As I write this, the stimulus package has passed both Houses of Congress to the tune of $787 Billion. I’m no economist, but as a citizen, I am both relieved and worried. My progressive side is relieved that long-ignored infrastructure and energy projects are getting attention. I am also hopeful that this infusion of government money will help avoid an even greater recession/depression than otherwise. But, like many of you, I am skeptical. I question how effective and efficient “shovel-ready” projects can be, am cynical about how priorities are set and by whom, and doubt that the money will be spent as wisely as it could be.
It is within the context of this huge plan that I was reminded recently of a government infrastructure project gone spectacularly bad. I am, of course, talking about the flooding of the city of New Orleans during hurricane Katrina. One might dispute the wisdom of building a city in a bowl or whether folks should have settled there or depended on the levees. What is not under dispute is that THE LEVEES FAILED.
The levees, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect the city, failed when tested. Most of us remember the news footage of the levee break at the 17th Street Canal, which separates Orleans parish (New Orleans) from Jefferson (Metairie – its closest suburb to the West). The video showed the huge gap in the levee wall and a striking image – one side of the canal under water; the other green and dry.
What is less well-known is what happened on the other side of the City. On the Eastern side of New Orleans and now-famous lower 9th ward and St. Bernard parish, the levees were breached and failed at multiple points. Almost all of eastern New Orleans was hit by a surge of over 9 to 10 feet of water. Several experts, and most citizens, believe that the existence of a shipping channel, called the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) played a key role in the failure.
Photo Credit: By Mannie Garcia – Reuters
Photo from Washington Post Article, by Michael Grunwald
NOTE: Feel free to skip directly to the Katrina photos, if you aren't interested in the details of MR-GO.
Wikipedia describes MR-GO:
Maps courtesy of Nashvillewx.com
New Orleans: “MRGO Must Go!”
By Davis Nolan
September 2nd, 2008
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on January 31, 2009 that work to close MR-GO had begun. It is expected to be completed by mid-summer, the middle of the hurricane season. Environmentalists see closing the shipping channel as a small step in restoring the marsh wetlands and delta basin.
Finally, to further establish context, here are some personal photos of Katrina’s damage to New Orleans, particularly New Orleans East and the lower 9th ward and St. Bernard. For the record, I grew up in New Orleans East – I haven’t lived there for many years, but my mother was still living in my childhood home at the time of Katrina – and I have many other relatives and friends who had various degrees of water and wind damage (luckily no deaths or injuries as they’d all evacuated).
These photos were taken in November 2005, when I visited the city for the first time after the storm.
First, the city nearest the 17th Street Canal Levee Break
Some of the damaged houses -
A house where my grandmother once lived. You can see the water line as well as the door markings as military and officials were checking for people and pets that might be inside.
Moving to East New Orleans, inside my mother's house
Formal Living and Dining Room
What was once my bedroom
The mold up-close
Family room - or what we call the "den" - photo of my nephews on the mantle and complete World Book Encyclopedia, circa 1977, in the bookcase
Ugly gold chair up close. Don't worry - it was always ugly!
from Mom & Dad's 25th wedding anniversary
and here's me, about to go in
and here are the Hazmat guys down the street
Some odds & ends from the lower 9th ward & Chalmette
Fats Domino's house
Jackson Barracks - where the National Guard stored their weapons and equipment during the storm.
Finally, returning to the 17th Street Canal - repairs had already begun