Rethinking Reconstruction As the Levees Give Way

This is not a good sign. Several hours before Rita's landfall -- and without even the threat of a direct hit on New Orleans -- the hurricane's winds alone pushed so much water toward New Orleans that by noon on Friday, one patched levee had already come unpatched and a dozen or more blocks had re-flooded.

This is disturbing for countless reasons, not least of which the fact that the toxic water pumped out of the city is flowing right back in. But more pertinent to our current discussion is that if the city experiences more massive flooding, that will pile on the cost of cleanup and rebuilding.

Once again, this raises the question: Are we absolutely positive we want to rebuild New Orleans? (And is everyone involved clear on exactly how that rebuilding should be done?)

Sure, Donna Brazile (a noted Democratic campaign strategist), wrote an op-ed after listening to Bush's speech last week declaring that she's ready to stand up and salute and do anything she can help the president rebuild New Orleans. And yes, many of us have a sentimental attachment to the Crescent City. But Bush made some bold promises "to clear the ruins and build better than before" and, he insisted, "this great city will rise again."

Perhaps by "build better" he meant "build smarter," as several editorial boards and op-ed writers have advised. The Arizona Republic offers this suggestion: "Rethink, don't re-create." Where houses in low-lying areas will be razed, the Republic says, parklands should be developed instead of building a "phony, Disneyfied replica of old neighborhoods."

A Washington Post editorial poses several questions about how the city should be rebuilt. In addition to questioning whether the lowest parts of the city should be rebuilt, it offers this intriguing thought: "Should other houses be constructed -- as houses in the city were a century ago -- on stilts?"

A letter to the editor in the Los Angeles Times makes a three-point case for not rebuilding New Orleans at all:
1) The levees could break again. (Yep.)
2) Lots of displaced people would rather settle in less dangerous spots with more jobs.
3) The money would be better spent helping to resettle people beyond the "below-sea-level danger zone."

Regardless, before any rebuilding can begin, the levees would need to be stabilized, strengthened and raised, and that could take a long, long time.

Unless, that is, the plans change to something more along the lines of Klaus Jacob's idea: In a Washington Post op-ed, Jacob raises the novel possibility of making New Orleans into an "American Venice" -- essentially a floating city, as least for as long as it takes for natural processes to raise the level of New Orleans by depositing sediment over the parts currently so far below sea level. Of course, this could only be done at a gigantic -- possibly unthinkable -- expense.

An editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution considers the unpleasant fact that "the nation's charitable and governmental infrastructures have been stretched thin by Katrina." We hope the destruction from Rita won't be nearly as devastating, the board writes, nonetheless "a major reconstruction and support will still be necessary." Assuming that is true, can we afford it? Even on top of the hundreds of billions of dollars we're already spending on Iraq and post-Katrina reconstruction?

We're talking about huge expenditures when our country is already is massive debt, David Broder warns, quoting one fiscal policy expert as saying, "I think it's 1925, and we're headed for 1929." And that was before Rita came into the picture.

"By putting Katrina on a credit card, Bush II lays the load on future generations," argues Lionel Van Deerlin in the San Diego Union-Tribune. Van Deerlin points out "the obvious -- that we should deal with the new national emergency on a pay-as-you-go basis. Yes, even if that means invoking the dreaded 't' word."

But, as we discussed earlier, the administration contends that all this can be done without raising taxes.

Is it wise to go so much deeper in debt to rebuild a city that is likely to be decimated again within a century or so -- possibly before we've even finished paying off the reconstruction?

By Emily Messner |  September 23, 2005; 12:20 PM ET  | Category:  Looking Ahead
Previous: Rebuilding After Katrina: Pork and Tax Cuts | Next: Hurricanes, Refineries and How Oil Prices Could Afftect Post-Katrina Reconstruction

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As a friend of the U.S. from a detached perspective, three things seem urgently clear:

1. Call in the Dutch "masters of the sea" to study, design, engineer and construct the necessary diking.

2. Appoint heads of federal agencies on merit/experience instead of political hacks/morons.

3. Stop the diversion of funds to congressmen/senator pet projects from vital projects.

If you can't cut out the shameful pork, how can you possibly cope with all the challenges you face?

