Before Hurricane Katrina breached a levee on the New Orleans Industrial Canal, the Army Corps of Engineers had already launched a $748 million construction project at that very location. But the project had nothing to do with flood control. The Corps was building a huge new lock for the canal, an effort to accommodate steadily increasing barge traffic.
Except that barge traffic on the canal has been steadily decreasing.
In Katrina's wake, Louisiana politicians and other critics have complained about paltry funding for the Army Corps in general and Louisiana projects in particular. But over the five years of President Bush's administration, Louisiana has received far more money for Corps civil works projects than any other state, about $1.9 billion; California was a distant second with less than $1.4 billion, even though its population is more than seven times as large.
But overall, the Bush administration's funding requests for the key New Orleans flood-control projects for the past five years were slightly higher than the Clinton administration's for its past five years. Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the chief of the Corps, has said that in any event, more money would not have prevented the drowning of the city, since its levees were designed to protect against a Category 3 storm, and the levees that failed were already completed projects. Strock has also said that the marsh-restoration project would not have done much to diminish Katrina's storm surge, which passed east of the coastal wetlands.
When the left side of the blogosphere began alleging that the levees failed because Bush didn't fund them, I originally had some questions, but no facts so I didn't post anything on the subject.
I wondered how much corruption in New Orleans, a city known for that problem, played into all of this, how much funding had been allocated to the city during the Clinton administration, and if, the levees that broke were in fact on the list of ones that needed to be fixed.
This article seems to answer all of those questions, and assuming it is accurate is a strong argument that no matter how much money the Federal Government had sent to New Orleans in the past 5 years the outcome would have been exactly the same.
I am still trying to get a handle on what went wrong in the aftermath of the hurricane. Basically I am sure that a lot went wrong, but to expect that a response to a disaster of this magnitude would go perfectly, no matter who was in the Whitehouse, is not living in the 'reality based community.' There may have been specific cases when someone was directly culpable and simply did the wrong thing. Looking into those possibilities is beneficial and we should do it.
There will be many more cases where disorganization was simply a result of the magnitude of the task, and the inevitable breakdown of modern infrastructure that allows better cordination in less disastrous circumstances. People at all levels had to act with incomplete information, and act quickly and as such mistakes will be made. The aphorism in war is that no plan survives contact with the enemy. I am sure a similar statement can be made about disaster plans surviving contact with disasters.
This doesn't mean we can't do better, and that we shouldn't look for ways to reduce the chaos in the future, taking lessons from where the Katrina response went wrong and where it went right. Indulging in partisan blame games tends to hurt, not help this process however, and that applies to the Democratic Mayor of New Orleans and the Democratic Governor of Louisiana as much as it does to President Bush.
There will be plenty of time, after the facts are known and can be more clearly analyzed to determine exactly what went wrong and why. In those cases when someone clearly failed to meet their responsibilities condemnation should occur. Mostly though, I am sure we will find that most of the mistakes were probably inevitble, and our views of them as 'mistakes' is a result of unreasonable expectations.
The response to Hurricane Katrina has been unprecidented in its scale. By any account the various authorities involved have mobilized more resources and saved more people quicker than at any other time in history. Unfortunately, the destruction and suffering left by Katrina is also unprecidented in this country.