The truth is if we can send hundreds of millions to help other people who live under Islamic dictators (see Lebanon for a recent example) we can most certainly spend some money rebuilding what is the most culturally significant and historic city in the United States. But also remember that the Corps of Engineers itself has taken the blame for the flooding in New Orleans. If they had designed the levees properly in the first place then they would have held and we would not be having this conversation (at least in relation to Lakeview and the Lower 9th). I am scared for anyone else that lives anywhere that they depend on the CoE providing their ultimate flood protection. But bottom line is we are Americans and, just like when I was in the Army, we don't abandon our dead on the battlefield and we should not abandon NO b/c it might get too "expensive". After all, if any of the above places mentioned get the worst case scenerio then it will make the money we spend in NO look like loose change.

Posted by: justin at August 29, 2006 10:44 AM

I put up a summary of my views here. Basically covers it from the geophysics to the ports and petrochemical complex and why giving terrorists a 3-fer is a bad idea.

If you want tax dollars to do something then: save the core of the city and put the population somehwere *else* that is safer. I suggest inland with high-speed rail and limited access highways to the old city or a floating city. Open the Atchafalaya and get the delta to rebuilding itself as we have done a damn poor job at that. I always want there to *be* a New Orleans, but the city itself is sinking and that cannot be *fixed* by current state of the art anything.

That *includes* the dutch and Venice, neither of which have the turbid flow of the Mississippi to deal with nor uncompacted sediment for hundreds of feet before getting to actual rock.

Posted by: ajacksonian at August 29, 2006 10:48 AM

I love the non-Southerners quick-to-pronounce New Orleans a "dead" city and call for it's abandonement. I'll support that when we also decide to abandon Malibu because of wild fires or La or San Francisco for building on fault lines. Hell, what the fires don't burn or the earthquakes shake loose the mudslides wipe out. Every one outta of California pronto. Don't you know scientists predict within the next 50 years a major earthquake will devastate you? Wasn't 1906 and the most recent quake collapsing that roadway enough warning?

My Gods, Las Vegas is in a DESERT forchristsakes so we should get rid of it.

And all you states way up north getting year after year of snowfall costing millions and billions of dollars in wasted road repairs not tomention the amount of fuel oil and coal you guys burn trying to stay warm--close up shop, move further south.

Except stay out of the mid-west because of the tornadoes.

Sorry Confederate Yankee, but you and the other "abandon NO now!" crowd are full of BS. When I see other major cities built in crappy places being shut down I'll entertain the thought of NO closing up. Till then, just shut the hell up.

Posted by: Faith+1 at August 29, 2006 11:01 AM

My understanding is that the Mississippi further upstream is straining to change course down the Atchafalaya basin, that there's a huge structure to prevent that, but it nearly failed in 1973.

Doesn't the prospect of the river someday bypassing Baton Rouge and New Orleans altogether raise even more questions? Once the genie is out of the bottle and the river is flowing well west of New Orleans on a much sharper downhill angle, I don't know how they can redivert the water back to the old channel (I'm not an engineer, maybe that can be done).

Posted by: Jeff at August 29, 2006 11:09 AM

The flooded areas of Lousiana, Mississippi and Alabama should not be rebuilt. They should be turned into wetland so the people that are left have a better chance when the next hurricane comes. The people who were flooded out, should be helped financially only if they decide to abandon their old neighborhoods.

I live in San Francisco, and when the next earthquake comes, I do not expect help from anyone. I live their of my own volition, I know the risks, and I don't expect anyone else to subsidize my choices.

Posted by: keith at August 29, 2006 11:17 AM

I saw on the news this morning that Nagin is close to having a plan to develop a plan for the city. That made me feel real good to know that all is taken care of.

I live in Louisiana. NO has been a thorn in this states side for over a hundred years. The best thing that could have happened to the state was Katrina. Just look at Houston and other cities that took in the refugees and see the what these people can do. I would note that one of the Dutch system is very elaborate and very expensive. That means you need a productive population to support such a concept and NO citizens are not productive.