Those of us across the world who love and admire the U.S. despair at what we see happening.

WDL

Posted by: WDL | September 23, 2005 11:55 PM

The Dutch are doubtless masters at building dikes, but they have never had to contend with a category 5 hurricane in the North Sea.

Posted by: DFP | September 24, 2005 01:20 AM

We need to look at an even larger picture. For many reasons Americans think they are above nature. We try to build anywhere at any cost and think we can look at our environment and laugh as we (in our minds) defeat. Katrina and Rita prove otherwise. Whether or not the massive, frequent hurricanes of late are humanly induced is in immaterial; they do tell us in no uncertain terms that we need to attend to basics before we venture off into new Disneylands. We have to ask ourselves: 'How many more Katrinas can we handle?' Then, the next question: How many more Katrinas will there be?
Look around. How secure is the infrastruscture in your state? Can your local, state and federal authorities make you feel secure? Sure, nothing in life is guaranteed, but if a government cannot secure your safety, why do continue to support it?

Posted by: DK, Seattle | September 24, 2005 03:43 AM

We need to look at an even larger picture. For many reasons Americans think they are above nature. We try to build anywhere at any cost and think we can look at our environment and laugh as we (in our minds) defeat. Katrina and Rita prove otherwise. Whether or not the massive, frequent hurricanes of late are humanly induced is in immaterial; they do tell us in no uncertain terms that we need to attend to basics before we venture off into new Disneylands. We have to ask ourselves: 'How many more Katrinas can we handle?' Then, the next question: How many more Katrinas will there be?
Look around. How secure is the infrastruscture in your state? Can your local, state and federal authorities make you feel secure? Sure, nothing in life is guaranteed, but if a government cannot secure your safety, why do continue to support it?

Posted by: DK, Seattle | September 24, 2005 03:47 AM

Since so many of the resettled victims of Katrina have expressed their intention not to go back to New Orleans, it would seem that a revised vision of rebuilding might be better than simply plowing on with sentimentality. The French Quarter is a gem this U.S. will not want to lose, as the port is a resource we need. The 'inner city' has much to gain from its present, and future, relocating.

Posted by: Ruth | September 24, 2005 05:20 AM

No one seems to take into account the government's own studies that forecast the Gulf to be 2.5 feet higher by 2050.

We are a nation of throwing away the old and embracing the new. The nation is ready to help when help is truly effective, but New Orleans is a city that no longer has a purpose beyond nostalgia.

Posted by: Jim Freeman | September 24, 2005 06:21 AM

Failure to rebuild New Orleans would signal to the world & the terrorists that the United States is spent ,its vital force dissipated in the feckless pursuit of profit & pleasure.

Posted by: James Horton | September 24, 2005 08:05 AM

My god, does this mean that once the beautiful Everglandes are developoed that this kind of disaster will happen there? Geez, I am so looking forward to shopping and living in the Lennar built retail centers and homes on the Everglades where the Keys begin. Can you imagine, running into Macy's for some nice new and stylish underpants and a pair of shoes, and then hitting Starbucks for a coffee and as you leave a quick drop into Ritz for some film in case you run across a Manatee crossing the Overseas Highway? How can we not desire this? Look, New Orleans built all over the place, goddamnit, covering hundreds of acres in the wetlants,with,the okay of the Army Corps of Engineers and the local politicians, so in rebuilding let's suggest they use pilings ... yes, it must be rebuilt .... but do the levees first and do them right ... Donald Trump can do it damn well. Thanks

