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Misconceptions distort view of Katrina


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Interesting, what do you think? Right, wrong, on the mark?


Misconceptions distort view of Katrina

By Jarvis DeBerry | August 27, 2006

FOR THE FIRST few weeks after the storm, there seemed to be only one conclusion to draw: New Orleans, situated near the Gulf Coast in a hollow of land between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, had represented man's peculiar desire to corral the forces of nature. Hurricane Katrina was nature's answer that she will not be tamed.

As an editorial writer for The Times-Picayune, my first composition post-Katrina blasted Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert for suggesting that New Orleans ought not be rebuilt. But despite my righteous anger, I'll confess: I was more upset by when Hastert spoke than by what he said.

Many New Orleanians were still stranded on their rooftops and were trying frantically to get the attention of US Coast Guard helicopter pilots. Tens of thousands of people were still trapped inside the fetid confines of the Louisiana Superdome. And in the nearby Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, people were dying -- those who couldn't stand the heat or couldn't survive without their prescriptions. Their bodies lay festering as the living waited for transportation.

At a time when all Americans should have been focused on the physical and emotional needs of the hurricane's victims, it was appalling that the highest-ranking officer in the House of Representatives was, in effect, criticizing the victims for living where they did. ``How dare they?" I wrote in that editorial, referring not only to Hastert, but to everybody who thought like him and had been heartless enough to voice such an opinion. But as a homeowner who knew even without seeing it that my home had been destroyed, I feared that maybe they had a point. Hadn't Hurricane Katrina proved the folly of New Orleans?

No. What it proved was the shocking incompetence of the US Army Corps of Engineers, which admitted in a June 1 report that the flood protection system it had built around the New Orleans area was ``a system in name only." Here's a brief summary of the 6,615-page report the corps released that day: New Orleanians were lied to.

We were told we would be protected if a hurricane hit us. Hurricane Katrina missed New Orleans, and even so, people here drowned in their homes. That's not Mayor Ray Nagin's fault. That's not Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's fault. Armchair executives around the country tried to make Hurricane Katrina a story about our leaders' failure to get every living soul out of the city in advance of the storm. But if the Corps of Engineers had not done such shoddy work, who knows if anybody would have died?

Hurricane Katrina is not the story of Nagin failing to commandeer a few dozen school buses to ride people out of town. It's the story of people who went to school, were awarded degrees in engineering, and then embarrassed themselves on the job. Katrina is also a story that highlights the insanity of our bring-home-the-bacon method of funding the nation's public works projects. Our senators and representatives are not rewarded for supporting projects that will keep the greatest number of Americans safe. Instead, they win accolades for projects that will bring the most money to their districts and states.

Consider Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, who fought for and won a $223 million allocation for a bridge that would spare 50 Alaskans the indignity of riding a ferry. He looked foolish when he threatened on the Senate floor to resign if his colleagues killed his pet project and used the money to benefit New Orleanians. But what does he care how he looks to the rest of America? Though hardly anybody lives in Alaska, Stevens is as committed to bringing money there as his colleagues are to bringing money to their states.

The Corps of Engineers is correct to point out that money for projects such as New Orleans' hurricane protection system should not be doled out in dribs and drabs and should not be subject to the whims of politicians, as such projects often are. Even so, one of the first rules of engineering is what you build must last. People died in New Orleans because what the corps built fell apart.

One shouldn't have to be from New Orleans to find that alarming. Whether the project is a levee, a dam, a highway bridge, or a tunnel, we should all be able to trust that what our engineers put together won't fall apart and kill us. We should be able to feel as confident as people in the Netherlands must feel. Sixty percent of the Dutch live below sea level, but officials there have made flood protection the national priority. They don't spare any expense to keep their people safe. America is a richer nation. So why do we?

Jarvis DeBerry is an editorial writer and columnist for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.


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What total crap! What :bs: ! What total propaganda!

The Corps of Engineers tried for years to strengthen the levees. They knew and told everyone they needed to be updated. Clinton okayed the money. The locals got the cash and spent every dime of it on Revitalizing the gambling industry. They thought that they would make more tax revenue and then they would fix the levees. Of course, they never did get around to fixing anything. To blame this on the ACOE is total crap...

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The OLD or OLB spent money on anything and everything. You will read below just what. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Money was everywhere in this. I mean everywhere. The work just never got done so that the politicians could blow money on everything else.


See the digram on page 6 of PDF form.

1996-2005 Requested $38.04 BN

1996-2005 Appropriated $41.8 BN


One of many reports but the first I googled.

