Sandy Rosenthal, the director of Levees.Org, has been running a one-woman crusade to persuade national and local journalists to understand that the flooding of New Orlean during Hurricane Katrina was not an act of God, but a massive engineering failure of poorly designed and incomplete levees and to write about Katrina from that point of view–every time. Last weekend she put up a post on Huffington Post, and asked those of us who are interested in the Mississippi River and the Louisiana Coastal Wetlands that the river created to comment on her post. It was quite a campaign: fifty-three people commented. Some put their comments on their facebook pages to which 179 gave a thumbs up.
Any journalist who writes about the collapse of the New Orleans levees on August 29, 2005 should first read the Investigation of the Performance of the New Orleans Flood Protection Systems in Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005 by the engineering team from the University of California, Berkley. And if said journalist chooses not to plow through that two volume tome, said journalist should at least read the executive summary.
Ivor van Heerden and Team Louisiana, which also examined the destruction of the levees, designed after Betsy in 1965, “declared that the Corps of Engineers managed the hurricane levees in Greater New Orleans “like a circa 1964 flood control museum,” and continued to use design criteria set in 1965 even though much had changed in the intervening forty years. The Corps ignored that local sea level had risen 0.4 feet in the intervening forty years and New Orleans had sunk 1.5 feet. Add them together and the engineers were designing and maintaining levees for a city that was laying two feet lower in the landscape, relative to sea level, than it had in 1965. Hence, the crowns of levees were up to six feet too short, leading to prolonged overtopping during Katrina.” –from The Mississippi: A Visual Biography, University of Missouri Press, 2010