Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The City That Care Forsook

For decades before Hurricane Katrina, one of New Orleans' favorite slogans was "The City That Care Forgot." The emphasis was on care-free. Not that residents and visitors had no cares. But that New Orleans was a place where people set their cares aside, counted their blessings, and reveled in celebrating the fullness of life.

With the federal government's negligence before, during and after Katrina, New Orleans has every right to change its slogan to "The City That Care Forsook." The attitude of the Bush administration has not been care-free, but care-less.

Through its Army Corps of Engineers, the Bush administration underfunded the New Orleans levee system and built levees it knew were structurally unreliable--levees that broke and let in most of the water that flooded 80% of the city.

Through FEMA, the Bush administration ignored the plight of thousands of hurricane victims gathered at the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center--leaving volunteers like Harry Connick Jr. to pray over the bodies of the dead rotting in the summer heat.

In the person of President George W. Bush, the federal government stood in generator-powered spotlights in front of St. Louis Cathedral and lied about its commitment to make New Orleans whole again.

Through the Corp of Engineers, the Bush administration installed pumps on the canals before the 2006 hurricane season that it knew were not working right--saved from new consequences only by the good luck of few hurricanes that year.

And now through the Corps of Engineers, the Bush administration has strengthened the levee system in some of the places where it failed during Katrina, but, it turns out, in a way that now leaves the French Quarter--the most historic, most irreplaceable part of New Oreleans--more at risk than it used to be.

Is there no power on earth that can hold the Bush administration accountable for its negilgence?

The latest attrocity is reported by the Associated Press and posted at

French Quarter more at risk for flooding with levee improvements elsewhere
07:37 AM CDT on Monday, July 2, 2007
Cain Burdeau / Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- The government's repairs to New Orleans' hurricane-damaged levees may put the French Quarter in greater danger than it was before Hurricane Katrina, a weakness planners said couldn't be helped, at least for now.

Experts say the stronger levees and flood walls could funnel storm water into the cul-de-sac of the Industrial Canal, only 2 miles from Bourbon Street, and overwhelm the waterway's 12-foot-high concrete flood walls that shield some of the city's most cherished neighborhoods.

The only things separating Creole bungalows and St. Louis Cathedral from a hurricane's storm surge are those barriers, similar in design to the walls that broke during Katrina.

"A system is much like a chain. We have strengthened some of the lengths, and those areas are now better protected," said Robert Bea, a lead investigator of an independent National Science Foundation team that examined Katrina's levee failures.

"When the chain is challenged by high water again, it will break at those weak links, and they are now next to some of the oldest neighborhoods, including the French Quarter, Marigny, and all of those areas west of the cul-de-sac."

J. David Rogers, another engineer with the National Science Foundation team, concurred with Bea's assessment that the French Quarter may now be in more peril than before Katrina.

Officials from the Army Corps of Engineers knew the levee repairs would heighten the risk to the French Quarter. One commander even called it the system's "Achilles' heel." To curb the danger, the corps reinforced the existing barriers. But engineers didn't have enough time or money to entirely replace the flood walls with higher, stronger ones.

Bea and other independent experts say those steps were insufficient.

"It wasn't, 'Get all the repairs done and then look at the rest of the system,"' said Ed Link, a University of Maryland engineer and a top adviser on the reconstruction work. "It was all being done in parallel."

The system, he said, is stronger now, but "it's misinformation to infer that it's an unintended consequence."

The possibility of a heightened risk came as a surprise to many residents of the French Quarter and districts such as New Marigny, where jazz great Jelly Roll Morton once lived.

"Is that what they're saying? Oh, boy, that's not good," said Nathan Chapman, president of Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates Inc., an advocacy group that defends the quality of life in the French Quarter. "It's not on enough people's radar."

Adolph Bynum was unconvinced about the potential new threat to his restoration of an 1840 Creole cottage damaged by Katrina's winds in Treme, a charming neighborhood next to the French Quarter where plantation owners once housed their black mistresses.

"If the cottage floods or Treme floods, so will the French Quarter. If that happens, everything is flooded," Bynum said.

The city's oldest neighborhoods were settled long ago because they were the only dry ground in a wilderness of swamp. When Katrina struck, flooding only reached the outer limit of the French Quarter, creeping into places such as St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the site of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau's tomb.

With their open-air markets, flamboyant artists, baroque churches and carefree lifestyle, the neighborhoods next to the Industrial Canal are some of the city's most prized real estate and give New Orleans its old-world soul.

"If we lose them, gosh, New Orleans would no longer be New Orleans," Chapman said.

As for the new threat posed by the Industrial Canal, corps officials argue that there are other low and weak spots along the channel that might be the first to go, taking pressure off of the section near the French Quarter.

But Bea cautioned that a set of navigational locks on the French Quarter side would likely cause water to accumulate and even create a whirlpool effect. He said there is evidence the locks were a factor in the collapse of the flood wall next to the Lower 9th Ward during Katrina. The Lower 9th Ward sits on the other side of the canal from the French Quarter.

Corps officials also say that if water spilled over the walls near the Quarter, or even breached them, low-lying neighborhoods would flood first.

But Army engineers don't plan on taking any chances. They may eventually add steel plates to raise and armor the walls, block storm surge with sunken barges, and install flood gates.

However, there is no plan to beef up the protection for this year's hurricane season.

Cecil Soileau, a corps consultant and former corps engineer who designed many of the levees, said alarm over the threat to the Quarter is overblown.

"We've had people in the past saying Jackson Square would be inundated with 26 feet of water and only the steeple of the cathedral would be sticking up," Soileau said. "And I don't think that's a realistic situation."

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