Opinion: No time for turf wars--and much more
September 7, 2005 4:32 PM   Subscribe

Opinion: No time for turf wars--and much more coverage worth reading People at all levels of government will have to answer for what they did and didn’t do in the days before and after Hurricane Katrina. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has earned scorching criticism for its day-late-and-billions-short response to the ghastly crisis in New Orleans. And maybe it was only a matter of time before officials at FEMA and its parent organization, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, began looking for others to blame.
posted by Postroad (18 comments total)
I'm holding out for more info about the levees breaking. Boingboing is reporting that survivors say the ACoE was bombing levees to protect the more valuable real estate:
10:57 Raw transcript of comments by NOLA evacuee Clara Barthelemy: "The 17th street levee was bombed by the Army Corps of Engineers to save the more valuable real estate in the city… to keep the French Quarter protected, the ninth ward was sacrificed… people are afraid to speak out… everyone who was near there heard the bombings… they bombed seven times. That's why they didn't fix the levees…
11:22 Now I'm speaking to someone else, another woman, who says some people report having witnessed "bomb sounds," believe 17th street levee and others were blown up to manage water flow and protect more valuable portions of real estate.

Evacuee Dianne Stafford: "They blew the levee to save the city…" Saying a barge broke the levee. She is from St. Bernard Parish. "More expensive places were saved at the expense of the neighborhoods that aren't as valuable… Rebuilding Bourbon Street matters more to the government… that's what mattered to Governor Blanco…"
Has anyone else heard about this?
posted by mullingitover at 4:52 PM on September 7, 2005

posted by mullingitover at 4:52 PM on September 7, 2005

Man. First I have heard of it. This can't be true? Can it? ACoE would have kept meticulous records of demolitions. There would be some kind of trail.
posted by tkchrist at 4:57 PM on September 7, 2005

I really don't see how bombing or otherwise deliberately breaching levees would be at all helpful in "saving" parts of the city, but then again I'm no civil engineer...
posted by clevershark at 4:59 PM on September 7, 2005

Perhaps to let off pressure from more vulnerable levees? But, I am no civil engineer, nor pessimistic enough to believe this.
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:19 PM on September 7, 2005

With 80% of the city underwater, what areas of the city *weren't* flooded? This Guardian article mentions that the old quarter was built on the highest ground in the area and was safe for that reason. If this is the real estate that (hypothetically) was being protected by breaching the levees in other areas, I'm not sure I understand what the survivors are saying. It sounds like it would've been safe anyway.

I really would like to see a breakdown of the winners and losers in the way that the levees failed. In looking at the post-Katrina Google Maps, I can see that the levee could've failed on two sides, and because one side failed the other side was spared. Of course this doesn't prove that there was some sort of conspiracy involved. I'm sure we'll be hearing more to either support or refute this soon.
posted by mullingitover at 5:22 PM on September 7, 2005

If you look at a topo map you'll notice that the areas "saved" happen to be above the water level of Lake Ponchatrain (sp?). Until water starts running uphill there is no need to for any blowing up.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:22 PM on September 7, 2005

And just when you think you've hit the bottom...
posted by Acey at 5:24 PM on September 7, 2005

This is what got me thinking about the whole idea of the levees being blown intentionally before I saw it on the Boing:
April: Communities on both sides of the river know that if the levee breaks on one side, the other side will be spared. Each side of the river fears sabotage, and sets up levee patrols to prevent intruders from dynamiting their levee. The patrols are prepared to shoot to kill.
Perhaps people are just being paranoid about the levees being blown. What y6y6y6 said certainly makes sense.
posted by mullingitover at 5:32 PM on September 7, 2005

This seems extremely unlikely to me. We really need to be careful to separate fact from fiction. There's more than enough culpability to go around already. If folks are making fraudulent claims (as it appears likely in this case), we need to be very aggressive about disproving them.

One of the best FEMA strategies is going to be encouraging this kind of (likely) crackpot accusation... if enough stupid accusations get floated, then the REAL ones may never be really examined. So it's important to nip the stupid stuff in the bud, lest it get airtime.
posted by Malor at 5:35 PM on September 7, 2005

Deliberately blowing levees is a known tactic in combating floods. There are legions of cases where someone, near a levee about to fail, would go across the river and blow the levee on the other side, causing the river to drop as it flooded over the plains on the far side, thus saving the levee on their side.

