Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Katrina Treatment

Greg Palast, author of Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans - Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild released this week by Penguin. writes about what the federal government knew but did not share in "18 Missing Inches in New Orleans"

Not every flood victim in America gets the Katrina treatment. In 1992, storms wiped out 190 houses on the beach at West Hampton Dunes, home to film stars and celebrity speculators. The federal government paid to completely rebuild the houses, which, hauled in four million cubic feet of sand to restore the tony beaches, and guaranteed the home's safety into the coming decades - after which the "victim's" homes rose in value to an average $2 million each.

But in New Orleans, instead of compensation, 73,000 have been sentenced to life in FEMA's trailer-parks in Louisiana. Even more are displaced to other states. I asked van Heeerden about the consequences of the White House's failures, the information about the levee being just one of a list.

"Well, fifteen hundred people drowned. That's the bottom line."

But why did the levees fail at all if the hurricane missed the city? The professor showed me a computer model indicating the levees were a foot and a half too short - the result of a technical error in the Army Corp of Engineer's calculation of sea level when the levees were built beginning in the 1930s.

And the Bush crew knew it. Long before Katrina struck, the White House staff had sought van Heerden's advice on coastal safety. So when the professor learned of the 18-inch error, he informed the White House directly. But this was advice they didn't want to hear. The President had already sent the levee repair crew, the Army Corp of Engineers, to Afghanistan and Iraq.

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