Posted by: frank simmons | September 24, 2005 08:08 AM

So Jim Freeman says New Orleans is a city that no longer has a purpose beyond nostalgia, does he? His post does not show where HIS hometown is but it's clearly not New Orleans as mine is, so he's clearly not reeling from still hearing everyday almost four weeks out now and counting and usually in a near-at-breaking-point tone from another someone of everyone he's known all his life's voice on the phone telling of being displaced all at once and their lives all suddenly so completely shattered and there has been no more abrupt irrevocable fracturing and diaspora of hundreds of thousands of just-a-moment-ago intact American families now scattered along various roadsides across this great land ever in American history and for godssake Jim didn't you hear the national child registry center right there in Alexandria VA when last weekend they had a few seconds to show and announce each missing child a family reported or each orphan child found who yet has no one no known kin AND IT TOOK NOT ONE BUT THREE ENTIRE DAYS TO GET THROUGH THAT WHOLE LIST man, and I say to you Jim and Emily too: No one NOT from New Orleans has any least bit of moral authority to be saying anything at all right now as to when or whether or how New Orleans should be rebuilt. When the time is right, only those with bonafide New Orleans credentials should self-determine what should then be rebuilt where how if at all in New Orleans. OR all of you so blindly arrogantly northeast liberals or whomever feeling free to run your mouths however 24/7 some days it seems about how it's just not worth it to rebuild New Orleans when you have clearly have no idea in the world why YOU and the rest of the country so desperately need New Orleans then YOU are yourselves stripping from the remaining surviving people of New Orleans the very LAST thing many of these still-so-suffering human souls now possess: their basic human dignity (meanwhile death toll as of yesterday 9/23: 841 NO, 1078 Gulf Coast Katrina, and they haven't even drained the deepest-flooded parts of the city where the most elder bodies will be) -- but fyi the country as a whole could far easier sustain the loss of virtually all of the entire elected leadership currently meeting in the city of northern charm and southern efficiency than it could any of the people of the late great city of New Orleans whose people were scrappy quirky self-reliant yeah pretty poor some of them but even so living real sustainably like how could the DC metro area get by if 20%+ of its people didn't even have cars at all because the metro area had a good enough cheap enough reliable enough public transportation system that they didn't absolutely need them to run their daily lives? Even just considering the price of oil these days, even just strictly Darwinianly speaking now, am not so sure it was the brightest idea to abandon all those in the Superdome, you know the black babies and the white greatgrammas who died of dehydration altogether now (surely those babies were both "life" and "chosen" so one might have think that some one of anyone who's ever exercised breath, vitriol, money, rhetoric, and/or anger on EITHER side of the abortion debate in this country shoulda felt a tad of conscience twinging that these newest American citizens were dying then in their weeping mothers' arms USA! USA! and no one was helping their mothers prevent those their dear babies then-dreadful fates), and so really what we all saw in New Orleans was essentially a sacrificing of those who were walking the walk of modeling for the rest of the characteristically clueless DC metro area policymakers (whose strong suit is not usually known to be thinking outside the box) something of a more truly communitarian way to live: which if you saw the Post photo of the big white guys who finally arrived five days late when the Commander-in-Chief finally was forced to notice by aides still too nervous to tell him days later what had been going down then all week in New Orleans well those guys came out of the Dome pushing two little black kids in a cart and the white guy ahead of them was pushing a thin white-haired old white lady in a wheelchair that the photo caption said was 107 years old and walking tall right there beside her holding her hand was a black child looked to be a girl about six or seven. And that photo speaks the spirit of New Orleans and why the rest of the country especially that all inside-beltwayers so need to learn from the spirit of New Orleans (apparently still so unfathomably alien to the spirit of the inside-beltwayers). So Jim or anyone else who still needs to get a clue about this if Halliburton is allowed to no-bid rebuild New Orleans as it has Baghdad and the neocon social conservative planners now salivating at the thought of oh golly gee :) it's not everyday we have a completely blank slate to roll out all at once all our spanking-new-previously-untried-all-in-one-place-before ideas to create conservative cities in OUR own image and likeness, thank you very much, if they that is are allowed their conservative bangs for all those billions of bucks the President promised to rebuild New Orleans and they guess he can't back down now but really and they're grousing mainly because they don't realize that the President had to try to transform himself into that pale and wan imitation of LBJ as a vain attempt to wipe off his hands the blood-guilt he'd all too belatedly realized was right there all over them yes he finally did realize that the President on his own did realize that but by the time he did