A few questions about Katrina, New Orleans, and terrorism

The readers of this blog seem to collectively know the answer to just about any question we can think to pose. So here are some questions:

1) How much of the damage/human toll is because of the hurricane per se versus the levees breaking? If we had perfect foresight, would 1,000 well-placed national guardsmen and some heavy machinery have been enough to save the levees?

2) If terrorists had thought of this first, could they have achieved the same effect as the hurricane, except more devastating because the attack would have come with no warning?

3) If so, are there other potential situations like this out there where a terrorist with a few explosive devices could cause such ruin?

4) Would the initial rescue response have been different if the victims weren’t poor and black?


Number 4 is just crazy. Alabama and Mississippi have poor, black people, too, but they have been provided aid by their state governments because their state governments didn't run for the hills.

Furthermore, it's hard to provide aid when people are shooting at you. No shootings in Alabama or Mississippi that I know of.

Saar Drimer

Here's an interesting article, relating to #1...
notice the date...


It's not crazy to ask #4, but as you point out, there's pretty good reason to think the answer is "no".

It would be interesting to consider whether the initial response would have been different if NO weren't the most corrupt city in the most corrupt state in the US.


#4 might be crazy--but the government stepped up their efforts to evac the NO Convention Center when the US Secretary of State requested that a Spanish Diplomat trapped there be rescued.
As for #2--The Terrorists might have acheived the destruction of NOLA as it stands now, but nothing more. The other areas of devistation are too widespread, too poor, and not enough concentration to warrant the senseless destruction and effect the terrorists seem to be after.
I pray that #3 does not come to pass, because there are too many instances in the US where something could happen. And not just with explosives--think back to the Milk Hypothesis proposed in the Spring: A small vial of bacteria could wipe out 10's of thousands if placed in the right milk supply route. (Why I think buying Local and searching for sustainable, local supplies is essential to protecting our agrinomic diversity and communities. . .terrorists won't attack a small food production center--but ConAgra sites??)
#1--The Hurricane did plenty of damage no doubt. But NOLA's situation was definitely made worse by the levees breaking. However, 1000 men doing their best might have been 9000 too few. If caught before the breach, anything could have and should have been employed to prevent the failure--storm tossed boats, ruined cars, soil, rocks, tar--whatever. Then the pumps, and presumably their backups could have maintained water levels to some acceptable level--perhaps. But the cards have been stacked against NOLA with people living in denial for sometime. What is it about us in the US that won't let us learn from world mistakes and lessons? The Tsunami most recently should have been a burning example of what would happen to NOLA and Biloxi.
It's all too needlessly tragic. Let's hope this time the lessons are burned into public memory so situations like this don't come along again during the next epic storm or terrorist event.



#1 I have seen a report (but haven't confirmed it online) that a new bridge was so low that a special barge with a crane that could have been used to fix the levees couldn't get there. If true, the foresight doesn't have to be perfect, just exist.

#2 I would guess they would have needed a pretty good explosive if the water were any lower, and that would require some sort of explosive-filled boat. Until this week, I would have imagined the waterways would be patrolled in defense against that. However, Homeland Security is looking pretty useless compared to the old concept of Civil Defense.

#3 A fair number of chemical plants and refineries. They could create good toxic clouds by hitting a couple of relatively thin-skinned tanks.

#4 I think so, but it's not just white people failing to do anything, it's black people internalizing racism against themselves and simply not bothering. BTW, there are no reports that the FAA has received that helicopters were fired on.


qualityg says

1) No

2) No

3) Yes

4) Reactors, Water Reservoirs,

5) No - The process is out of control, this is variation of the worst kind and it knows no race, class or creed, just chaos.


jesse skinner

I found today this story in popular mechanics titled "New Orleans is Sinking" about how it was just by pure luck that the city hadn't sunk yet. To quote a caption under the main picture, "The surge of a Category 5 storm could put New Orleans under 18 ft. of water." How could they not have had foresight??

As an unrelated insignificant coincidence, the article is dated September 11, 2001.


Number 4 is an interesting question.

I don't think that their poorness or their blackness directly affected the response per se, but I do think the lack of wealthy industrial and commercial interests in New Orleans did have an effect.

There were no wealthy powerful people screaming at high-level government officials on the phone, begging for their businesses to be saved and pooling all their resources in an attempt to save things. Those who had the means to evacuate seem to have for the most part.

Why every level of government has completely dropped the ball on this astounds me. I read a firsthand report (would need to be confirmed) yesterday that the new multi-million backup generators that had been installed for situations exactly as this one were not turned on during or after the hurricane, because they were prone to overheating and had to be manned. When they became too dangerous to man, they were abandoned. That smells like corruption to me.. why were the proper systems that would have allowed remote maintainence and administration not paid for and installed? Was somebody skimming money off the top and thus shooting the project in the foot?

Same situation with the reports of police looting. Those must be some terribly corrupt officers to join the looters. That really hints of larger problems within the police infrastructure.

