Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"Katrina Probably Saved 50,000 Lives"

Via Gateway Pundit, over at Wizbang, read about how faulty engineering of NOLA's levee caused the breech. He has great video and commentary.

Here is what Wizbang says:

The bottom line is, Katrina's storm surge did not wash the wall away. As you may remember, water had been seeping under the floodwall at the break location for about a year before Katrina. The ground under the levee was soaked and ready to give at any moment...

New Orleans was doomed with or without Katrina, we just didn't know it. A good high tide puts more water in the canal than this. As the video shows, the water was barely higher than normal levels. The walls could have failed on a decent high tide.

From the looks of the video the fact the wall failed when Katrina was approaching was really coincidence. Yes, Katrina was the "final straw" but so could any winds from the southeast. Or any given winter storm. (we often get winds out the south that "stack" the lake far higher than this.) Indeed these same walls held much higher surges in the past; that is, before they were undermined by seeping water for a year.

Ironically the same flawed walls are incrementally safer now. We'll never have water seeping under them for a year and nobody doing anything. The flaw(s) is still there but now we can compensate for it more effectively. The right answer, of course, is to replace them.

What I will say next will probably completely throw you. Katrina saved probably over 50,000 lives.

That levee was doomed. If it had failed without notice, the death toll would have been measured in tens of thousands. There would be no evacuation, no preparation, no Feds at all. (such that they were anyway) no Coast Guard in choppers etc. Tens of thousands of people would have been dead in hours and tens of thousands more would have died on 120 degree rooftops waiting for rescue. It would have been unimaginable. - More unimaginable.

"Luckily" -and I groan when I say that- Katrina allowed the city to be evacuated.

As an outsider, though, I look at the above picture of New Orleans, and I still believe it is insanity to rebuild New Orleans. Certifiable. I'm not alone in this opinion. Not that it matters.

We do need New Orleans as a port-city, but do we need 100,000 people living below sea level? And if scientists are to be believed (which I'm not sure they should be) hurricanes will continue to increase.

Here's what Brendan Loy says about that, too:
I have to put a caveat here. Ironically, the strucutral weakness of the levees means that the true “worst-scase scenario” wasn’t actually realistic, since it involved — in my words — “not a levee breach equalizing the water level in Lake Ponchartrain and ‘Lake New Orleans,’ but rather a storm surge over-topping the levees and causing the water level in ‘Lake New Orleans,’ hemmed in by the still-intact levees, to rise substantially higher than the water level in the lake.” Given what we know now, I think it’s safe to say that there’s no way would the levees have remained intact, so even if Katrina had hit New Orleans directly as a major hurricane, the water wouldn’t have been “hemmed in.” Just as an inadequately secured cockpit door would become an asset if the pilots were terrorists, New Orleans’s inadequately built levees would have become an asset if overtopping had occurred.

Wizbang's Paul thinks we should cut Nagin more slack. I'm not so sure about that, either. The man continues to dither when clear strategy and moving forward needs to happen. And yes, Nagin points at New York as a failure five years later, but the comparison is stupid. 250,000 people weren't displaced by 9/11. And he has already demonstrated a problem with misspending taxpayer dollars.

I have posted over and over during 2005-06 about Katrina, and Rita, too. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the whole thing but there is one you should take home and keep in your heart and spur you to action:

You cannot count on the government in case of severe emergency. You must be prepared yourself, to the best of your ability.

Glenn Reynolds took a lot of crap the yesterday for saying just this. What about the poor and sick? Even they must have one contact person. At least that, to make sure they have someone to help them. If they don't/can't do even that, hopefully they are in a hospital or care facility where they are being taken care of by someone else

All I know is this: a hell of a lot of cars got destroyed in New Orleans while 80,000 (stupid) people remained. The people who had to remain, who were stuck, did meander down to the Dome. What about the rest? The fact is, a lot of stay-behind people engaged in "magical thinking" and believed the city would be spared. The results of this magical thinking, unfortunately could be death. My brother calls that Darwinism.

Don't move back to New Orleans. Don't live in a city buried by water, save for a few government workers. It's folly. It's like living on the edge of an active volcano that may erupt any time. And then it erupts and then we rebuild?



Mr. Clio said...

It's simply amusing when you say that if the levee had failed without a hurricane, there would have been "no feds at all."

It was/is a FEDERAL levee,a FEDERAL responsibility.

I evacuated before the storm. I moved back to NOLA after.

I am not stupid. I am not engaging in magical thinking.

All of us Americans (you, me, everyone else) who have built a nation's culture and economy around the automobile have indeed engaged in magical thinking.

New Orleans is but a straw in the wind, ma'am. If we don't fix New Orleans--together--our nation is doomed.

Varg said...

"I'm not alone in this opinion. Not that it matters."

Your opinions of New Orleans being a risk applies to every coastal city, vulnerable to hurricanes and tsunamis (see Dec. 2004), and, of course, DC and New York, vulnerable to terror (see Sep. 2001).

Then there is the sea level thing. When you say, the city is below sea level and you italicize the word below as if it requires some importance. I should let you know, that according to this sea level map:


Many of the most populated areas in New Orleans are in fact above sea level. Including my home in Algiers.

but I know what you are trying to say (though you are emphatically stating an inaccuracy). You are trying to say it's prone to floods. But you are stating it as if is the only threatened city in the world and suggesting that it should be abandoned. Or are you suggesting government money shouldn't be spent there? Where do you suggest it be spent if not on one of America's oldest and most unique city's?

Oh, I forgot, your opinion doesn't matter. You said it yourself.