he also at the same moment had to have had the simultaneous shocking horrible bitter realization that it was also then just too late so that when he did finally realize THAT and really knew what he coulda done shoulda done even really wanted to do now but just didna anymore have the option to do now (there is that about death: the finality we all humans sometime somewhere come up against at first just to utter complete disbelief) but when the President finally reaized it was too late to do anything else about the direct life-destroying consequences of his belated attention to New Orleans the last week of his vacation at his ranch in Crawford that's when he could think of nothing else to do but throw money at the survivors of all those who could have still been around with us walking on God's green earth if only he'd thought to send the troops that he did send later only when it was too late just a little bit sooner because the President's finally realized and it's yes brought him up short that even he can't raise the dead and so many of those who wouldn't be dead today had he raised the one finger to help them sooner, made the one phone call to get out the troops sooner that he made eventually anyway but now as even HE the President (though apparently not yet all his men e.g. certainly not yet any still grousing about the President's attitude toward all that money) realizes he made unconscionably late and he's not quite sure yet even now how he's gonna talk about that now and in the future with HIS higher Father. So Jim, Emily, anyone, if all you're talking about not rebuilding is the neocons' planned Halliburton-rebuilt New Orleans, I'm likely with you all the way, sweethearts, don't bother, that may be new, but it wouldn't be New Orleans. As for New Orleans now W's Alamo that's a different story there's an American responsibility now there so much so that all Americans need to just step back reverently and let those grieving recover enough to decide how, when, where they might wish to rebuild their own homes if that is even possible and what "smart rebuilding" they who live there want to do wherever whenever it's clear it isn't and in the meantime all other good-hearted American sisters and brothers throughout this great land might spend some time profitably pondering some basic budget policy questions now begging to be answered. W helped make New Orleans look like Baghdad and hurt our national security by making us look worse than the "Third-World" countries that were offering to help OUR citizens in THEIR own American city when their OWN American President couldn't or wouldn't. But the President didn't take El Salvador's offer of troops to keep order on the streets of New Orleans and he didn't take Cuba's offer of humanitarian supplies for the people in the Superdome but HE the Commander-in-Chief who had sent 35-40% of the LA/MS National Guard to Iraq and 47% of LA's high-water rescue equipment and ALL of MS's satellite phones but one so that one didn't have anyone to talk to them did it very effectively that Armageddon-like morning on that flattened MS Gulf Coast? HE the Commander-in-Chief while turning down lots of proffered aid from lots of other good-hearted countries in the world community who couldn't STAND to see OUR citizens' suffering on THEIR TV screens he didn't get there himself in time to relieve his own suffering people when he's twice now before us all sworn by the most solemn oaths hand on the Bible before the Chief Justice of the United States of America that he would defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. So you wanna ask the American people now MR. President which they wanna rebuild Baghdad or New Orleans? Coz we sure don't have the money left after all your tax cuts and breathtaking run-up deficits and the billions spent to build a brand-spanking-new Goliath Homeland Security Dept. that failed its maiden voyage big-time as surely as did the Titanic because it sure didn't protect the homeland security of those American Louisiana and Mississippi homelands did it now Mr. Bush not nearly so well in fact as the fully-deployed home-grown local historic first-responder LA National Guard did all my life growing up there surviving Betsy in 65 and Camille in 69 there so we woulda done so much better if only you'd just left us alone and stayed out of our faces with your new Dept. of Homeland Security and left our trained first responders LA National Guard home where they belonged doing what is their day job at time of hurricanes anyway and that is protecting the people of LA as it always had been before and as THEY had always been able to do before this but no before this time you sent them to Iraq and elsewhere overseas so THEY couldn't protect us then in our American homelands when they were fighting wars for you overseas (in Afghanistand too I believe and no doubt also in other postings) and the real perfidy is that you didn't even put back an equal number of their 3000 on the ground right away before Katrina struck even just to replace those numbers of first responders you'd STRIPPED away from your fellow American Louisiana and Mississippi citizens before the storm stripped their historic first line of defense at home to serve as your infantry in Iraq for your off-budget war that was killing us before and now really is, really has, did starting 0dark630 8/29/05 in New Orleans and the body bags arent' all filled yet, not near. So now you Mr. Commander-in-Chief have given the American people a stark choice even while YOU are still trying to pretend you haven't: Baghdad or New Orleans, what's it gonna be?

