A year ago, many of us watched in horror while New Orleans disappeared under the raging flood waters released from the levees containing Lake Pontchartrain. At the time, we all assumed that the hurricane brought down the walls and that the federal government failed because of their lack of foresight in that regard. Over the past year, however, we have learned much more about the levees of the Big Easy, and Kevin Aylward argues in today’s Washington Examiner that Katrina may have saved tens of thousands of lives:
In the year since Katrina, we’ve learned that the storm was a Category 1 by the time she hit New Orleans. We’ve also learned that the primary levee breach — the one that caused 70 percent of the flooding in the city — was not caused by the storm surge but by poor engineering.
After months of dissembling and obfuscation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — the designers of the levee system — the Corps was forced to admit what all the outside experts were saying; critical engineering mistakes caused the walls that were supposed to protect the city to collapse before they were overtopped by the storm surge. And on the east side of the city, the flooding was largely caused by a shipping channel the Corps dug three decades earlier. …
All this leads to the even more shocking conclusion that Hurricane Katrina probably saved 50,000 lives.
That levee was doomed. While Katrina was the last straw, it was destined to fail. Studies done before the storm indicated that if a major hurricane overwhelmed the city’s levees, as many as 100,000 people would die as a result.
If the levee had failed without warning, there would have been no evacuation, no preparation, no state/federal support, no Coast Guardsmen in helicopters etc. If you think Katrina was bad with governmental preparations, consider an event half that size without it.
The same bad reporting that happened when the eyes of the nation were fixed on New Orleans — do you recall news reports of cannibalism, roving bands of rapists, hundreds of homicides, toxic flood waters that would kill on contact — persisted in the weeks afterwards. The news agencies seemed so intent on scoring points off of the Bush administration that they neglected to research the real problems in New Orleans: the lack of any coordinated local response, the refusal of Louisiana to authorize military intervention, and the real reason for the levee failure.
Incredibly, the evidence was available almost from the start. A video taken by firefighters at the start of the collapse showed the water levels behind the levees as far below what had been assumed, and far below water levels in the past. This led investigators to look further into symptoms of an engineering failure — and they discovered that residents had warned for months about seepage under the levees, a sign that the walls had already begun to catastrophically fail.
The media showed little interest in pursuing the truth, as documented by many in the blogosphere, including myself. They still seem more attracted to political football than honest reporting on the anniversary of the disaster, a disaster that would have happened without Katrina, with a much greater loss of life. Kevin does a good job in reminding all of us of the media’s failure to properly inform the public of the nature of New Orleans’ destruction.
UPDATE: It’s Wizbang Day at the Examiner. Lorie Byrd writes about the political benefits of embracing blogs:
As much as the Internet and blogs have changed journalism and politics, many candidates have yet to fully utilize the new medium. That, however, is quickly changing. With every election comes the realization by more candidates that engaging the blogosphere is smart politics.
It’s always smart politics to listen to your constituents, and more than ever, they include bloggers and their readers.