Some people should know better…Or how many degrees of separation from NOLA

Yesterday there was this from Martin Savidge at NBC’s blog The Daily Nightly…

I’ve been covering New Orleans and the Gulf Coast on a regular basis
since Katrina. That’s about 19 months. Whenever one of my stories makes
Nightly, I get two very different reactions. Locally, people say “Thank
you” to me and NBC for continuing to keep the city’s plight before the
eyes of the nation… from that nation I get, “Enough already! I am
sick of hearing about New Orleans!”


Experts here say instead of thinking of New Orleans as a national pain
in the backside, Americans should realize there are great lessons to be
learned, because it could happen somewhere else. If not a hurricane
into a major city, how about an earthquake, or a massive terrorist
attack that leaves a city and its society in ruins?

Let’s look at the comments to Savidge’s post from those that just didn’t seem to get the point. What is interesting is how many of these folks ought to get it.

First up is this Comment by J Vine from Seattle WA…

Keep electing Ray ‘school bus’ Nagin, I’m sure that will win the rest of the country over.

Let’s look at this on Seattle…

Forget an eruption. The real threat of Mount Rainier is a surging wall of mud that could bury the suburbs and splash Seattle.


The source of that enormous mudflow, which geologists call a lahar, was
Mount Rainier, about 60 miles south- southeast of Seattle. And it could
happen again—maybe even tomorrow. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates
there is at least a 1-in-7 chance during an average human lifespan that
another catastrophic lahar could pour off the mountain.

Certainly Seattle is prepared and won’t rely on school bus drivers to save their lives…

The only problem is that Pierce County has done planning with a nod and
a wink. It has provided citizens with detailed maps of evacuation
routes that experts, off-the- record, admit have little chance of
helping save very many people. While pouring considerable money into
lahar hazard planning, Pierce County has allowed development of
thousands of new homes in the very shadow of Mount Rainier, right in
the volcano’s most dangerous lahar paths. Often only two-lane roads
serve these new subdivisions and many older ones. People trying to
escape a fast-moving lahar in the chaos and traffic would have little
hope of survival.

A judgemental person may not be won over by that plan. It sounds ominous for commenter J Vine’s city

Also for Kerry in nearby Sammamish WA who left this Comment..

It is time to move on and rebuild the city in a different location rather than waste money in a flood prone area.

Are we to move Seattle and Sammamish also?

Then there is this Comment by Rich from St. Louis…

I am sick – of hearing how every taxpayer in America should pony up a
couple grand to subsidize the rebuilding of a cesspool of a city that
will just be wiped out again by the next “unlucky” hurricane.

ST Louis in the Great USA Flood of 1993…In
the Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District 12 of 42 federal levees
and 39 of 47 non federal levees were overtopped or failed.


Photo St Louis:Residents returned
to the homes pictured to find the interiors blackened by mold and mud after
weeks of flooding.

More to the point of Rich from St. Louis’ comment is this though…

Around St. Louis, where
the Mississippi River lapped at the steps of the Gateway Arch during
the 1993 flood, more than 14,000 acres of flood plain have been
developed since then


Pinter said as much as
85 percent of the Mississippi in St. Louis is confined behind levees,
which have raised flood levels 10 feet to 12 feet higher than they were
just a century ago. That parallels the situation in New Orleans, which
suffered catastrophic flooding when levees failed in the wake of


In the St. Louis area,
there has been an estimated $2.2 billion in new construction on land
that was under water in the 1993 flood, Pinter said.

Yes let’s not rebuild in “unlucky” areas…unless of course it is my “unlucky” area.

Then there is this Comment from Sean in
Torrington CT:

New Orleans knew they needed to fix
those levees and they did not. The
only words I want to hear from New Orleans people are “We’re speaking
to engineers from the Netherlands about protecting our city.”

Here is some history of Torrington CT…

Much of downtown Torrington was destroyed
in the Flood of 1955 that destroyed many CT communities when Hurricanes
Connie and Diane struck and caused rivers to overflow. It was one of
the worst disasters in CT history.