Posted by: Cynthia Drew | September 24, 2005 08:14 AM

Hey Cynthia,
I'm wondering how many blisters you have on you fingers after your little keyboard tirade? I believe you missed the point Jim Freeman is trying to make. It's a simple one at that. He's simply asking if it is wise to spend good money after bad. Perhaps you may not have noticed, but amidst your rambling rhetoric, you are saying the same thing .

Posted by: Larry Czachor | September 24, 2005 09:41 AM

Have we forgotten the threat that terrorists pose to the United States? We can assume that terrorists have been observing the devastation that breached levees can cause and that they are hoping we rebuild New Orleans behind the levees. All the terrorists would have to do is use explosive devices to cause even worse devastation than the first time--this time without any warning!!

Posted by: Eric E. Danielson | September 24, 2005 09:44 AM

I understand the grief, shock, suffering, and justifiable anger of all the people who were forced to flee their homes, but I think that the folks who are being asked to pay $200+ billion to pay to rebuild New Orleans, including me and every other American taxpayer, have all the moral authority we need to have a say in whether that sundered city is rebuilt where it was, somewhere else, some other way, or not at all.

Posted by: Pablo | September 24, 2005 09:47 AM

For many decades our society has rebuilt after devastation in troubled zones whose troubles will continue: the Florida Keys, Miami, Puerto Rico, Galveston, etc, after hurricanes; San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc, after earthquakes and fires; various areas of volcanic activity; many parts of the West where people build houses in forest fire ecosystems. If abandoning areas that face recurring threats is to be the new principle, let it apply first to the rich white areas.

Posted by: Steven Flint | September 24, 2005 10:06 AM

The New Yorker's Talk of the Town comment on Katrina began, "New Orleans is an affront to Nature and Nature dose not take kindly to such affronts." And, aas global warming proceeds, bringing both more frequent storms and rising sea levels, nature's wrath will grow. Obviously, then, the esensible thing to do would be to abandon the city's present site and rebuild it on some higher, drier place. Or one might leave a kind of bare bones thinly populated port there but move its quaint French Quarter to, say, Las Vegas, which already has replicas of a number of
picturesque old cities such as Venice.

This, as I say, would be the sensible thing to do, which is presisely why it won't be done. The city will be rebuilt with higher and, hopefully, stronger dikes. And re-rebuilt after the inevitable next Katrina. Why? Partly because of plain old political/bureaucratic inertia but also because real estate interests won't permit it. They have too much invested in the big high rise buildings downtown which survived the storm. They want the gov't (i.e., us taxpayers) to rebuild the city's infrastructure at its (i.e., our) expense so that they can continue to do business as usual.

Posted by: Caspar | September 24, 2005 10:18 AM

Well rebuilding NO next to Las Vegas is patently absurd, not simply for the staggering ersazt/kitsch quotient, but because Las Vegas itself is also an affront to nature--a burgeoning metropolis in the middle of the desert. Simple madness at the other end of the spectrum--where NO has too much water, LV has none. It's sucking dry the Colorado river and the energy costs for all that air-conditioning are obscenely wasteful. Another typically moronically sited Great American City.

Posted by: justbrowzing | September 24, 2005 10:52 AM

I agree that NO ought not be written off and forgotten as a folly of American-kind. But I read that the levee system is more than 300 miles long. Any single break could spell disaster. It's been said that the Alamo fell because it's perimeter was too big for the defensive force to man properly. Put differently, the resources required to maintain the wall were more than they could manage. The Brit force at Rourke's Drift held off a force at similar odds with similar resources successfully. They were able to do this by collapsing their perimeter to a point where they could apply enough resources to prevent a catastrophic break in the wall.

NO's current levee system requires huge resources to stave off disaster. Does any other city have this requirement? It defies logic a bit and this fact won't escape the country at large, who will be funding this. Perhaps NO could be rebuilt with a smaller network of superior levees (cat 4 or 5 anyone?). Abandon the lower levels altogether? Keep the higher ground areas, the historic areas and the port?

Posted by: toshiro | September 24, 2005 11:12 AM

To the pundits who say NO has been around for 300 years: take a look at a really old map. It was a series of islands in a swamp. Tired of riding boats to the neighbor's house for a cup of sugar, locals started to build walls and drain the area. Not elevate it, just drain it! Now look at a NO metro map (Kenner and Metairie). Want to develop more real estate? Simple. Go out in a boat, build a wall, drain the water area, and presto, new subdivision.
I know the US needs to keep a port on the Mississippi, but move it to Baton Rouge, above the water line.

Posted by: Sunshine | September 24, 2005 12:02 PM

Port cities don't develop by accident. Currents are a very important factor in deciding our major port cities and we can't change the fact that New Orleans is a natural port city.

New Orleans can be a grand experiment for the United States. Think of the potential we have to test and build effective public transportation systems and innovative information technology systems integration into the city itself. This rebuilding process could be exciting if it is managed in a fiscally responsible way (i.e. Delay acknowledging that there might still be pork left to cut, and yes, even raising taxes).

Posted by: Tina A. | September 24, 2005 12:23 PM

Steven is correct that very many American cities are "illogically" sited per 21st-c. disaster planning thinking.

That's because most early human cities back to ancient times were sited in floodplains because lots of commerce then moved by sea.

At 289 years old, New Orleans' siting was before America's birth.

E.g., the swampy Washington DC metro area might also go underwater throughout for some weeks if it took a direct hit from the right kind of Category 3, 4, or 5 killer hurricane.

It really wasn't the best place to put a capitol city maybe by our disaster planning standards today either --

and it was planned to be there:

it's the relatively rare case of a capitol city planned from scratch for its site.

(So Q: if a hurricane took out DC, would everyone agree it would be stupid to rebuild it where it is now?)

FYI all my life in New Orleans all the levees in the system were carefully tended including during annual spring floodtime snow melts down in the Quarter at the spot where the river most sharply turns.

The local Guard knew e.g. how and where to sandbag the levees and watch the sandbags closely and between 19.5 and 21.5 at times everyone held their breaths and rushed to throw on more sandbags if the levee started even leaking anywhere or sometimes even just if they saw a stain.

The point is simple.

The United States' responsibility for the destruction of an American city exists here on a scale we have never before seen in this country anywhere anytime.

No, I can't say absolutely that HAD the 3000 LA Guard historic New Orleans hurricane-trained first responders with specific strategic knowledge of local terrain and levees NOT been deployed overseas and INSTEAD been deployed in New Orleans before Katrina hit that those particular levee spots absolutely would NOT have been breached then.

But neither can anyone else say absolutely that they would have.

That would defy logic.

Imagine if the months before 9/11/01 the President had somehow under his authority as Commander-in-Chief legally deployed 3000 locally-trained NYC firefighter first responders (whose day job is no more to be regular Army infantry fighting overseas than the National Guard's is).

What if when those Saudi terrorist-driven planes hit and took down the twin towers the consuming fires had then swept unabated because the guys who normally would have fought fire were gone and the President hadn't sent anyone at all much less anyone as trained and competent to take their place before the tragedy occurred?

Q: What if the ensuing fires had taken out all of Manhatten, reduced it to the wasteland the 180 square miles of New Orleans was, just by fire not water?

(Would any Americans be saying oh we can't afford to rebuild NYC, that was a stupid place for a city to be built anyway is a separate question, not going there now.)

But the common-sense answer to the Q is the opposite: that the 3000 Guard COULD have made the same life-saving difference to the City that they always had.

