Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Call Me a Fool

I cut the President some slack when he said this after Katrina:
"I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."
I had never heard the word “breach” used. I had always heard “topping” of the levees in the New Orleans area when major hurricanes were discussed.

The difference between “breach” and “topping” is huge. If a levee is topped, some water gets in the bowl and stays at a level lower than the water outside the bowl. If a levee is breached, the water inside the bowl levels off with the water outside the bowl. I’ll take topping over breaching, although I’d rather avoid both.

I like to think of myself as a realist who errs on the side of optimism. I knew the President’s M.O. is to hear about a possible problem and not do anything about it (the “Bin Laden determined to strike in US” briefing, "you break it, you own it," the unsubstantiated Niger yellow cake claims). But I honestly thought that no President could be warned of a catastrophic levee breach and then not take the proper precautions to respond quickly.

Just call me a fool:
As Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast, President Bush’s top disaster agency warned of the likelihood of levee breaches that could leave New Orleans submerged “for weeks or months,” a communications blackout that would hamper rescue efforts and “at least 100,000 poverty stricken people” stranded in the city.

Those remarkably accurate predictions were in a 40-page “Fast Analysis Report” compiled by the Department of Homeland Security on Aug. 28. Documents show that the report was sent by e-mail to the White House Situation Room at 1:47 a.m., Aug. 29, hours before the deadly storm made landfall.


“The potential for severe storm surge to overwhelm Lake Pontchartrain levees is the greatest concern for New Orleans,” it said. “Any storm rated Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson (hurricane) scale will likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching. This could leave the New Orleans metro area submerged for weeks or months.”

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