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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Good Tueday-Monday Morning

Ah, the Tuesday-Monday mornings. The smell of fresh coffee. (Sorry! I meant to call it anti-oxidant brew.) The pressure of knowing you need to get a week's worth of work done in four days.... At least it's nothing like the residents of the hurricane-devastated areas are feeling.

A couple of interesting things (more available at Lucianne.com):
Jon Christian Ryter writes that the LA state officials did a very poor job and may have obstructed more than they helped.

Craig Martelle explains a few facts in the Post-Gazette:
As one who has received training by FEMA in emergency management and also training by the Department of Defense in consequence management, I believe that the federal response in New Orleans needs clarification.

The key to emergency management starts at the local level and expands to the state level. Emergency planning generally does not include any federal guarantees, as there can only be limited ones from the federal level for any local plan. FEMA provides free training, education, assistance and respond in case of an emergency, but the local and state officials run their own emergency management program....
Howard of Oraculations writes that no major urban area can be totally evacuated in an emergency. This is true. New Orleans is more vulnerable than most because of its location and the limited evacuation routes. All the more need, then, for good local planning, early evacuation plans and at least emergency stocks of food and water. Still, the realities of dealing with disasters in urban areas point up the extreme vulnerabilities of a city mostly way below the water line and continuing to sink. Whatever we do to rebuild, we need to make sure that the area is less of a death trap. The higher you build the levees the more they will subside. There are no easy or perfect answers for a situation like this. The hurricane damage along other areas of the coast was much worse, but the casualties are a small fraction of what occurred in NO. It is easier to deal with hurricanes than massive floods.

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred report on assessments of the NOLA performance by local NC officials:
In an interview given on NBC17, officials here made it clear that local disaster plans are expected to 'do the job' for the first 48 to 72 hours, prior to the delivery of effective relief from FEMA. They also made clear that NO and LA officials were grossly incompetent.

In addition, one official suggested that the mayor and governor be brought up on manslaughter charges.
One thing sticks in my mind - a FEMA official saying that they only found out on Thursday about the 20,000 people in the NO convention center without food or water.

Howard also links to Schultz and NY Times editorials (pre-Katrina) that attack funding for levee projects. The arguments they advance (from EU Rota) are interesting, to say the least. The real question before us is whether we know how, for even fifty years, to make a city such as New Orleans relatively safe from a hurricane such as Katrina. We may not. We were still in the study stage of trying to build a levee system to handle a category 4 or 5 hurricane, and to actually construct such a levee system would probably have taken another 15 years at a minimum. By the time it had been completed subsidence would already have weakened it.

We still don't have an explanation of why the 17th Street levee failed. It wasn't thought to be a dangerpoint. It broke, and it wasn't supposed to do that. I am somewhat skeptical that a levee system can be built on terrain like that of New Orleans to handle the challenge of a storm like Katrina. The higher you build them the more likely they are to fail.

Entire communities along the Mississippi have been abandoned because they were in a flood plain. There needs to be some sort of city where New Orleans is, but perhaps we could construct a floating city of some sort. A casualty count like the one we will see from NO is nothing to be taken lightly. Even perfect disaster planning would have left thousands of people dying in their houses in and around the New Orleans area.

Billions. That's what we have spent on New Orleans levees.

Someone needs to talk to the Army Corps of Engineers. Where the hell did the money go?
Into a system of levees designed to protect a constantly sinking city from a storm less powerful than Katrina.

I don't think it is really possible to protect such a wide area 15 feet below sea level on a coast from flooding.

The real surprise is that this hasn't happened sooner.
Reports are in that it was the new levees that broke, the old ones held perfectly. Cynics like me suspect crooked city employees and contractors, that the levees were not built to specs......
Howard, that is a possibility. It is one that hadn't occurred to me. After looking at the location, I think the vibrations from the bridge caused enough subsidence to alter the integrity of the original concrete components of the levee structure.

People are ignoring the reality, which is that NO continues to sink. LA's survey of highways reported a rate of 8 to 20 inches in the last 20 years. NO as a whole isn't settling that fast.

Earthen levees settle differently because there is more "flex" in them than concrete and steel levees. Any location like that (next to a bridge) will be subjected to vibrations that will make the underlying soil compact and settle more quickly than surrounding areas.

Again, I am not sure that people are being realistic about our ability to build a levee system that can provide sure protection for a category 4 or 5 storm in such a location.

It is commonplace to do a site survey before erecting large buildings. The survey examines the underlying soil characteristics to ensure that the building won't shift, settle and lose its structural integrity. There is not the ability to select locations in NO that have stable geological sites, so you have to expect levee failures.

Earthen berms can easily be eroded and washed away by overtopping during storm surges. The concrete components were supposed to be protection against that. However, it is at least possible that the soil settling underneath created some weak spots.

I bet other levees will be found to have similar weaknesses after the water is drained from NO.
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