Photos of Torrington after the 1955 Flood…

There is an excellent account hereon
the incredible help CT received from their federal government under the
leadership of then President Eisenhower. The recovery for the area
also included the Bush-McCormick Plan. That’s
Bush as in Senator Prescott Bush, grandfather to George W. The plan
included researching new
dams and other flood controls for the area. Also the Eighth Army
redirected the Farmington River in order to prevent future disasters.
This account of the rebuilding in CT concluded with…

Let the reader remember that in 1955 a flood took place that ravaged
the state of Connecticut and see that the tragedy was great and the
loss of life grim. The people of the state rebuilt their lives and
moved on with the help of fellow Americans who took the time to rescue
and bring comfort to those who needed help.

But if that history means nothing to commenter Sean from Torrington CT perhaps this Feb 2007 news release from the Army Corps of Engineers on deficiencies of the Torrington Local Protection Project will…

deficiencies were noted. Excessive vegetation is present along the
levees, flood walls, and drainage features preventing access for
inspection and
creating insufficient vegetation buffers along the structures and
controls on the structures. Portions of the levee have a loss of
crest height
and width, erosion, and degradation from vehicular trespassing. There
little information on the condition of the drainage features such as
and catch basins and many of the features could not be found due to
excessive vegetation.

The commenters go on..

This is part of a long comment by Mike in Reno Nevada…

Americans are not just tired of the Katrina aftermath they are
dispappointed that the folks elected in Louisiana don’t have the sense
of a muskrat who would move if his habitat is threatened.

I can go on too…


Downtown Reno, Nevada during the 1997 New Year’s Flood

Then there is Clark from Lewiston, ID…

New Orleans has to take credit for re-electing an incompetent mayor and
governor. Billions of dollars wasted, stolen, and put into freezers.
New Orleans, take care oof yourself.


Lewiston…Snake River Flood of 1894

Now there is a system of levees, many maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, to control Snake River flooding. Hopefully for commentor Clark it is not a “system in name only” as was the case in New Orleans.

OK I hope you get the point. What is amazing is most of the rest of the comments were positive and marked by empathy for New Orleans (of course most are/were NOLA folks) and the negative ones above comprise most of the negative comments. Yet the latter come from people who potentially have much to lose if we ignore the lessons of what happened in New Orleans.

What has and is happening in New Orleans is Wrong. Period. I believe the nation should pay attention to the plight of fellow Americans for that reason alone. However there are points of self interest for all of us…if it can happen to them it can happen to us.

30 thoughts on “Some people should know better…Or how many degrees of separation from NOLA

  1. Fantastic post, it’s Glass House World.
    Those feeling cocky about dismissing the recovery and investment needs of other American cities should consider that the National Guard is just about defunct in case of an emergency this year or next (92% UNREADY in latest audit).
    We’ll crack a fault and not have any water. And then listen to rightwing unAmerica talk about La-La-land and Hollyweird.
    Bigots and corruption — corruption and bigots. Idiots who begrudge a few billion to fundamentally protect one of our precious cities, but don’t even sniff when Bushco spends $1 trillion on 60-acre Castle Carlyle and the surrounding permanent U.S. airbases in Iraq.
    $1 trillion is a lot of ZEROES. Like rightwing unAmerica.
    For that matter,
    a mob of wingers:

  2. Ahh, good, Christian America. It warms the heart.
    Let us turn to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25.
    40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
    41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
    42 for I was ahungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
    43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
    44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee ahungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
    45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
    That more or less covers it all, no?

  3. Great post, Scout. One of your best ever, I think.
    I wonder if, in addition to the reactions above, there isn’t also a sense of futility that lies underneath. That it doesn’t matter what John Q Public feels, it’s not going to happen. Like getting out of Iraq isn’t happening, like changes to health care aren’t happening? Say that as many people that wanted to end the war in Iraq also wanted the Feds to ‘fix’ Nola (special commission, Katrina czar, ACE redirect, more appropriations, whatever it takes). If that many people wanted it, what would happen? The same that’s happening w/Iraq?
    I realize a great difference is that Americans can more directly help Nola by volunteering than can affect change re Iraq, but still, much of what is needed is more massive than that.

  4. Wonderful post. Just wonderful. Of course, I don’t think these people are reachable
    There is a guy down doing a daily diary in the New Yorker who noted yesterday that congress did indeed pony up 1.3 billion, without hesitation, for a New Orleans – the New Orleans Battleship.
    On virgotex’s point – you bet – we are happy for everyone sending their kids and their bake sale money and old books – but for God’s sake, this is supposed to be America and no one asked the Women’s Thursady afternoon reading group to finance the Marshall plan.

  5. Nice Post Scout.
    Maybe its because I live in MO, but I really liked the comparison to the Missisisippi floods in Missouri / St Louis. One thing I’d add though to draw a greater comparison with NOLA – yes the levees along the river have raised the flood levels and if you lived above the old flood levels and are now in the floods, you are, thanks to good old Uncle Sam, now SOL.
    But also, development in upstream areas has raised the peak flood levels. Add a new supermarket parking lot, you add to the run-off which leads to a higher instantaneous flood. Add a new agricultural field and you loose the buffering action of native vegetation resulting in a higher peak flood level. Destroy a wetland in Minnesotta you loose its buffering action on rainwater leading to a higher runoff and higher peak flood level.
    The only way St. Louis can protect itself is for all upstream development to immediately cease and desist and for all existing upstream development to be allowed to revert to natural habitat.
    Can I hear an Amen from Minneapolis / St. Paul??????
    Likewise, NOLA’s problem is also a problem heavily exacerbated by Uncle Sam’s levee’s and alteration of the shipping lanes leading to destruction of the delta wetlands. It is a problem of Uncle Sam’s inferior construction methods of existing levees leading to levee failure. Again, is Minesotta gonna gut Minneapolis for poor little NOLA?

  6. Not enough superlatives to do this post justice.
    I’ll just say: thank you, thank you, thank you… from New Orleans.

  7. I’ve said it before: the Gulf Coast and New Orleans are America’s ghetto.
    We want the port at New Orleans to ship our grain from the midwest. We want the Quarter, so we can feel like we have a place for a bacchanal, but like good Puritans, we want to be able to despise it the rest of the year. We want to oil and gas which flow from the Gulf Coast, and we want the refineries and processing plants and all the industrialization that requires, but we want it “down there,” because it would ruin the “pristine” beaches of California or New England or anywhere else on the East Coast.
    We want, in other words, our national ghetto. Screw Louisiana, it’s all corrupt politicians. Screw Mississippi, it’s all redneck yahoos. Send us your cotton and shrimp and gas and oil, and play us some Jazz once in a while, and ship our grain. But otherwise: the hell with you. Your too damned much trouble.
    New Orleans exists because the Federal Government made a commitment to it, because it’s part of America, not just part of Louisiana. What part of “United States of America” do these Yankee idiots (and I use the term pointedly) not understand? I’m ready to go back to “Freeze a Yankee in the Dark!”
    Is there a reason even the most enlightened among us sometimes despise Yankees? Damn straight there is!

  8. I added a few words to clarify on the positive comments, specifically I added…(of course most are/were NOLA folks).
    In doing so the timestamp of the post changed which is why it looks like people commented several hours before the post appeared.

  9. New Orleans has to take credit for re-electing an incompetent mayor and governor. Billions of dollars wasted, stolen, and put into freezers. New Orleans, take care oof[sic] yourself.
    What the heck is this story referring to? What billions of dollars have gone missing because of Nagel and the governor of LA?
    A quick Google search of Katrina+Missing+Money doesn’t yield any relevant stories.
    A quick Google search of Iraq+Missing+Money yields over ten pages of stories of $9 billion dollars unaccounted for, trash bags filled with cash handed out to contractors, etc. So will commentor also say “Hey, Iraq, take care of yourself?”
    Oh, wait, those were Bu$hCo appointees doing the Incompetant Corruption Tango, so it’s copacetic, right?

  10. Just to defend My Fair City, there are idiots and bigots to be found everywhere, and many of us here in Seattle continue to have aching hearts about the situation on the Gulf Coast, and the federal failures there.
    Regional short-sightedness can’t be denied, though. 100,000 people a day travel on a downtown viaduct that will collapse in the next big earthquake, much like the Cypress Structure in Oakland during Loma Prieta. And one or both of the highway bridges between J.Vine in Seattle and Kerry in Sammamish will sink into the lake at the same time. That earthquake is due far sooner than a Ranier eruption (which would mostly take out Tacoma, anyway.)
    If only those ignorant, corrupt Northwesterners would stop voting for incompetent politicians and admit it’s time to pick up the city and move it to a less-active seismic zone.

