Friday, December 16, 2005

A Better and Stronger Headache

"The levee system will be better and stronger than it ever has been in the history of New Orleans," said Donald Powell, the top federal official for Hurricane Katrina reconstruction.
Okay… yeah… I don’t think that’s the standard we should go by. It shouldn’t be too hard to build “better and stronger” levees than the ones that fell apart in a storm that didn’t make a direct hit on New Orleans. There are no “better and stronger” levees than the Mississippi River Levees which we already have, and I don’t see enough funds in that $3.1 billion dollars Bush is offering up to surround southeastern Louisiana with those 25 foot monsters which, to my knowledge, have never failed down in this area. And an incredible volume of water runs through them.

Sugar Ray Nagin is happy, though (same article):
"I want to say to all New Orleanians, to all businesses, it's time for you to come home, it's time for you to come back to the Big Easy," Nagin said.
Not so fast. According to this Times-Picayune graphic (pdf), by the start of next year’s hurricane season, June 2006, only repairs, temporary improvements, and better designed levees will have been completed. It is not until June 2007 that any fortifications (stronger levees) will be in place.

I think that’s why the Governor is less optimistic in her invitation to the people and businesses of southern Louisiana (same article):
Calling it a down payment on greater protection for all of south Louisiana, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said the announcement "is a strong signal to our families that they can come home and rebuild."
A “strong signal” vs. “come home.” Let’s see what the experts have to say in the same article.
Joseph Suhayda, a coastal scientist and retired Louisiana State University professor who helped design computer programs allowing the modeling of the effects of storm surge on New Orleans…[says this is] "the federal government simply saying they would finally do what they had committed to doing in 1965," when the Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection Project was authorized by Congress. "In that regard, they aren't restoring to Category 3 levels, they're finally getting there, just 45 years late."
Hmmm, 45 years late. But wait, are we really there yet?
Ivor van Heerden, director of the LSU Hurricane Center… [says] "The problem is the design criteria they had in the past wasn't for a Category 3 hurricane; Katrina proved that," he said. "The breaches at London Avenue and 17th Street were caused by surges generally associated with a Category 1 storm."

Simulations run by the LSU Hurricane Center showed a true Category 3 storm passing west of the city would flood the entire West Bank and downtown New Orleans with the current protection system in place, van Heerden said.
45 years late for levees that would withstand only a Category 1 surge and would still allow the West Bank and downtown to be flooded in a true Category 3.

My head still hurts.

(Props to the Times-Picayune which is rocking on their levee coverage.)

No comments: