Land Use

Katrina shorthand fatigue

It’s a shame Ray Lang stopped blogging at On Levee Failures & A Weather Event. Ray’s posts were a recurring reminder to defend against “Katrina Shorthand” – the tendency to describe 8/29 as a hurricane, and obscure the fact that poorly designed levee walls flooded most of New Orleans. For us, “Katrina” was a devastating act of man.

Lang’s work is still archived at his site and provides various templates for responding to news items like this doozy from the AFP. While there will be many “5th anniversary” stories during the next two weeks, you’ll be hard pressed to find one more thoroughly botched:

In 2005, Katrina unleashed torrential rains, leading to disastrous flooding that left about 1,600 people dead, destroyed thousands of homes and marred the presidency of Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush, whose administration was severely criticized for its handling of the crisis.

While Katrina’s storm surge killed people in Mississippi and Southeastern Louisiana,  hundreds of New Orleanians perished due to catastrophic canal wall failures that flooded four-fifths of the city. “Torrential rains” weren’t an issue.

The AFP article elaborates, but only makes things worse:

The 2005 hurricane overwhelmed New Orleans’s series of protective levees and flood walls along the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, leading to the inundation of entire neighborhoods and the high death toll in the city founded by the French three centuries ago.

Wrong! Most of the canals that flooded New Orleans were NOT overtopped by Katrina’s rain or waves. They failed because of shoddy construction and poor design.  And when they crumbled neighborhoods were deluged; hundreds of New Orleanians perished, most of them elderly. Imagine a grandparent sweating in a dark attic, clutching a small pet, as water bubbles up through the ceiling.

An independent commission is currently investigating the drilling rig failures off the coast of Louisiana, which claimed 11 souls and resulted in a runaway oil gusher. However, New Orleans never got an independent commission to investigate the catastrophic levee failures on 8/29 that killed 100 times as many people.

And—good gracious!—  interior canals failed New Orleans, not the outer ones, which protect us from lake and river overflow. Some interior canals drain the city, while others are shipping channels for waterborne commerce serving the rest of the nation. But this is why we’re so frustrated! The vast majority of interior canals weren’t overtopped, yet they burst apart and flooded our town.

Despite his respite from blogging, Lang continues to disabuse others of Katrina shorthand and correct other factual errors about 8/29. If the AFP story is any indication, the fifth anniversary of Katrina and the federal flood will provide him with a lot of work.

He could sure use more help.

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  • The AFP article is so full of errors it’s a joke. And the way AFP is set up, it’s difficult to write the editors and educate them.

    Ray’s work has been important and effective. I hope Ray’s current exhaustion is due to all the attention the region is getting due to the Fifth Anniversary. I hope Ray returns!

  • Thanks. Honestly. (btw, I hang on to the letters…)

  • rickngentilly

    thanks erster.

    this can not be repeated enough.

    it’s to late for anybody to get it and yet it still can not be repeated enough.

    as a 1/4 worker for 30 years i often get tired of explaing shit to tourist.

    post like this remind me to play nice and try to edumicate dem.