I still don't know why the military was not called in sooner and in larger numbers, though. That is the major thing that baffles me about this entire situation. A friend of mine is in Fort Bliss, Texas and he said all units there were on standby and could have mobilized and been there within 24 hours. Fort Hood is even closer and could have been there within 12-18.

This entire affair has been extremely disturbing. I can't imagine how it could have been worse handled on every level of government.

ozugo at yahoo dot com



HiGuys: On 9/20/02 I dubbed a PBS [love 'em] 'NOW' program to a 'saver' tape. I love NOLA. The subject - 'New Orleans, Class 5 Hurricane, Under 15 to 20 feet of Water'. I still remember it vividly. Bill Moyers - 'NOW' captain [and World Treasure] has since been 'republothugged' off 'NOW' and it's been largely spiked because it was a constant goad to the 'R's' - he left too much 'told you so' evidence for them.


4) What I heard is that a lot of the poor (black?) couldn't leave because they didn't have the money. Welfare checks come on the first of the month and the hurricane happened on the 29th.


One big difference between terrorists blowing up a levee and what happened is that an attack on a levee wouldn't also wipe out a whole host of just-outside-the-city infrastructure the way the hurricane did. The hurricane ruined the Ponchartrain Causeway and the Twin Span bridge. It blocked all sorts of roads and interstates in southern Louisiana, etc. All of that made it much harder to bring in men and materiel. But none of that would have happened in the attack-on-levee scenario you posit.


quote: Here's an interesting article, relating to #1...
notice the date...

At the bottom of this article is a link to a fascinating book "Rising Tide". Anyone interested in New Orleans, the Mississippi river, or history in general should read this book.


Here is my question:

Is P(of Class 4+hurricane hitting New Orleans)xE(Cost of levees breaking)> or < cost of upgrading the levees?

Something tells me that Cost of Upgrading the levees is much less than P(Class 4+)x E(cost of levees breaking)...not even close.

I love democracy and all, but it failed us this time. Democraticly elected officials are incented to think of which policies will get them reelected, rather than long term health of the community.

Ronald Holden

If you're going to order the evacuation of your city, shouldn't you remember that roughly a quarter of your citizens DON'T OWN CARS ??

Shouldn't you organize a convoy of buses to offer transportation to a shelter?

Nawlins Mayor is right to gripe that the feds waited far too long, but he could have got started a lot sooner, don't you think?


New Orleans has been converging on Haiti for twenty five years. The government is corrupt and incompetent. The flight from the city of anyone who might have made a difference is complete. The tipping point was sometime in the eighties. The city was doomed then.

Naglin has no right to gripe about anything anyone else did. He and the Governor did not order a mandatory evacuation until the evil George Bush asked them to do that. Nagin's government floated away in the first six inches of water.

4) No. If there was even one black person present there would be race baiters like Sharpton, et al. out in force. The response would be no different.

Tom Lord

The answer to (4) is pretty close to "yes", actually.

If NOLA did not contain land which was undesirable
property because of its susceptability to this kind
of disaster, there wouldn't have been such a large
housing market for a ghetto. Demographics and history
and such mean that the 9th district and so on are,
unsurprisingly filled with poor people who happen
to also be black. Racial tensions and the frustration
of poverty combine to create some of the lawlessness
we hear reports of (sniper fire, arson) along with
the poor reaction of some of the responders.

Poverty in the region led certain communities to be
out of touch and without vehicles to get out. That
there hasn't been, over the years, a greater entrepreneurial
effort to eliminate poverty certainly has something
to do with cultural divides between economic classes
that echo, for historical reasons, divides by "race".

A more esoteric way in which I speculate that racism
and classism played a role is in the choice of the
superdome as refuge of last resort. It is deterministic
that piling a few 10K people into one place, with
no sanitation or supplies, leads to the current
disaster. Was another "last resort" available?
I note that the high-ground seems to have fared
pretty well in this (and that seems like it should
have been predictable). Comandeering sound buildings
in uptown (the "rich part of town", also the high ground)
and making 100s or 1000 shelters of last resort would
have sacrificed more property but would also have
avoided many of the current problems (in my opinion).




a terrorist attack likely would have occurred with the rivers lower (i.e. not having just had a hurricane.) so the height of flooding would have been lower.


1 I don't know
2 Yes, provided that it is the levee break that caused the damage.
3 I'm thinking avalanches or large bridges.
4 No, but if the victims weren't poor, they would be better equipped to handle the situation.


This site is awesome. It is just a bunch of people completely lost in their own heads.


1. Heavy machinery? What kind? The kind that could work on levees? If so then yes. If they had been well-positioned beforehand then the flood could have been stopped or slowed, saving damage/human toll.

2. If terrorists had thought of this first, they'd have to take out all communication sources like the hurricane did, as well as break the levee, to achieve the same effect, except more devastating due to no warning.

3. Yes, dams.

4. Sadly, I think if the victims had been many officials from other countries, or other high-status individuals, or families thereof, the response would have been faster, very efficient and well thought out beforehand. If they were white poor people, no. Wealthy people, white or black, probably yes.