The oil and gas can be administered via heads and most of this is taken care of south of Baton Rouge (I used to work off shore). As to cargo, that is necessary but can be taken care of with a very small footprint.

If a tornado were to take my home away, is the Federal government responsible for rebuilding it and the community?? No. And it never should be. The problem in NO is not the problem of the US. It is local and should remain so. If you send money down here with the intent to rebuild that stink hole then our elected officals will steal it. That is the plain and simple truth. If we can get rid of a few more 9th wards then we might be able to elect people who are not criminals.

Posted by: David Caskey at August 29, 2006 11:23 AM

Some of you act like N.O. is the only major city in America that is on a receding coastline or has other natural disaster issues.

No, I think they're saying New Orleans is below sea level, and it is certainly the only major city in the US that is. Every drop of water that lands in New Orleans either evaporates or gets pumped out. Period.

My understanding is that the Mississippi further upstream is straining to change course down the Atchafalaya basin, that there's a huge structure to prevent that, but it nearly failed in 1973.

I've actually thought that THAT would be the right target for a terrorist.

Posted by: RSM at August 29, 2006 11:57 AM


noble thoughts from a San Fran native but lots of federal dollars is exactly what is and what was spent to rebuild the West coast after damn near every seasonal disaster the West coast experiences. As I said, I'd support the idea abandoning the Southern areas hit when the likes of you advocate abandoning the collosal waste of money spent to keep you guys in over-priced real estate.

Until then your cries for "close it down" are just the rantings of a elitist, anti-Southern snob.

Posted by: Faith+1 at August 29, 2006 12:00 PM

My Gods, Las Vegas is in a DESERT forchristsakes so we should get rid of it.

Actually, Las Vegas is on my list as the third most-likely American city to be abandoned after Detroit.

Consider that the very existence of Las Vegas is based on three things: cheap energy, cheap travel (which, really, is an extension of #1) and cheap water. All of which are rapidly becoming in short supply...

Posted by: Miles at August 29, 2006 12:03 PM

Hey Faith+1,
Born and raised in Virginia, thank you very much. In fact, I lived a few miles from the beach, and only a few feet above sea level. I have been in more hurricanes than I can count, and my family was prepared for them all. If it got too dangerous, we left.
I brought that philosophy to San Fran. I rent because I am not going to buy on a fault zone. I have enough food and emergency equipment to last weeks without aid, etc. etc.
I don't support all the aid California gets in the futile hopes of staving off the inevitable earthquake. Just like I don't support the aid that the gulf is getting to rebuild in a lake bed, in a hurricane zone. Both efforts are a foolish waste of money and resources.

Posted by: Keith at August 29, 2006 12:12 PM


A foolish waste of money is Social Security. Let's give people a reason not to save or attempt to be upwardly mobile under the false premise that Uncle Sam will take care of you. Then give them only enough money after 40 years of contributions to keep them in the poor house. Very smart use of federal resources. Now that is a waste of tax dollars and resources. However, most of us accept that expenditure. The point is someone can argue that almost every dollar spent by the federal govt and not by you are I is a waste of money. The money collected will be spent somewhere trust me. At least this way it gets spent helping people and not lining some senators best friends son's back pocket via a suspicious land deal. I'd rather that. after all it is not as if our massive tax burden is going to be lowered signigicantly any time soon and real saving to real americans is going to result. Now go over to porkbusters and help us find out who is blocking finding out where the real waste of money is.

Posted by: justin at August 29, 2006 12:29 PM

I reread my comments, and they seem harsher than I meant. I love New Orleans, and I am very disturbed by the deaths and damage. My argument is we should not try to mollify our pain by rebuilding in the specific areas that mother nature has reclaimed. The people that suffered loss should be helped when they agree to live somewhere else.

Posted by: Keith at August 29, 2006 12:34 PM

In the winter of 1976, I relocated from Texas to Washington state and, as luck would have it, a tire blew on my trailer late at night on absolutely the worst spot on the trip, a high-wind area in Wyoming.

