When The Levee Breaks I'll have no place to stay.
- Led Zepplin
New Orleans is now a swamp. A pair of breaches in the levee that separated it from Lake Pontchartrain has allowed water to flood the city up to 20 feet deep in some sections. After thinking they had been spared the worst effects of Hurricane Katrina after it jogged east at the last moment (slamming hard into Mississippi), New Orleans found itself in an even worse predicament:
...it was not the water from the sky but the water that broke through the city's protective barriers that changed everything for the worse. With a population of nearly 500,000, New Orleans is protected from the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain by levees.
When the levees gave way in some critical spots, streets that were essentially dry in the hours immediately after the hurricane passed were several feet deep in water on Tuesday morning. Even downtown areas that lie on higher ground were flooded. Mayor Nagin said both city airports were under water.
But it didn’t have to happen
this way. As Eric Boehlert point out, the flooding could have been avoided if President Bush had not diverted millions of dollars from a federal program designed to build up the levees in order to pay for his tax cuts and for the war in Iraq.
In 1995, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA. Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid.
Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars."
*" In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness."
*" On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: “It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can’t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.”"
*"The 2004 hurricane season was the worst in decades. In spite of that, the federal government came back this spring with the steepest reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history."
*" One project that a contractor had been racing to finish this summer: a bridge and levee job right at the 17th Street Canal, site of the main breach on Monday."
*"The Newhouse News Service article published Tuesday night observed, "The Louisiana congressional delegation urged Congress earlier this year to dedicate a stream of federal money to Louisiana's coast, only to be opposed by the White House....In its budget, the Bush administration proposed a significant reduction in funding for southeast Louisiana's chief hurricane protection project. Bush proposed $10.4 million, a sixth of what local officials say they need."
Local officials are now saying, the article reported, that had Washington heeded their warnings about the dire need for hurricane protection, including building up levees and repairing barrier islands, "the damage might not have been nearly as bad as it turned out to be.
So Bush saves a few hundred million dollars by scrimping on funding for flood protection in New Orleans and now as a result we will have to pay billions and billions of dollars in disaster relief aid.
Is there no end to the blundering incompetence and short-sightedness of this administration? This is, without a doubt, the worst presidential administration this country has ever seen.