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Monday, September 05, 2005

Walling Out Your Problems

First, an article from Engineering News about the levee situation in New Orleans:
The people trying to drain the water from New Orleans back into Lake Pontchartrain are learning that the task, while simple in theory, is extremely difficult in practice. They are fighting the laws of physics, poor communications and the dark side of human nature. The Corps of Engineers says the job will take one to three months, minimum. That’s if no major tropical fronts move through the area. With nearly two months left in the hurricane high season, weather experts in the U.S. could face another half dozen storm events.

The situation is fluid–literally–and changes daily, sometimes hourly....
Security and communications are still a major problem. They are blocking off the mouths of the canals and then patching the breached levees. Why the 17th Street levee failed still seems to be somewhat up in the air. I think they need to figure that out, because it wasn't thought to be a weak spot. This Baltimore Sun article has a little different story than I had read earlier. It closes on a rather ominous note:
Galloway said the Corps of Engineers has begun a program to develop and test faster means of probing the interior structure of levees. That includes electromagnetic sensors that can be flown down a levee and can remotely detect "discontinuities," places with potentially dangerous voids.

The levee then could then be probed by ground sensors or test borings "to see what's going on," he said.

People who live along the levees that hold back the Mississippi River, the Sacramento and American rivers in California and others "make the assumption that it's going to hold," he said. "We have to make sure it does."
Yeeees, that would be really beneficial. This flickr post contains some background information on levees and a photograph of the area where the breach occurred. I wonder if the weight of the bridge didn't cause some shifting and subsidence, because this was supposed to be a modern, sturdy levee:

According to this article, before the storm even there were predictions that the levees would not hold, and Mayor Nagin seemed aware of it:
"We're talking about an incredible environmental disaster," Marine scientist Ivor van Heerden of Louisiana State University, who has developed flooding models for New Orleans, said before the storm arrived.

He predicted that floodwaters would overcome the levee system, fill the low-lying areas of the city and remain trapped there.

When meteorologists forecasted that Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on the Big Easy, city officials were grim.

"We are facing a storm that most of us have long feared," New Orleans' Mayor Ray Nagin said Sunday as he issued a mandatory evacuation order. "The storm surge will most likely topple our levee system."
Well sweep me up with a broom from where I lie overcome by amazement on the floor! Why didn't they try to evacuate more people if they thought the levees would break? Why not move buses, etc?

And speaking of brooms, Darcey of Dust My Broom posted an article about Vancouver's program to have other addicts help addicts shoot up city-supplied heroin in the "safe-injection zone". The comments were interesting. One person wrote that keeping the addicts off the streets protects other people from crime and disease and advocated a "harm reduction" policy:
You can not reduce it to an individual basis. No one in there right mind would offer a friend with a drinking problem a stiff one to smooth away the edges. However, on a population basis the policy seems to have some merit. As I have said, addiction levels are remarkably consistent. That is basically the underlying premise in the harm reduction model. Accept that and one is on the way to accepting that the goal of drug policy should be to reduce the harm addicts inflict on themselves and on society.
To me this seems exactly like what happened in New Orleans. It's an abandonment of those people. Instead of attempting to help them, society is trying to limit their harmful impact upon others by dumping them on a greased slide down. This is the best argument I have ever heard for not legalizing drugs. What about addicts who do get off drugs if offered the opportunity? Are their lives worthless?

Well, a big part of this is the "cry wolf syndrome." I leared about the "threat to New Orleans" in the fifth grade. I've seen TV specials on it, heard envirowhacks say that all levees should be taken down or never built. There was an interview on TV where a couple of women said that every time they were warned in the past the water only came up to their ankles. What we don't realize is that we know far more about hurricanes than we used to, computer models of the storms (not direction) have been accurate since about 1998, and funny as it may sound it's the duration of the storm that has more to do with the damage than the actual category. So this storm was big, it was strong, and it was very slow moving. What happened was exactly what the models said would happen if the storm had hit where it hit. And there is no evacuation plan on the face of the earth for evacuating a large city. Period. The best minds there are have tried. Look at the traffic jams heading out of town. How long do you think it would take busses to traverse the distance necessary to get their passengers out of harms way. And deliver them where exactly? I think that local blame is correct, but the real problem is the city itself; it has been sinking for a century and no building code on the planet would have allowed more building on sinking ground since about 1970. Rebuild it? Shouldn't happen. Will happen. And in a hundred years or so the city will flood again.
Dead right on several points, Howard.

Regarding evacuations, Florida does a pretty good job but it pushes people out a lot earlier and it has more road surface to work with.

The combination of a hurricane and flooding is destined to be lethal. I think there will be a much smaller city in place of New Orleans and I think we'd better put a lot of effort into making it less of a deathtrap.
ok, what I am confused about then... if Nagin said on Sunday that the levee would probably break, how does Bush say Tuesday that no one foresaw the levee would break?
Cool Blog, I never really thought about it that way.

I have a Hurricane Katrina blog. It pretty much covers hurricane related stuff.

Thank you - and keep up the thoughts!
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