Local people told me that stretch of the Interstate was a disaster. Highways had always avoided it because snow and high winds combine to make it inpassible in the winter. But the Federal government, with its deep pockets, thought they could defeat nature. They poured millions into snow barriers etc., all to no available. Years later I drove through that stretch of highway again and discovered that they'd put a winter bypass in to avoid that deadly stretch.

We need to do the same with New Orleans. Leave the high ground for tourism and protect it well. Keep people from building in the low-lying areas and let nature take it over, something that'll eventually be a tourist attraction in itself. New Orleans is fated to become an Island in the Gulf. Nothing we do will change that.

--Mike Perry, Seattle

Posted by: Mike Perry at August 29, 2006 12:37 PM

Porkbusters, yes I definitely support that.

Posted by: Keith at August 29, 2006 12:38 PM

So for those of you predicting the inevitability of NO's demise, where do you stand on modifying the return we get on our oil and gas leases, so we can start to address the coastal erosion that exacerbated the effects of Katrina? And to the guy who talked about NO being a "thorn in the side" of La, brother, there ain't crap in this state worth saving beyond NO. Feel free not to visit.

Posted by: Robert at August 29, 2006 12:45 PM

I don't predict NO's demise, but I will jump in. People and corporations should be responsible for themselves. If they damage the environment by causing the coast to erode, then they should pay.

Posted by: Keith at August 29, 2006 01:07 PM

Listening to you know-nothings make pronouncments on New Orleans is like listening to leftists make similarly ignorant statements about economies. I could use your same arguments to make a case for abandoning the entire state of Florida, which is enduring yet another storm right now.


Posted by: Peter Jackson at August 29, 2006 02:15 PM

And by the way Houston, pack your bags:

Constant change is here to stay. Grow up and get used to it.


Posted by: Peter Jackson at August 29, 2006 02:18 PM

Peter Jackson
I could use your same arguments to make a case for abandoning the entire state of Florida, which is enduring yet another storm right now.

Apples and Oranges. Last I checked, Florida was not below sea level.

Posted by: RSM at August 29, 2006 02:41 PM

I don't mind constant change, but I do mind paying for it needlessly.

Posted by: Keith at August 29, 2006 03:20 PM

I’ve noticed that many here are trying to make comparisons with New Orleans and other areas that are prone to certain kinds of disasters, which are, without exception, invalid.

While other areas are prone to certain kinds of temporary disasters, these areas face these disasters quite infrequently, so infrequently that entire generations have lived and died with knowing the disasters to which their areas are most famously prone.

New Orleans, on the other hand, with as much geological certainty as modern science gives us, will become part of the Gulf of Mexico, and it is simply a matter of time as to when that eventuality will come to pass. New Orleans as a whole is sinking at an average of three feet per century, in a city already averaging eight feet below sea level. Combined with a coastline disappearing into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of 25 square miles per year, and the fate of New Orleans, from a geological standpoint, is sealed.

Folks can argue against what geology and oceanography assure us, pleading sociology, economics and politics if you so desire, but there is little chance that the ocean will listen.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at August 29, 2006 03:40 PM

The loss of coastal wetlands -- our natural buffer -- is a phenomenon of the last 70 years. The subsidence and erosion are the direct result of human actions. The first is the levees only flood policy of the corps of engineers that keeps the Mississippi in its banks. The second is the free rein the petroleum industry had to criss-cross the wetlands with access canals. The poorly designed and implemented levees that ultimately flooded New Orleans when stresses far far less than they were supposed to be designed for were exerted upon them is only the last in a long line of failures. Katrina is an entirely man-made disaster and there is a man-made solution that does not require relocation. Reputable scientists by and large agree that this is a solvable, reversible And the price tag is not as high as many believe. Grant the state the oil drilling revenues other states already have and the necessary dollars are there.

New Orleans has been here longer than America has been a country. What happens here has huge implications for the rest of the country. This same process is already happening to Miami. New York is in significant danger too. We are the proverbial canary in a coal mine.

The notion of just relocating an entire city is absurd on its face. The fact that we taxpaying american citizens have to justify our right to exist is deeply offensive.

- directly addresses your ideas - What Americans know about what happened here

Posted by: Scott Harney at August 29, 2006 05:32 PM

Apples and Oranges. Last I checked, Florida was not below sea level.

In the face of 20+ foot storm surges, yours is a distinction without much of a difference.

Besides, go over to Wizbang and read Paul's post. Katrina didn't flood New Orleans, the Federal government did.


Posted by: peter Jackson at August 29, 2006 05:47 PM

Folks can argue against what geology and oceanography assure us, pleading sociology, economics and politics if you so desire, but there is little chance that the ocean will listen.

Your appeal to scientific authority is ridiculous. Those are all simply extrapolations, not scientific conclusions. ALL coastlines, escpecially those at the mouths of rivers, are dynamic and always have been. WHEREVER the Mississippi meets the ocean will always lay low and always be prone to damage from the natural dynamics of weather and water relative to inland locales. Besides, the Mississippi has routinely flooded over the known history along almost it's entire length.

Not to mention that ALL cities, by there very nature as places where lots of people occupy a small space, are vulnerable to catastrophe, whether it's fire, earthquakes, flooding, terrorism, or what have you.

Your argument, reasoned out to it's implications, is a Luddite argument against civilization as we know it.


Posted by: peter Jackson at August 29, 2006 06:02 PM

If the people of New Orleans want to live below sea level, below river level and below lake level they should do it on their dime. It's not the governments responsibility to protect people from their own stupidity.

Excuse me, but the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT by LAW owns all of the navigable waterways of this nation. As the OWNER, it is the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT'S responsibility to keep ITS PROPERTY out of other people's property. Jesus, the Federal government built the freakin' Intercostal Canal between WWI and WWII, the body of water responsible for the most damage to New Orleans proper: Mid City and the Ninth Ward. So your argument that the Federal government doesn't share in the responsibility of what happened to NO is simply not legally or morally valid.


Posted by: peter Jackson at August 29, 2006 06:15 PM

The comparison with the Netherlands is inappropriate, as there is no river delta involved in the Netherlands, and the soil is far more stable. NO is built on much, which is not being replenished as he has been for thousands of years, so it is subsiding, and will continue to do so until the water course is restored.

We channel the MIssissippi and the velocities increase, and the suspended solids in the river which USED to settle into the river delta NOW rocket out over the continental shelf. That's why so much wetland has been destroyed over the last 300 years.

Posted by: a civil engineer of long practice at August 29, 2006 06:33 PM

Also, the Netherlands, while it's hit by storms, isn't getting hit by storms as big. Europe's simply not being hit by category 3-5 hurricanes, so their job is easier.

Posted by: Nate at August 29, 2006 06:53 PM

"In the face of 20+ foot storm surges, yours is a distinction without much of a difference."

I don't think someone should live in a city that experiences 20+ foot storm surges on a regular basis either.

"ALL coastlines, especially those at the mouths of rivers, are dynamic and always have been. WHEREVER the Mississippi meets the ocean will always lay low and always be prone to damage from the natural dynamics of weather and water relative to inland locales. Besides, the Mississippi has routinely flooded over the known history along almost it's entire length."

When the Mississippi flooded over large parts of its length in the 90's those people did not rebuild on the water's edge. They moved to higher ground, which is what I am advocating for NO.

"Not to mention that ALL cities, by there very nature as places where lots of people occupy a small space, are vulnerable to catastrophe, whether it's fire, earthquakes, flooding, terrorism, or what have you."

These risks are not comparable to the risk of New Orleans flooding. Except for cities on fault zones (which I don't think should be subsidized either) all of these risks are not inevitable.

"Excuse me, but the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT by LAW owns all of the navigable waterways of this nation. As the OWNER, it is the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT'S responsibility to keep ITS PROPERTY out of other people's property."

Using this logic, the below sea level portions of New Orleans should be considered navigable waterways. Why are people living on Federal Government Property?! The government should just tell them to leave.

Posted by: Keith at August 29, 2006 07:02 PM

Gross ignorance. You do NOT have your facts straights. Just for starters, the average elevation of New Orleans is NOT eight feet below sea level. That is the maximum depth, not the average, and the place where it is eight feet is in "New Orleans East", which is part of the parish and city, but is not within the city "proper", and is separated from the city proper by the Industrial Canal, and that figure is not representative of any part of the city proper. If you can't do your homework, don't open your mouth.

--a New Orleanian, who has done his own agonizing about whether or not the city should be rebuilt, and is willing to hear all opinions on the subject provided they are informed opinions, not ignorant opinions.

Posted by: MO at August 29, 2006 07:30 PM

In the face of 20+ foot storm surges, yours is a distinction without much of a difference.

After the storm, when it's time for the water to flow back into the ocean, it is all the difference in the world. Every drop of water in New Orleans gets pumped out. Name a place in Florida where a similar situation occurs.

Besides, go over to Wizbang and read Paul's post.

What's a "wizbang"?

Katrina didn't flood New Orleans, the Federal government did.

Huh? So New Orleans was going to flood on that date even if the sun was shining? I'm, that's just plain ludicrous. Would you say the same about an earthquake in LA?

Posted by: RSM at August 29, 2006 08:57 PM

OK, I found out what a Wizbang was, and read the report. Interesting...

Posted by: RSM at August 29, 2006 09:10 PM

After the storm, when it's time for the water to flow back into the ocean, it is all the difference in the world. Every drop of water in New Orleans gets pumped out. Name a place in Florida where a similar situation occurs.

Well aside from the fact that the pumping system required is already in place in NO and it in fact only took about three weeks to pump out the entire what? The damage is done. Now we're not talking about vulnerability to disaster, we're talking about a recovery issue, specifically dewatering. The surge flowed back out in southern Mississippi too, and took Biloxi, Gulf Port, Pass Christian, Waveland, etc. with it.

Ironically, I just got finished watching a cable program demonstrating exactly what a Cat3 hurricane with an 18 foot storm surge would do to New York City. Street level of most of Manhattan wiped out, the port wiped out, millions of high-rise windows blown out, streets bombarded with antennae and water tanks from the tops of buildings, subways filled wit corrosive sea water for weeks or months—it wasn't pretty. I guess we better "move" it.

And I'm sorry, it was thoughtless of me not to include a link to the WizBang post. I just figured anyone reading this blog would also be familiar with WizBang.


Posted by: peter Jackson at August 29, 2006 09:36 PM

Using this logic, the below sea level portions of New Orleans should be considered navigable waterways. Why are people living on Federal Government Property?! The government should just tell them to leave.

I'm sorry, but you will have to do a little more than just assert this. By your logic, Death Valley California is a navigable waterway.

All analogies break down at some point, but many simply never make it out of the gate. Yours is an example of the latter.


Posted by: peter Jackson at August 29, 2006 09:42 PM

The most important difference between New Orleans and the Netherlands is that while both are mostly below seal level, the Netherlands is populated by serious, industrious Dutchmen who can be trusted to maintain the complex infrastructure that keeps the water out of their homes. The Dutch are not a pack of jackasses with a laissez le bon temps roulez attitude who can only be persuaded to stop electing criminals into public office if the alternative is a race baiting idiot.

I met an old guy who had worked for the Corps of Engineers years ago. He said that he had hated working in Louisiana because politicians were always trying to find new ways to siphon of the money allocated to build flood control structures and the contractors were always trying to cheat and use substandard materials or not do the work to spec. The thing that bugged him most of all was that they were not a bit ashamed when he caught them, viewing the whole thing as a game. They refused to comprehend that the things that he kept catching them trying to do could cause the structures to fail and cause a flood.

New Orleans was always in competition with Detroit and Washington DC to be the murder capital of America but the one category where New Orleans never had any competition was as the most corrupt city in the United States.

The flood was a man made disaster. It was caused by the corruption and incompetence that is "just the way we do things here" in New Orleans.

Fine. Rebuild your city just the way it was, 20 feed below sea level in the deeper parts and an average of 8 feet below sea level. Just don't ask us to send you more money. It will just be stolen anyway.

Posted by: Mark in Texas at August 29, 2006 10:23 PM

The Netherlands is in the same spot, but they've spent billions building sea walls and building up their land, and they never get hurricanes.

Maybe, given the fact that it's still The Big Easy, the city should take a tip from the Japanese whose homes used to be constructed of bamboo and paper because of the frequent earthquakes. If they rebuild, they should build everything out of styrofoam. It floats.

Posted by: AST at August 29, 2006 11:47 PM

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and assume that most people don't know this.

New Orleans itself sits on a major fault line, the Michoud Fault. The fault runs directly through the Ninth Ward and is and has been literally splitting the city apart.

Not only is New Orleans "sinking" it's also "sliding" away from the northern headwall and falling into the gulf.

I agree that rebuilding New Orleans into a remnant of her former self is an extremely bad idea, virtually suicidal, but I also suggest strongly that it needs to be rebuilt (right where it is) for political, emotional and economic reasons.

The New New Orleans does not have to, nor should it, look like it's former self. It should be small and compact and densly populated, like Manhattan or San Francisco, let New Orleans trade happen in New Orleans, just don't let hundreds of thousands of people who don't need to live there, live there.

I could go on and on, but I'd be wasting someone else's space, so I'll just leave this link with my thoughts on this earlier and provide a bit of information about the Michoud fault which runs right through the city (not even San Francisco has a fault line running through the city, the fault is out in the bay, close enough, but I think the readers here can grasp the point).


Posted by: Jason Coleman at August 30, 2006 01:37 PM

Ready John Barry's editorial today published in the USA today. Mr Barry is the author of "Rising Tide" and an authority on this very subject.

Posted by: Scott Harney at August 30, 2006 02:48 PM

I am tired of hearing that we should be rebuilt by now - or quit wasting OUR tax money....

Every one of my neighbors with the exception of 1 (who was busy rebuilding her elderly parents home)has rebuilt or is near finished rebuilding their house. Of course we are one of the fortunate neighborhoods because we only had 4 feet of water to come home to after Katrina.

After spending almost $1800 to evacuate (not to mention lost wages) that $2000 we got from FEMA to cover our evacuation expenses, left us a big $200 extra ... sure got me some nice breast implants - please give me a break and my husband loves his season tickets - he got box seats ... oh wait thats right my husband didnt get a dime from FEMA.

He got a whopping $12,000 from State Farm. His entire 3 bdrm 2 ba fully furnished home with a 2 car garage and a huge shed out back (which actually blew or was sucked away when the water receded)was completely ruined by the 4 feet of water that was in his house. (yes his house ... we were not married until after Katrina) No, he did not have flood insurance - he lived far from the beach - far from any water. Up by HWY 90 - look at the map... water NEVER should have come to his neighborhood! He was ADVISED not to purchase flood insurance when he bought the house in 92 by the agent who sold his homeowners policy to him. It's less than $300 a year for $150,000 policy - you dont think everyone here would have bought it had we even thought for one second that we would ever need it? And that our homeowners and hurricane insurance policies would be denied for HURRICANE DAMAGE.

Ok, now try to imagine - lets just say you have a nice 3 bdrm home - fully furnished... modestly - with moderately priced furniture. Nothing extravagent. But think about everything you have in your home. I mean everything. From the major appliances down to the bar of soap in your bathroom drawer and every little thing in bewtween. Every piece of silverware, every utensil, all of your tools, your computer and software, every mattress and boxspring, all of your towels and wash cloths, your clothing, shoes, small appliances - I mean EVERYTHING ruined. Completely beyond salvage. Dont forget your AC unit outside the house and if the water reached higher all the duct work too - another $3000 - $8000 minimum to replace. Then you have to completely tear out all of your flooring, your cabinets, countertops, toilets, all of the sheetrock and insulation. Everything must be thrown out completely, due to the thick coat of mud and mold left behind. My husband did this HIMSELF. He tore out everything on his own. No volunteers came to help. He waited in line and got his free bottled water and ice because there was no running water at all - and if there was it was contaminated. He also received MREs ... he had no choice. All of his food either flooded or rotted after the storm. There was no electricity for weeks and in some parts of town, months. He was one of the fortunate ones, he had 2 vehicles and evacuated in 1 so he did have a car. He could have driven 80 miles or more to go get his own groceries and water, but there wasnt a gas station left in town. Every pump was destroyed. Not that he could have gotten gas anyway - remember the shortage? So he was at the mercy of the government. No one had a way out of town once they came back to see if they had a home left standing. We were all at the mercy of the government just to get the basic necessities to survive. He then cut down 4 trees blocking the driveway and around the house just so he could push out his vehicle that was completely ruined after floating in 4 feet of water in the garage. It was 100 degrees and we were in a major drought.

Now imagine trying to replace everything. Try imagining it with $150,000 the very few lucky ones got. Try to imagine doing it with $50,000. Try imagining doing it with the $27,000 FEMA could give IF you quilified at all (which most did not by the way)Try imagining doing it with the $12,000 my husband got. Now imagine doing it with nothing but your savings and the income you bring in weekly. This is the reality of most people down here. If you say you could have done it- you are lying. You know it, I know it and so do the rest of the readers.

The people who wasted the money they got from FEMA are the same people who take their welfare checks and go buy crack or meth or whatever they do to waste government money on a monthly basis. Yes they do exist. They exist here is MS. They exist in LA. And guess what ... they also exist in FL, in IN, in MN, in OH, in IL ... and I could go on and name every single state in this country. They exist in every state. But the majority of the people here used that money in a useful constructive way.

We didnt even ask for the money people!!! The government decided that they were giving this out!! We never called and asked for it - guess what... we had no phones, absolutely no way to communicate with the outside world. Our cell phones worked maybe 3-10 minutes a day at best. And that was if you could get to a place where you could get a signal (the Bay Bridge). I personally had no phone service for almost 2 weeks (with a couple exceptions of a signal for maybe 60 seconds at a time) then over the next 3 months my service was spotty at best. FEMA could never get through to me so I was always put back to the end of the list or shuffled off to another adjuster.

For those of you who think we didnt have insurance you are very ignorant. Do you not know that mortgage companies require insurance? Do you think everyone in MS just outright owns their homes and no one has a mortgage??? Just like the rest of the country we have mortgages to pay and are required to have insurance.

Three days after Katrina hit we drove back to MS from Destin FL. There was almost no gas to speak of but we were lucky enough to fill up at one of the few stations that still had gas before we left FL. I had my minivan with my 3 children and we each had 3 changes of clothing.

We came home to nothing. Our home was leveled to the slab. We lost absolutely everything we own. I had just moved back home after living in MN for 15 years. I was renting a house right off the beach. It was a beautiful 4 bdrm home and I had over $15K in brand new furniture I had just bought 5 weeks before Katrina hit. I had over $8K in new dishes, towels, tvs and just basic household items needed for a family of 4. I have a teenage daughter - and if you have/had one you know the expense involved in just clothing alone! Plus 2 other children. I also work from home and lost ALL of my computers and software ... very spendy!! I had over $5K in samples, catalogs, merchandise for my business - lost. I estimated approximately $50,000 total lost in all. I was a renter. I had been in the house 7 weeks. I was busy setting up house, enrolling my children in new schools, just running around trying to get settled in. I had not gotten my renters insurance. It was my fault. I know that, but I was very busy and hadnt slowed down to get it squared away. I was told later by my daughters volleyball coach (also the local state farm agent) that my renters insurance wouldnt have covered it anyway... nice. At any rate, I did get FEMA money. I got $18,360 in all and a FEMA camper. I am grateful. Extremely grateful. (and one of the lucky ones because I had trouble proving my income based on commission and SBA was wary of approving me for a loan after losing 90% of my customer base) But could I start over with it? No. Absolutely not. No one could- I had 4 bedroom sets, diningroom, livingroom, 2 baths, clothes, shoes toys etc for 4 people. No one could ever begin to replace everything they own with $18K especially if you have children. I work 100% on commission and sell to businesses. I lost 80-90% of my customers in the storm. Imagine living off 10-20% of your income. I was a single mom with 3 children and no place to live. No way out of town (no gas remember). It was a complete and total nightmare. My parents got 200 gallons of gas, loaded up the back of my dads truck and drove down from MN. Drove straight through. We drove back to MN. I was in shock. I was devistated. My children were in shock. My parents were scared out of their minds because they were unable to reach us by phone but took it upon themselves to drive in and find us. They knew we were in trouble and they just came. My now husband ... didnt want to lose me. He asked me to marry him. We pooled our resources and rebuilt his house. My children stayed in MN for 4 months because they had no schools here and it was not safe for children down here at the time. I flew back and forth between MN and MS for 4 months helping rebuild the house. We did most of it ourselves. We had to pay $8000 for a new roof, $3000 for new AC unit, $3000 for the sheetrock to be floated professionally ... but everything else was done by me, my husband and sometimes friends came to help with some of the major stuff. But my husband completely gutted his house and dragged everything out himself...down to the bare studs. Then he stood in line again to receive his free bleach. He bleached every bare stud. He did this AFTER he worked a minimum of 8 hours a day at his regular job. Then he slept on the cement floor for over 7 weeks until he could get a mattress. Which he then slept on (still on the cement floors) for a couple more months until my FEMA camper arrived.

