Katrina- A Man Made Disaster

For the record, Wizbang has been all over this since before the breaches in the floodwalls were even closed. It was obvious to anyone with any knowledge of the situation, we just had to wait for confirmation. Again, the local media is all over this but the big media is strangely silent.

Evidence points to man-made disaster
Human mistakes led to N.O. levee breaches
By John McQuaid, Bob Marshall
and Mark Schleifstein

As investigators and residents have picked through the battered New Orleans levee system’s breaches, churned-up soil and bent sheet pile in the 100 days since Hurricane Katrina struck, they have uncovered mounting evidence that human error played a major role in the flood that devastated the city.

Floodwall breaches linked to design flaws inundated parts of the city that otherwise would have stayed dry, turning neighborhoods into death traps and causing massive damage. In other areas, poorly engineered gaps and erosion of weak construction materials accelerated and deepened flooding already under way, hampering rescue efforts in the wake of the storm.

These problems turned an already deadly disaster into a wider man-made catastrophe and have made rebuilding and resettlement into far tougher and more expensive challenges.

That’s the picture that emerges from investigations of the levee system by teams sponsored by the state government, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the National Science Foundation, as well as from dozens of interviews with local residents, officials and engineers.

Experts say the New Orleans flood of 2005 should join the space shuttle explosions and the sinking of the Titanic on history’s list of ill-fated disasters attributable to human mistakes.

In effect, the New Orleans flood of 2005 was not a hurricane, it was a dam burst.

Just days after Katrina, rain in New Hampshire threated to burst dams killing thousands of people. (Who would be dumb enough to live in New Hampshire where they have to use dams to keep them from flooding? Why don’t those people move? 😉

Let’s compare the two. Imagine the dams in NH were designed and built so the water could raise up 14 feet higher than normal levels. Now imagine that when the water rose only 7 feet that multiple dams crumbled, flooding thousands of houses and killing hundreds of people. Then imagine that investigators found that the dams’ designers didn’t take into account the soft soil under the dams and that the steel reinforcements in the concrete that should have been 3.5 inches think were only 1 inch thick.

That’s near exactly what happened in New Orleans. The main difference of course being that the people of New Hampshire get their water from rain and we are worried about storm surge. (BTW The good citizens of New Hampshire live below “sea level” too. Think about it.)

Just as thousands of municipalities are protected by traditional dams we are (were) protected by long, short dams we call levees. The dams broke in multiple places and far below where they were designed to break.

Eventually I guess (hope) the rest of the world will figure all this out. And I hope they do it soon, I’m getting tired of beating the same drum.

It is totally bizarre that the media, which loves to assign blame for everything, is ignoring this. If my above example in New Hampshire had happened, the media would be all over it. (Heck, Dateline NBC would be putting explosives on dams to recreate it!) They are ignoing one of the biggest stories of thier lives but I see 3 stories a day about Michael Brown and FEMA. They’re still stuck on stupid.

Update: James Joyner (uncharacteristically) selectively cuts parts of the story to support a completely incorrect conclusion. I understand he does not live here and obviously he has not been following it, but he’s on the wrong levee breaks. — It can be confusing.

In as few words as possible to understand the flooding you have to separate the multiple breaks geographically. I first did this over 2 months ago on October 3rd.

…The levee break on the Industrial Canal is somewhat more understandable. They say the water was far higher than the levee. Taking that at face value, the coastal erosion in the area south of the levee has been dramatic for the last few decades. The levee is considerably closer to the Gulf of Mexico than when it was designed. If the storm surge was higher than it was designed for, that is not necessarily indication of a design flaw but perhaps and indication of the changing parameters of the area.

The other two areas, (17th street and London Ave) which are getting considerably more scrutiny, are on Lake Pontchartrain. These have floodwalls which are made of sheet pilings driven into the ground and concrete poured over them..

The breaks on the Industrial Canal flooded the lower 9th ward and Chalmette a suburb to the southeast of New Orleans proper. Simply put, mother nature beat us fair and square on that one. (1) If that were the only breaks, it would still have been a horrific event but not 1/4 of what really happened.

The breaks I’ve been focusing on -and the ones I took pictures of months ago- were the breaks at the 17th street and London Ave canals. Specifically the 17th street breach. It was the 17th street canal breach that sunk New Orleans. — In fairness to James, the newspaper was not as clear in this article as it should have been. It jumbled multiple breaks with multiple causes into one story and was not clear which was which. If you’ve been obsessing over it studied it like I have, you know what they are talking about.

The key point James missed is that the floodwalls on the 17th canal and London Ave were “state of the art” floodwalls built in the late 1990s, less than 10 years ago.

At some point I hope to make a map and explain the whole thing. It can be confusing.

Update 2: James replies in a most bizarre fashion. Rather than discuss that fact that the flooding was man made, James replies with a strawman that since not every penny spent by the Corps in Louisiana went to flood control that it was the fault of the people of Louisiana. — The Corps you see only, made it worse in James’ view.

OK he’s entitled to his opinion, I think his opinion would be different if he studied it but ok. But I just can’t get over 2 things he said that are just odd.

The governor and the mayor failed to get the city evacuated in time and actually encouraged people who had evacuated to come back just in time to be trapped by the surging floodwaters.

Em mine.

Now, I’ve followed this story a little more than most people and I have no idea what he is talking about. I never remember a story about people retuning home only to be “trapped by the surging floodwaters.”

I assume he was talking about when Rita was coming ashore and some people returned and others didn’t. Yes, there was some confusion and people tried to come home only to have another storm bearing down on the area… It was bad timing. But I don’t recall anyone being “trapped by the surging floodwaters.”

Rita only flooded the lower 9th and it was empty by then.

I asked him for a link. At this point, I believe that to be fiction.

Ultimately, it is those decisions that are most blameworthy because we can only speculate as to whether better-built levees would have saved those lives but we know that people who evacuated the city for higher ground escaped the disaster.

EM his.

That is simply not true in any way, shape, manner or form. The water never topped the floodwalls. If they had been built better New Orleans would not have flooded. (with exceptions noted above.)

It is not SPECULATION that better built levees would have saved lives and property it is a demonstrable fact. I know he is not an engineer but it doesn’t take one to know that if the floodwalls simply held the water they were designed to hold everything would have been fine. No speculation required on that one.

I really think James needs to follow the story more closely if he is going to make statements like this.

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(1) It can be argued that the breaches in the Industrial Canal were man made too because we made the MRO. That point can be taken but that was by design. We built the MRGO on purpose. The floodwalls breached because of negligence.

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