  11. biggerbox…thanks for sharing that info and by all means you ought to defend Seattle. All of us want to support our cities…just as NOLA residents support theirs.
    Seattle is a great city and I hope disaster doesn’t strike it…or any other city for that matter.
    But well we know that last part isn’t possible. We all should be prepared especially our governments.

  12. as what began with ronnie raygun(as if he was the first) ‘greed is good, the poor need to fend for themselves’ mind set has turned america’s ‘better angels’, into bushie’s who only care about what is in their little circle.
    now lets save the world, MALL TRIP!

  13. We in Seattle deeply apologize for our particular idiots – we have them here just like everywhere else. Fortunately, the people in charge are generally caring and compassionate, or at least human, and the wingnuts just sit on te sidelines and bitch.
    A better comparison to New Orleans might be Sacramento. Like New Orleans, Sacramento is protected by high levees that are in questionable shape and lies in an earthquake zone near the confluence of multiple rivers, any of which might flood with little warning. And like NO, a Republican idiot is in charge. But there is lots of money in Sacramento and unlike NO, it will not be allowed to fail.

  14. Scout, there are no words good enough to convey how proud I am of this post. There are so, so many problems to overcome as a result of the federal flood and the majority of Americans don’t have a clue. I wouldn’t either, if I didn’t live here but I certainly would have empathy. If Americans put as much interest and effort into the plight of this great American city as they do in the latest Ana Nicole newsflash, how much we could achieve together.
    As much as I detest the negative, uninformed and callous comments, I wouldn’t wish this on any one of them.

  15. Hell of a post. Thanks for putting so much together. I don’t know how the less supportive elements would respond, but you show the flags we can wave. Well done.

  16. I have to agree with Miss Brenda that Seattle has its share of idiots and heartless fools. I find it has more than its share. Should Mt Tahoma (Rainier) shed her snow and send it to the Sound, a lot of people are going to die. Warnings and drills are good but until you deal with those who can’t just pickup and and drive out, you will still have a monumental human tragedy unfolding.
    All the people I’ve met from New Orleans have shown true civic pride. They love their homes and their culture and no one, repeat, no one has the right to deny any city of that.
    Just as Scout has demonstrated, every city has a great disaster waiting in the wings. If and when this occurs, the fight begins again to help those residents and prove that their city deserves to be saved. There is no argument whether New Orleans should be rebuilt.
    Why? Why commit so much to a place not across the street or down the block? Simple – they’re family. We do for our family. When disaster strikes, we come together to help each other out. Money, food, services, housing, whatever it takes.
    But we can’t do it alone, we need the Feds to coordinate and deliver that assistance on a large scale. The Feds rescue people, build levees, rebuild homes and provide emergency shelter…
    Unless you’re part of the most heinous, cold-heartedly evil, blatantly UNAmerican adminstration to occupy the White House in its history.
    Bush and Cheney should be convicted and sentenced to personally rebuild the streets and houses of NOLA. And when that overblown demonic bastard Cheney drops from the heat, leave him in a ditch for 18 months so that his family can wonder and worry about where he is. These bastards need a taste of what good people went through while they were choking the chicken in DC.

  17. “I wonder if, in addition to the reactions above, there isn’t also a sense of futility that lies underneath.”
    Quite possibly. I’ve seen that sense of futility in a lot of different places. Combined with the individualist “you’re on your own” narrative often found in American culture, it can be pretty toxic. Make up your ready-plans and your go-bags, but the terrorists/bogeycritters du jour are going to get you anyway. And yes, faced with a problem the size of NOLA/post-2005-hurricane-season-Gulf-Coast territory, it’s easy to throw up your hands and say “I can’t do anything, this is too big and too expensive, so why bother?” Forgetting, as you say, lb0313, that a government can achieve a heck of a lot more than just a few people at once. That’s arguably why we have a system of federal and state government in the first place. Wasn’t it mentioned in the preamble to the Constitution somewhere?
    Thank goodness there are a lot more people who recognize the need for a “we’re in this together” sense of commonality, if only at times of crisis: we may not like all of what our neighbors get up to, but we have to pull together sometimes. Kudos to that blogger and to the positive commenters.

