Unprepared For Another Katrina

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This time of year, weather reports all across the country capture our attention. 

Communities all over the world are vulnerable to the ever-changing threats to life and property brought upon us by damaging storms. Hurricane and tornado season is an especially shaky time of year and the season is upon us once again. 

One could argue that weather conditions are controllable, but that is not my purpose in this story. My purpose is to call attention to the aftermath of such storms and our shameful response.

One such aftermath we are all too familiar with is the tragic breech of the levee system in New Orleans almost two years ago. I walked along a section of this system a few months after Hurricane Katrina hit. The levee that was supposed to shield the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish is nothing but a low pile of dirt. One can see the high waters pressing on the other side by simply standing a few feet back.

The Army Corps of Engineers has assured the community that they have repaired the levees to pre-Katrina status. That is simply not adequate or acceptable. Pre-Katrina status means that with hurricane winds and water pressure, they could burst again. 

The residents of the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish cannot move back in under these conditions. Is that the kind of future we’re trying to guarantee?

Recent inspections of the levee system in New Orleans by Dr. Robert Bea, engineering professor from University of California in Berkeley, show that weak spots continue to exist in the whole system. I am not an engineer, but it seems to me that rebuilding the levees with the same materials that caused them to break in the first place is inviting the same result. 

Furthermore a Dutch engineer, not wanting to be identified, says the floodgates and pumps in the city’s drainage channels, “they may be doomed to fail in the next big storm.” The Corps of Engineers argues that they will check on them. There is no evidence that these mechanisms have been fully tested.  They must be tested now. We cannot not wait for them to be tested under hurricane conditions. Hurricane season is upon us now.

I do not understand what we are waiting for? An historical, culturally rich city was completely devastated in one of the worst disasters of our time. The actual storm was not the major damaging cause. The eye of the storm did not hit New Orleans. We all know it was the aftermath flooding that caused the horrific loss of life and property.  

I do not know any other city in this country that would have to wait this long to have their infrastructures repaired the right way. There is really no excuse for the delayed response to Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath flooding. There is absolutely no excuse for setting New Orleans up for another disaster. Hurricane season is upon us. Fix those levees now. Fix them the right way not the same old way.


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