We'll never really know, will we?

Because thank God the President's finally learned THAT lesson, i.e. to get the Guard back to States before hurricanes in what should be the strength they historically had to deal with hurricanes before Iraq.

Just as importantly, the President pre-Rita apparently also learned to stage relief resources for immediate post-storm life-saving BEFORE the hurricane hits because, as 9/11 also taught everyone, most lives are saved in the first 48 hours -- then you mostly find corpses.

So as we all knew growing up in New Orleans you can't wait as Sec'y Chertoff did with Katrina for LA and MS to try to move help you haven't prepositioned for post-storm relief quickly afterwards on roads that may be gone.

Most importantly, from the President's and the Governor of Florida's and the Governor's of Texas's not only attitudes but also own concrete on-the-ground Guard deployments pre-Rita --

that were so different from the President's analogous help (which was zip) to either the Democratic female Governor of LA OR the Republican male Governor of MS pre-Katrina LA/MS last month --

we now know that all three of them, that is

1) the President and

2) the Governor of Florida and

3) the Governor of Texas

now strongly believe that having the National Guard fully deployed and prepositioned before hurricanes strike is very important.

It's also just common sense.

FYI I am sitting here in Miami and we got Katrina 84 hours before LA/MS did on Thursday night when it was a just-barely Cat. 1 storm (even till a few hours before landfall it was supposed to be just a heavy rain event, not even a hurricane at all, and that mainly in Fort Lauderdale over the weekend).

But F a.m. we woke up, and she had taken out 1.1 million households' power in south Florida (mostly in Miami-Dade) -- which took 10 days to restore here (long past Katrina' slam of LA/MS Gulf coast, folks down here were also sweating it out).

The President surely knew this from his brother if from nowhere else.

He besides had made the Fed disaster relief declaration in advance for LA/MS pre-Katrina as he did this week for FL/TX pre-Rita.

That is what allows the United States to send in the cavalry when a State looks like it's got something coming at it too big for the State to handle.

We also just got Rita this week before TX now did.

Everything here was closed M afternoon and Tuesday while we held our breaths to see would she come up to Miami-Dade again from Key West.

She did not.

But on the strength of the President's pre-storm disaster declarations alone this week pre-Rita (which turned out to be nothing here thank God and only a Cat 2 over the Keys) the Governor of FL had 2000 Guard and all kinds of prepositioned supplies waiting just out of harm's way at an appropriate six-hours' driving distance (from predicted landfall in the Keys) in West Palm Beach.

The Governor of TX got similar help and prepositioning and 5000 Guard called up pre-Rita predicted strike in TX today.

I'm glad the President has learned from being asleep at the switch for LA and MS, and gave in advance to FL and TX what he did not give to LA and MS at their time of gravest danger from predicted hurricanes.

I'm glad we don't have to see another American city needlessly destroyed before he learned that lesson.

And I'm glad that the country seems also to have learned the very costly lesson post-New Orleans that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

But the country as a whole is now saddled with the bill for New Orleans because the President did not do for LA and MS pre-Katrina what he clearly needed to, had notice of, and could easily have done.

And we now know that because the President did a lot more this week pre-Rita for FL and TX in advance of lesser storm threats for those states than Katrina was predicted to pose for LA and MS, especially for New Orleans.

The President had an even graver moral responsibility to have sent the same kind of help pre-Katrina to LA and MS as he sent this week pre-Rita to FL and TX because he knew he'd stripped both LA and MS pre-storm of 35-40% of their National Guard historic first responders to deploy overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other postings.

Never had LA and MS before had to face a major hurricane having been laid so defenseless by any President.

Posted by: Cynthia Drew | September 24, 2005 01:42 PM

This week's New York Review of Books has a great lead article on why it is simply an utter impossibility to not rebuild New Orleans from a pure shipping standpoint. It is worth checking out if you get a chance.

