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?


I, unlike the rest of your readers, do not feel qualified to answer these questions. However, some excellent points were made.

I'm more proactive about my problem solving; we can avoid situations like this if we don't build cities below sea level, surrounded by several large bodies of water.


4. I think the fact they are poor and black is irrelevant the way the rescue went.

Paul the M

1)1,000 or 10,000 might have stopped the looting, but not the deaths. And the Military can't stop dysentery.

2)Blowing several holes in the levees would have caused more deaths; caught by surprise, cars can't get through 2 feet of water, they float, much less 6 feet of water, which is always there, year 'round. 400,00 people, rich and poor, would be devastated. Blowing up certain parts of the oil refineries (the hydroflouric acid storage, for instance) or the numerous chemical factories (methyl-iso-cyanate, anyone?) would be worse -- 100 times worse than Bhopal.

3)The water supply of Los Angeles is extremely vulnerable; blowing up a few of the huge electrical transformers that sit OUTSIDE the nuclear reactors would cause a chain-reaction of electrical failures throughout USA and Canada (it's ALL tied together, now)

4)The President, Democrat or Republican, doesn't call out the National Guard, the state Governor does. The President can't send in troops anytime he wants to -- local officials MUST ASK FIRST, or formally abdicate their sovereignity. FEMA responds, it doesn't automatically take over. Other cities are devastated, but NO gets all the attention; because their utterly incompetent officials are screaming the loudest?



#4 I don't believe so. I had some minor involvement with Y2K auditing of public agencies (water works, a county, etc.) and private companies (an insurance company), we addressed computer/microprocessor systems specifically. However most of the agencies had incorporated the Y2K plan as part of a larger disaster plan. Some of these disaster/recovery plans were very comprehensive and had very detailed and contingencies accounted for. All had one person that was responsible for the plan and one person for execution (not always the same person). In New Orleans I didn't see any evidence of one person stepping up to the plate and executing a plan. As far as I know planning does not have any color attached except for blueprints. . .



1) If we had perfect foresight, would 1,000 well-placed national guardsmen and some heavy machinery have been enough to save the levees? - No, 2 feet of water head is a mighty force. Had men and equipment been nearby, they would have been lost.

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?

- No. While terrorists could conceivable destroy a flood control apperatus, they cannot do so in the same magnitude. A bomb could blow a hole through a levee, but not one 500 feet wide. And not accompannied by high winds and mass devistation in surrounding areas.

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

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

-No, But if the victims were wealthy, a larger percentage would have evacuated (altough some would still choose to ride it out).



4) Yes, because richer / white people probably are more likely to have life insurance or coverage, which would give greater incentive for insurance companies to push relief efforts.


Katrina was downgraded from Cat 5 to 4 before it hit land, it also changed course by 50 miles to the north. As a result the highest winds to hit N.O. were 100mph, so efectively only a high Category 2 storm hit N.O. The levees were supposed to be able to take a Cat 3 storm, but funding for improvements and maintainence were cut drasticly from 2001 onward by the Bush administration. Maybe they would have failed anyway, but that doesn't look like the way to bet.


Re: (4) I must say, well, I don't agree with most of the respondents on this blog. If there was even mentioned the possibility of 50,000 white people are in danger of drowning and dying of hunger and thirst, you don't think they would have organized a massive house-to-house search in New Orleans the very next day and run by the Federal government and the pentagon? Even today there is no house-to-house search...

Steven D. Levitt

On #4, I don't know the answer, but I think I'm more with Al than with most of the readers of this blog.


Re funding for levee improvements. It should be noted that the largest levee failure involved a segment that had recently been upgraded to withstand a Cat 3 hurricane. Either Katrina had Cat 3 (or greater)force winds), or it's back to the drawing board for the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Mark A. Hershberger

Wow! By putting #4 in there, you probably got at least twice as many people responding... some to only that question.

That's a pretty good ROI!


#1)Guessing, I would say 2% damage/human toll is due to hurricane & 98% is due to the leeve breaking. (if you consider only NOLA).

From what TV coverage has shown, looks like most of the buildings where left standing,just roof damage & broken windows(glass) and such and people had survived.

Being trapped in the flooded zone without food/water/medication/medical attention is what caused people to die. As far as the property damage:with the muck that filled most of the structures, there appears to be an impossible task ahead to clean and restore all of these structures.

