Thursday, September 01, 2005

why the levee broke in new orleans

Why the Levee Broke

By Will Bunch, Attytood. Posted September 1, 2005.

Washington knew exactly what needed to be done to protect the citizens of New Orleans from disasters like Katrina. Yet federal funding for Louisiana flood control projects was diverted to pay for the war in Iraq.

from the article:

"New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane. In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.

"Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside.

"Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps 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. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.

"...In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to this Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness:

The $750 million Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection project is another major Corps project, which remains about 20% incomplete due to lack of funds, said Al Naomi, project manager. That project consists of building up levees and protection for pumping stations on the east bank of the Mississippi River in Orleans, St. Bernard, St. Charles and Jefferson parishes.

The Lake Pontchartrain project is slated to receive $3.9 million in the president's 2005 budget. Naomi said about $20 million is needed.

"The longer we wait without funding, the more we sink," he said. "I've got at least six levee construction contracts that need to be done to raise the levee protection back to where it should be (because of settling). Right now I owe my contractors about $5 million. And we're going to have to pay them interest."

"On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."


From Democracy Now, Thursday, September 16th, 2004:
Charley, Frances and Ivan: Hurricanes and Global Warming

" is New Orleans - the largest US city below sea level - that is particularly vulnerable to flooding. The city's emergency manager yesterday warned that as many as 50,000 people could drown if New Orleans was hit by a strong Category 4 storm. The city has 10,000 body bags on hand in case of a catastrophe.

"While many New Orleans residents took city officials' advice and left town, a large group of people, mostly concentrated in poorer neighborhoods didn't have a choice but to stay and hope for the best. With no public transportation or evacuation plan, up to 100,000 people were left stranded in the city.

"...JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah. Mark [Shleifstein, New Orleans Times Picayune], your newspaper had a story yesterday about the advice of officials to many residents in New Orleans to move out of the storm's path, but yet there was the problem of up to 100,000 poor New Orleans who could not – New Orleans residents who could not evacuate because they didn't own cars. Could you talk about that story and what happened?

"MARK SCHLEIFSTEIN: Sure. Fortunately, like I said, things weren't horrendous. That became a semi-non-problem this time. But it's the elephant in the room in Louisiana. What is going to happen when the worst case scenario hits, and there are all of these people who cannot get out? There are -- there's talk about some grand plan for moving people to some sort of structure that was -- that would provide them with at least a refuge. The mayor of New Orleans yesterday opened up the super dome to act as that refuge, and fortunately, a few people took advantage of it. I think there were 1,200 people who did. In the two-hour period that they were allowed to make that decision, get to a staging area, and be bussed to the superdome and allowed in. When there really is a serious one, I think you'll see a rush of buses to get people to a variety of different structures with the explanation that this is a refuge, not a shelter, and there is nothing there for you. You have to bring everything yourself. And it is going to be a disaster. Engineers have gone through the city, building engineers, civil engineers have done a survey of the city and basically found that there are no public buildings with enough areas that would survive a catastrophic storm to actually act as refuges even in the city. There's no effort yet to require new public buildings to withstand catastrophic hurricane winds.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark, very quickly, we were just commenting at the top of this segment that there's a tremendous amount of coverage obviously on these monster hurricanes, but we rather hear the words “global warming” in all of the weather coverage. Actually, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday said urgent action is needed to combat the world's greatest environmental challenge, but in this country, it's almost a concept, people don't know about it if they just get their information from the media.


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