Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A PostScript on Those Levees

The MSM assailed the President for saying "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees", claiming that many had forecast that a Cat 4 or 5 would overtop and then possibly breach the levees. As usual, he was right and the MSM was wrong.

Here's the Washington Post (Brit readers - it's a bit left of the Guardian & is read mostly by Federal employees), pontificating on September 2nd:

The hardship and suffering that attended Hurricane Katrina when it lashed the city Monday morning had devolved by yesterday into something between a disaster zone and a state of nature: Officials said thousands may be dead; shots reportedly were fired at a rescue helicopter and a hospital trying to evacuate its patients; trash fires burned and fecal matter befouled the city; looters and carjackers, some of them armed, have run rampant. Bodies floated in the toxic water that covered four-fifths of the city, and corpses were filmed amid the refugees around the downtown convention center, where thousands of people awaited buses to evacuate them. The heat, the lack of plumbing, and the prevalence of human waste and garbage posed a growing risk to public health.

Oddly enough, that all turned out to be wrong. Still it presses on:

It is simply not true, as Mr. Bush said yesterday, that nobody "anticipated the breach of the levees." In fact, experts inside and outside of government have issued repeated warnings for years about the city's unique topography and vulnerability, and those warnings were loudly and prominently echoed by the media both nationally and in Louisiana.

This was wrong too - some people had forecast that the levees would be overtopped by a big enough storm - Cat 4 or 5 - and a smaller number had suggested that overtopping might then lead to levee breaches caused by erosion. But, as far as I can find out, nobody forecast that the floodwalls which contain the two canals would be breached by a mere Cat 3, without being overtopped. Which the Washington Post yesterday admitted is what happened (my ellipsis):

Experts now believe that Katrina was no stronger than a Category 3 storm when it roared into New Orleans, and Congress had directed the Corps to protect the city from just such a hurricane.

"This was not the Big One -- not even close," said Hassan Mashriqui, a storm surge expert at LSU's (louisiana State University's) Hurricane Center. He said that Katrina would have caused some modest flooding and wind damage regardless, but that human errors turned "a problem into a catastrophe."

Investigators already have rejected the initial explanation offered by (Army) Corps (of Engineers) officials in the hurricane's aftermath that massive storm surges had overtopped and overwhelmed floodwalls on the 17th Street and London Avenue canals on the north side of town.

Investigators in recent days have assembled evidence implicating design flaws in the failures of two floodwalls near Lake Pontchartrain that collapsed when weakened soils beneath them became saturated and began to slide. They also have confirmed that a little-used navigation canal helped amplify and intensify Katrina's initial surge, contributing to a third floodwall collapse on the east side of town. The walls and navigation canal were built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency responsible for defending the city against hurricane-related flooding.

This may explain why the head of the ACE never replied to an email I sent him 4 weeks back asking what exactly the Bush administration stopped him doing to protect New Orleans.

Design errors happen all the time, and I've made my share, so this isn't something to gloat over.

But it again illustrates the absolute technical ignorance of the MSM. It doesn't don't know a levee from a floodwall, or an overtopping from a collapse, and didn't even notice that Katrina was not a particularly big storm.