However, two factors argue against this being the case this time.

1) It wouldn't do any good. They weren't fighting the river. They were fighting a lake connected to the ocean. Breaching levees helps when your dealing with rivers, because there isn't that much water. When you're dealing with a lake connected to the ocean, you're dealing with, for all intents, an infinite source of water. Blowing open a floodwall in the face of a storm surge on Lake Pontchartrain wouldn't change the lake level at all.

2) When you flood 80% of the city, even if you manage to magically flood the poorest 80%, a lot of well off people are losing their homes too. They're just not in the city right now, since they could afford to evacuate. Furthermore, look at the damage in places like the CBD and Canal St. If someone thought they'd sacrifice the poor sections to save the rich, they screwed up badly. In fact, one of the richest parts of the city, Old Metairie, was flooded out.

The reason the oldest parts survived -- the oldest parts were built on the highest ground, because when they were built, there was no levee system. That's why the French Quarter stayed mostly dry.

Finally, note that it wasn't levees, but floodwalls, that failed. Floodwalls are fine until they're overtopped, then they have a real problem with scour at their base, and they fail rapidly. Part and parcel of a floodwall system is the pumps to keep the backside of the wall dry to prevent this -- but enough water over the wall, and you overwhelm the pumps. Given the storm surge, some parts of the wall may have been overtopped by several feet.

I'm not surprised that these walls failed. I'm also not surprised that it was the lowest floodwalls, the ones on the canals, that failed, and that the failures seem to all be on the side closest to the center of the storm. The stronger walls on the lakefront itself held, as did the river walls. But a wall is only as strong as the weakest panel, and in this case, the weakest panels were on the 17th Street and Industrial canals.
posted by eriko at 5:42 PM on September 7, 2005

The bombing story just makes no sense at all geographically.

mullingitover: A huge chunk of the non-flooded 20% consists of Algiers, the area directly across the Mississippi from Downtown. It was protected from the flooding because the river levees were between it and the lake. My mother's place is in Algiers, and she's feeling very lucky right now.
posted by brundlefly at 6:07 PM on September 7, 2005

I can't believe people are still arguing over who to blame.
It's like you guys (Americans) are not even experiencing the same universe as the rest of us.
posted by nightchrome at 6:09 PM on September 7, 2005

Single Link Op-Ed = Delete
posted by mischief at 6:37 PM on September 7, 2005

My proposal: all government officials on the federal, state, and local level must account for how they spent the 72 hours immediately preceding the hurricane, and then account for their activities during the week after the hurricane. They will need to provide alibis and witnesses for time that is not accounted for attempting to prevent harm from the storm or repairing harm after the storm. Then we will have public shamings. The local and state shamings can be held in public squares. The federal shamings can be held on national television, with requisite recriminations and apologies. Rotten fruit will be thrown.

Moderator (Jon Stewart, perhaps): "This person played golf in California for two hours on the day that the storm made landfall. What say you?"

Assembled masses: "Booooo!!!"
posted by esquire at 7:43 PM on September 7, 2005

Bombing the levees is a red herring. Ignore this noise.
posted by anthill at 8:01 PM on September 7, 2005

NOLA.com-assembled narratived timeline of Monday's breaches notes that a barge broke loose ans slammed into the floodwall of the Industrial Canal, causing the breach nearest to the Ninth.

That's a plausible source for loud noises, IMHO.
posted by mwhybark at 11:16 PM on September 7, 2005

I'm holding out for more info about the levees breaking. Boingboing is reporting that survivors say the ACoE was bombing levees to protect the more valuable real estate:

Ugh, com on people. Look at a fucking map. The 17th street levey is on the lake, not the river. There is no other side. None of the mississippi levees broke. Even the canal levee break would have flooded both sides (in fact, both sides of the canal would have flooded without any breaches of the canal levee, because the canal does not go all the way to the mississippi)

Nice derail, though.
posted by delmoi at 12:20 AM on September 8, 2005

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