#2)I don't know if it would be possible without the extra water from the hurricane. However, it would be possible to combine an attack with a predictable natural disaster such as this to cause more distruction.

#3)Our country is extremely vulnerable to terrorist attacks and in ways that wouldn't take much planning, manpower or finanial backing.

#4)Yes. A screw up of this magnitude is no accident. It's also no accident that for the most part,the victims are poor and black. There are too many factors involved that contributed to the magnification of the death and destruction in NOLA. Someone has an agenda here.



I think you need to have a question 4a. That question should be:

After watching the disregard for (American) human life in New Orleans during this national disaster, how long can the white world hide the fact that poor blacks are treated similar to a third world resident?

Good questions you have here. One comment to another poster mentioning that the New Orleans was ready for a Category 3 hurricane. The Category of the storm really has nothing to do with what could have been withstood. Everything that happens in New Orleans deals with water. Some may remember the fact that Hurricane Andrew was considered dry, yet packed winds in the 150mph range. This hurricane may not have had the wind of Andrew, but dropping water from the mouth of the Mississippi to 400 miles north causes the problem. Ignore anyone on TV who tells you they could handle up to a level 3.


4. Maybe no. This was a clusterfrick with nobody in charge. "Who, me? Not my job." With such wide spread infrastructure devastation who knew where to begin and there were few if any first or second responders available. They packed up and took their own to safety. What would you do? And who would go back in there with the media hyping chaos, rioting, looting, gunfire and no food, no fuel, no water, no cell phones, no electricity and all the roads under water, except the ones the media used?


#1. Clearly the levees. New Orleans thought it had dodged the "big one" until the levees broke. Possibly, men and machinery would have lessen the devastation.

#2. Much more limited. That being said, a terrorist act with defined stretegic location could have had a more devasting efffect.

#3. Without question, and they are unprotected and probably few are aware of how simple it would be. The simple is so often overlooked.

On #4 here is a quote from an editorial by Robert Tracinski that is on the internet:

Next obseervation: Get spell Check!

"Public officials did not expect that the first thing they would have to do is to send thousands of armed troops in armored vehicle, as if they are suppressing an enemy insurgency. And journalists--myself included--did not expect that the story would not be about rain, wind, and flooding, but about rape, murder, and looting.
But this is not a natural disaster. It is a man-made disaster."



I think under the Stafford Act, the governor declares a state of emergency (26th), and then FEMA steps in (whenever they get around to it).


1. The hurricane and storm surge [direct flooding] created considerable damage. From the perspective of "loss" much of the asset value would already have sustained a considerable degree of impact. Water removal, clean up, repair, restoration, debris removal, undamaged property removal and rebuilding were already going to require Herculean feats and lots of dough [insured or not]. The levee breaches caused additional chaos, leading to rampant uncivilized behavior and greatly extending the recovery period. [Freak question: when and why do people loot?]

2. Terrorist action at this level would have been difficult...although not impossible...we need to realize they have a goal, and are paying attention to weaknesses and opportunities...and they think in terms of generations...not elections or quarters.

3. Yes. Gargantuan ruin may be possible by catastrophic destruction of the Hoover or Gran Coulee dams [lots of people without water]; use of medium range ordinance to damage a nuclear facility or destroy an LNG tank near large populations [now, where are all those shoulder launched rockets?]; dirty bombs [and the Soviets aren't sure where all their plutonium is].

4. Geez, I sure hope not. I honsetly believe that such a claim is stepping over the line... however, the response was clearly inadequate, and should cause some turmoil in upcoming elections.



If you were a terrorist...watching this disaster....what would you have learned? Based on what you have learned how would you attack the US?


Honestly, these questions will be debated for months, and they should be. Question 3 is the one that needs to be answered fully by people at Homeland Security. The answer is obviously yes. I believe any 18-year old could find vulnerable sites across the country. I hope this never happens.

A very thought-provoking blog posting.


The article: Black People "Loot", White People "Find" reveals the racist predisposition of the US media. Thankfully, not all media is this way inclined, the British media tell it like it is.
Beyond the media, there is the government, represented by its officials. When one of the people in charge of the ex post response was asked why - if after the Tsunami food aid was dropped in two days - it took them five days to action a meaningful response for New Orleans (their own country), the man just went red in the face. That speaks volumes for itself.

see article/facts on: