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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Why New Orleans flooded and rebuilding stalled.

The two most illuminating analyses I've read of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath appeared in the New Republic and the New Yorker earlier this summer. (Get yesterday's analysis here today!)

The first is Washington Post reporter Michael Grunwald's indictment of the Army Corps of Engineers' comprehensive failure to protect the city from flooding.

For all the complexities of the catastrophe, two basic things went wrong during Katrina. The levees broke, and the response was slow. But while both of those failures were government failures, the first was much more important. If the levees had not breached, the New Orleans bowl would not have filled, and no one would have cared about Brownie's job experience with Arabian horses. FEMA's incompetent response to Katrina did reveal the federal government's lack of preparation for a potential terrorist attack, and the disarray at the Department of Homeland Security; but it was not what killed 1,000 people and inflicted $100 billion in damage.

Grunwald's essay — ostensibly a review of several books about the catastrophe — is available online only to subscribers, but if you care about the politics of public works projects and want to understand how federal, state, and local government all contributed to the disaster, stop by the library and read it.

Then, knowing how unsafe the Army Corps had made the city, it's especially sobering to read Dan Baum's August 21 New Yorker article about largely failed attempts to plan the city's rebuilding. He shows the foot-dragging, political maneuvering, and — more importantly — the competing goods that have left the Lower Ninth Ward exposed and neglected. It's one of the best magazine stories I've read about the realities and complexities of racial segregation in the U.S.

(Progmation: Hurricane Katrina was a man-made disaster, Michael Grunwald, New Republic 8.14.06, sub req'd; The lost year: Behind the failure to rebuild, Dan Baum, New Yorker 8.21.06)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 14 September 2006 at 8:25 AM

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