Four years ago it was Condi telling us that no one could have possibly foreseen the use of a jetliner in a terrorist attack, even though many people had suggested exactly that possibility. Now we have George Bush telling us:
“I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.”
THE BOXES are stacked eight feet high and line the walls of the large, windowless room. Inside them are new body bags, 10,000 in all. If a big, slow-moving hurricane crossed the Gulf of Mexico on the right track, it would drive a sea surge that would drown New Orleans under 20 feet of water. “As the water recedes,” says Walter Maestri, a local emergency management director, “we expect to find a lot of dead bodies.”
New Orleans is a disaster waiting to happen. The city lies below sea level, in a bowl bordered by levees that fend off Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the Mississippi River to the south and west. And because of a damning confluence of factors, the city is sinking further, putting it at increasing flood risk after even minor storms. The low-lying Mississippi Delta. which buffers the city from the gulf, is also rapidly disappearing. A year from now another 25 to 30 square miles of delta marsh an area the size of Manhattan will have vanished. An acre disappears every 24 minutes. Each loss gives a storm surge a clearer path to wash over the delta and pour into the bowl, trapping one million people inside and another million in surrounding communities. Extensive evacuation would be impossible because the surging water would cut off the few escape routes. Scientists at Louisiana State University (L.S.U.), who have modeled hundreds of possible storm tracks on advanced computers, predict that more than 100,000 people could die. The body bags wouldn’t go very far.
A direct hit is inevitable. Large hurricanes come close every year. In 1965 Hurricane Betsy put parts of the city under eight feet of water. In 1992 monstrous Hurricane Andrew missed the city by only 100 miles. In 1998 Hurricane Georges veered east at the last moment but still caused billions of dollars of damage. At fault are natural processes that have been artificially accelerated by human tinkering levying rivers, draining wetlands, dredging channels and cutting canals through marshes [see map on pages 80 and 81]. Ironically, scientists and engineers say the only hope is more manipulation, although they don’t necessarily agree on which proposed projects to pursue. Without intervention, experts at L.S.U. warn, the protective delta will be gone by 2090. The sunken city would sit directly on the sea at best a troubled Venice, at worst a modern-day Atlantis.
But no one could have foreseen this.
Look, I’ve seen the conservatives and the Sensible Liberals saying that this disaster shouldn’t be politicized. In other words, we shouldn’t talk about the decisions that were made beforehand regarding the levee system, and we shouldn’t discuss the ways in which the commitment of funds and manpower to Iraq will affect recovery efforts, and we shouldn’t discuss Bush’s bizarre decision to spend a day giving canned stump speeches before heading back to D.C., and we shouldn’t discuss the decisions that will be made in the days ahead and I say, bullshit. Bush is clearly operating under no such constraint he’s obviously anticipating the criticism and trying to deflect it.
And as Josh says:
I’m sorry. I know we’re supposed to be observing an accountability free moment for the president. But there are just too many examples out there of the ways in which his policies have contributed to and accentuated this crisis: systematic cuts in levee and pump construction around New Orleans, phasing out FEMA and the apparently the whole concept of national coordination of the response to natural disasters. That’s a great idea, isn’t it?
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Yes, let’s save everyone and everything we can. People on the scene and in the surrounding region are pulling together in amazing ways. But no more letting this man’s failures become his own argument against accountability. It’s always been a live-for-today presidency.