In a May 21, 2001, article for the Louisiana Weekly newspaper, Amanda Furness quoted Stanley Riley, a plaintiff in a suit against the Orleans Levee District (OLD). Riley and his uncle, Harry Jones, have had a long-running legal battle with the OLD over some disputed land they say is theirs, but the OLD claims for itself.

Riley alleges in the Furness story that the OLD literally gambled away a lot of money — funds that might have been used to shore-up the levee system and prevent the disaster caused by Katrina: "The levee board spent $20 million on (a) casino," Riley alleges. "Now they say they can't pay it back 'cause it's going to break them? That's not our problem." There have also been allegations of cronyism by board members who allegedly have diverted levee funds to friends and relatives.

The federal government must share some of the blame for not being properly prepared for the storm, says former Republican Governor Mike Foster. In a telephone interview, Foster told me, "The Feds cut us short. Louisiana supplies a lot of the nation's oil and gas and we get no consideration in return." He means federal help in shoring up the wetlands area, which serves as a buffer between Southern Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico has been eroding.

Foster says despite his pleas when he was governor (1996-2003), Washington refused to provide the money needed to fix the erosion problem. Still, he says, there is probably nothing that by itself would have prevented Katrina from severely damaging New Orleans and coastal Mississippi and Alabama.

The City of New Orleans knew it was vulnerable. As recently as last October, National Geographic magazine published an article titled "Gone with the Water." It reads like a biblical prophecy foretelling disaster. The scenario laid out by the magazine was fulfilled last week.


Investigations will —and should —be conducted. But government rarely indicts itself as an institution. The size and bureaucratic nature of government is the problem —not racism and insensitivity to the poor.

Too many who should have acted did not act because Louisiana officials, who saw the hurricane coming, apparently could not decide who was in charge. If the size of government is the main problem, then investigations that produce more layers of bureaucracy will compound, not solve the problem.


(CNSNews.com) - The Bush administration is being widely criticized for the emergency response to Hurricane Katrina and the allegedly inadequate protection for "the big one" that residents had long feared would hit New Orleans. But research into more than ten years of reporting on hurricane and flood damage mitigation efforts in and around New Orleans indicates that local and state officials did not use federal money that was available for levee improvements or coastal reinforcement and often did not secure local matching funds that would have generated even more federal funding.

In December of 1995, the Orleans Levee Board, the local government entity that oversees the levees and floodgates designed to protect New Orleans and the surrounding areas from rising waters, bragged in a supplement to the Times-Picayune newspaper about federal money received to protect the region from hurricanes.

"In the past four years, the Orleans Levee Board has built up its arsenal. The additional defenses are so critical that Levee Commissioners marched into Congress and brought back almost $60 million to help pay for protection," the pamphlet declared. "The most ambitious flood-fighting plan in generations was drafted. An unprecedented $140 million building campaign launched 41 projects."

The levee board promised Times-Picayune readers that the "few manageable gaps" in the walls protecting the city from Mother Nature's waters "will be sealed within four years (1999) completing our circle of protection."

But less than a year later, that same levee board was denied the authority to refinance its debts. Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle "repeatedly faulted the Levee Board for the way it awards contracts, spends money and ignores public bid laws," according to the Times-Picayune. The newspaper quoted Kyle as saying that the board was near bankruptcy and should not be allowed to refinance any bonds, or issue new ones, until it submitted an acceptable plan to achieve solvency.

Blocked from financing the local portion of the flood fighting efforts, the levee board was unable to spend the federal matching funds that had been designated for the project.

By 1998, Louisiana's state government had a $2 billion construction budget, but less than one tenth of one percent of that -- $1.98 million -- was dedicated to levee improvements in the New Orleans area. State appropriators were able to find $22 million that year to renovate a new home for the Louisiana Supreme Court and $35 million for one phase of an expansion to the New Orleans convention center.


Along with establishing an Airport and Marina, the levee board is said to have also played a key role in establishing a floating casino and a fiber-optic cable network around the levee. Unfortunately, fiber optics don't hold back much water. However, I would think they, along with a marina, casino and private airport certainly could be good for business. One source indicated that the levee board spent approximately two-million dollars to erect a fountain and light show at a local lake in recent years.

To be fair, I haven't spoken to anyone from the levee board itself. Along with time restrictions, communications aren't the best in that region right now and my resources are limited, unlike some news sources. So, I wonder, will any major news outlet drive their Chevy to the levee board? Something tells me if they do, they'll find the levee board dry ... and safe, and I would hope so. Unfortunately, that can't be said for many of the citizens of New Orleans who didn't serve at the Governor's pleasure on the levee board.

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