You people have no idea how hard it was to get materials to rebuild our homes. We had very little gas available - yes the shortage was over - but our gas stations were gone. We had to drive so far just to get anything - and even then most places were sold out of supplies for hundreds of miles away.

This is how most of us lived here. This has been our reality for a year now. So go ahead and say you need to do this or you should have done that - but you cant possibly begin to know what we did or what we could not possibly have done. Most things were out of our control, but if it was humanly possible to do it - most of us did.

I am not saying it was all bad. Some good did come of Katrina. We learned how to survive. We learned we do not need all the extras. I got married and now we have a beautiful 1 month old daughter. So yes some wonderful things happened as a result of Katrina. But do not minimize what we have been through - do not call us lazy as you sit there in front of your computer probably never having to endure a fraction of what we have been through. How dare you. You have nerve telling us how to live our lives. Most Americans could not have endured what we have been through. So go ahead and say what you must in order to feel high and mighty... but we know the truth. The wonderful volunteers know the truth. You others, you know absolutely nothing.

I had to take my 1 month old infant to a heart specialist because of the wonderful FEMA camper we had to live in while I was pregnant. Apparently the fumes effected my unborn child. But yes, I am still so grateful for everything from the government... and no to all of you who are worried about YOUR tax dollars - I am not suing anyone. (we do pay taxes down here too by the way ... its OUR tax dollars as well - but I thought I would just throw that in there since so many of you complain that WE are wasting YOUR tax dollars)

Posted by: TS, Bay St Louis, MS at September 1, 2006 09:37 AM

You are wasting our tax dollars. You should have moved.

Your tale of woe only demonstrates that you lack all critical judgement. And we're supposed to subsidize that?

Posted by: much shorter post at September 1, 2006 08:02 PM

I loved your response.
I don't believe anyone can imagine another person's hardship without personally experiencing it themself. I cannot fathom what you and so many went through and wouldn't profess to. My brother drove to Mississipi after the storm with 1000 gallons of water and that much again in ice out of his own pocket. He also took several additional gallons of gas. Like your family, he was rescuing a very dear friend and her family. FEMA would not let him distribute the water and ice on his own; he had to go through the red tape to make sure there was no prank or ill conceived idea - FEMA inspected his trailer and FEMA handed out the water and ice that he purchased. I am not saying that this is bad or against FEMA; simply this is just what happened to him in Mississippi. You seemed to have respectfully quieted the responses, however, the original article questioned the rebuilding of New Orleans. The Mississippi Governor, Mayors and Police Chiefs are obviously more adept to crisis and possess the ability to abstain from corruption as witnessed by the progression of recovery. Mississippians have also shown to the world the take-charge attitude of their own lives. Do you have coments on New Orleans and should it be rebuilt and would Mississippi recovery be different if Biloxi had Nagin and the state had Blanco?

Posted by: Mary at September 1, 2006 09:08 PM