The New York Times marked yesterday as the 100-day anniversary of Hurricane Katrina striking the Gulf Coast; here in Louisiana, the New Orleans Times-Picayune is honoring the occasion today, seeing the starting point of the disaster as the fateful Monday when the flood waters started roaring into the city. Being in New Orleans, I'll go with the locals.
As I wrote yesterday, from the looks of it, the hurricane could have hit yesterday. Great stretches of the city -- hard-hit neighborhoods like Lakeview, Uno, Eastern New Orleans and the 9th Ward -- still look like vacant war zones, aside from the ocassional teams of contractor trucks and immigrant laborers.
The Times-Picayune's headline lays the blame for the disaster in New Orleans firmly at the feet of the political system; as their headline reads: "100 Days After Katrina, the Evidence is Clear that the Great Flood was a Man-Made Disaster." In their survey of government reports and the view of dozens of experts, they conclude:
Floodwall breaches linked to design flaws inundated parts of the city that otherwise would have stayed dry, turning neighborhoods into death traps and causing massive damage. In other areas, poorly engineered gaps and erosion of weak construction materials accelerated and deepened flooding already under way, hampering rescue efforts in the wake of the storm.
These problems turned an already deadly disaster into a wider man-made catastrophe and have made rebuilding and resettlement into far tougher and more expensive challenges.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers comes out looking particularly bad, having final oversight over a system that involved "a lack of project oversight and responsibility that allowed small problems to metastasize into fatal errors. Twisted lines of authority led to cursory inspections, communications snafus and even confusion about such basic information as wall dimensions."
As the piece notes, these failures raise questions that go way beyond New Orleans, an put into question the quality of flood defenses around the country:
"Everybody who has a levee out the back door now has to look out and wonder, is this going to fail? Was it designed right?" said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington fiscal watchdog group critical of the corps' priorities.