  18. I think the problem is that most of the country still doesn’t understand that the Corps drowned New Orleans, not Katrina. Levees maintained by local districts held up while Corps levees and floodwalls failed (in something like 99 separate places).
    Thank you for this, Scout. This should be a cover story on the Washington Post.
    My question is why Mary Landrieu and David Vitter aren’t screaming the truth about the Corps’ culpability from the dome of the Capitol.

  19. “I think the problem is that most of the country still doesn’t understand that the Corps drowned New Orleans, not Katrina.”
    Fits in with the whole sense-of-futility thing: a mistaken assumption that the ACE did its best and still was no match for Mother Nature. That, or it was let down by those incompetents at the local level. (Hence even if Landrieu and Vitter yelled themselves hoarse in DC, they wouldn’t necessarily get sympathy.)
    “Levees maintained by local districts held up while Corps levees and floodwalls failed (in something like 99 separate places).”
    You have a link for that? That *would* be direct refutation of the prejudice that “the Feds did their best and the LA government screwed up”.

  20. Scout… great post! Many folks do not understand the tectonics, hydrology or history of the places they now live in.
    Growing up along the Gulf Coast has given me a thorough grounding of what the dangers are to us down here. Did Betsy in ’65 here in NOLA. Did Camille in ’69 whilst living in Biloxi.
    I watched Mt. St. Helens blow almost 30 years ago from Seattle. Being an armchair geologist, I looked into the many dangers that the area could face, and there are several, but I’ve never seen a comprehensive protection plan for the area.
    Went through the Loma Prieta quake in ’89 whilst living in S.F. No real plan there either.
    Was stationed in Idaho Falls less than a year after the Teton Dam burst ( That was a failure of the Bureau of Reclamation.
    And, for the L.A. crowd, there is always the story of St. Francis Dam (, a failed project built by the city in conjunction with the Cal. Aqueduct. The Hollywood Reservoir sports a twin version of the dam, but the city covered it up with soil to disguise it. There are no real plans dealing with a break of these water storage structures.
    Poop can happen anywhere.

  21. Stop me if you’ve heard this before…Good god, you’re brilliant. Can I carry your books home from school, for, like, ever?
    Seriously, though – New Orleans wasn’t built in a flood zone, it EXPANDED into the flood zone. The French weren’t stupid, they knew where they were building, but the location was too commercially viable to ignore. The flooding in “old” New Orleans was bad but not catastrophic, but the flooding in the newer residential areas was nightmarish. This whole “why did they build there” business is, not surprisingly, a crock.
    And fwiw, the lahar after Mt. St. Helen’s erupted did a hell of a lot more property damage than the actual eruption. Damn, people have short memories.

  22. Given the opportunity, I’d suggest that J Vine and Kerry consider moving back to California (as I strongly suspect that they’re relatively recent additions to the Western Washington/Cascadia region or perhaps they simply don’t remember the unbelievable luck — for lack of a better phrase –experienced during Nisqually Earthquake in 2001).
    But unfortunately that wouldn’t be much of an improvement; apparently Sacramento’s levee system is also quite vulnerable:
    If it ain’t one thing, it’s another. Taking care of the citizens who live within the borders of our country shouldn’t be a regional popularity contest… It’s a non-negotiable first-priority responsibility that few seem to be willing to address.

  23. Can this be required reading for every person residing the United States? We NOLA-folk often feel like we’re banging our heads against a wall trying to make a similar argument. Few caught the jist when I suggested we not rebuild major portions of the midwest after the snow storms and power outtages a few months back. *sigh*
    Thank you for this sensible and thoughtful post.

  24. Not if, butwhen

    Scout has another great post up. Its one of her best ever – looking at Katrina fatigue, in its various permutations, from some people who ought to know better, who dont seem to fathom that what happened in New Orleans can happen to them…

Comments are closed.