Posted by: Steven | September 24, 2005 02:07 PM

WHY REBUILD NEW ORLEANS: I live in NO. My house was severely flooded and I probably have lost it. my law practice is stalled.
I want to go home. I want to rebuild, but I want to rebuild smart.
Smart rebuilding is far easier than many think. condemn vast areas of the city below sea level. fill those areas in and raise the ground level to above sea level. they did it in Galveston after a hurricane devastated it. the first floor of tall buildings became basements.
building codes should be changed to require at least basic hurricane proofing to withstand a CAT 5, or do not issue building permits.
Raise the levees like they did in Holland.
these steps will insure NO withstands a future CAT 5 and in the rebuilding process no will become a world class City.
waiting to go home,
harry hoskins

Posted by: harry Hoskins | September 24, 2005 02:23 PM

After all the nonsense we've withstood about building institutions and structures that will help Iraqis and Afghanis come into the modern Western world, it appears that rebuilding New Orleans is just a little too hard. We create debt at previously unthinkable levels absent a world war, but we think this might just be a little too expensive.

If there's any reason for the federal government to exist that doesn't compel the rebuilding and strengthening of an American city destroyed, I don't know what that is.

Posted by: John Thompson | September 24, 2005 02:54 PM

I have to admit that it will be better not to rebuild new orleans for Americans' sake. Major reason for that is as mentioned above, New Orlean is below sea level and it can flood again if the levees fail. The levees are not that reliable. It would be much better to construct a city elsewhere safe or expand some part of city to take in all those people.
I wish Bush would realise it. HE is trying to make amends of what he has done but it will only pain Americans economically and mentally. I am still quite enraged with Bush's reaction and preparation for this disaster u know...
stupid white man as Michael Moore described him.

Posted by: Inyoung | September 24, 2005 03:41 PM

The people can be relocated.
America is vast and can absorb them fairly easily. For the poor folks it is hard to imagine any worse city than New Orleans.
There is a great sentimental attachment to New Orleans because of the party atmosphere, but that can be recreated anywhere there is enough cheap booze and sexual tolerance.
Other than sentiment there is no reason for people to live there as opposed to, for example, moving inland above sea level. A container port and logistics facilities are useful, but vast neighborhoods of poor people with no future (because their neighborhoods offered none) should not be reconstructed.
If we are going to rebuild a city, why not start fresh? Louisiana has plenty of room inland. Deliberately building below sea level and between river and lake was a poor decision, and replacing the vulnerable mess would be absurd.
Generations of poor planning (the millions spent to land the Saints would have built better levees or paid for an effective evacuation support organization) by Louisiana officials allowed NO to be vulnerable, then bungled the evacuation.
This city itself is the problem, and I hope Rita finishes off the wreckage. Not from malice, but because New Orleans isn't necessary.

Posted by: Sobac Retok | September 24, 2005 04:04 PM

To suggest that New Orleans not be rebuilt suggest a sad igorance of the history of this country, the importance of the city to the commerce of this country and that the proponant has never been there or if so, never had the sense to get off Bourbon St.

Posted by: Paula Dlugosz | September 24, 2005 05:10 PM


$200 billion to rebuild a city for half a million people? That's $400,000 per person. Ask any of the New Orleans folks if they'd rather have a crummy house in a cool city again or $2,000,000 for their family of five to go somewhere else.

Posted by: Bill | September 24, 2005 09:00 PM

WaPo, Atlanta Constitution, LA Times, Az Rep, San Diego rag...YGBSM!! That's what N.O. needs...the collective wisdom of the individual ignorance of the uninvolved to wax profound on what to do with a thing called N.O. as if it is a can of soup that can be placed in another cupboard. You idiots. You ultra-maroons, you imBECiles...just stay out of it.

Caspar, the city will be rebuilt with higher and, hopefully, stronger dikes. And re-rebuilt after the inevitable next Katrina. Why? Partly because of plain old political/bureaucratic inertia but also because real estate interests won't permit it. They have too much invested in the big high rise buildings downtown which survived the storm. Those sound like great reasons to me. If I own a 60 story building in N.O.. I'm putting it back into operation...not bulldozing it. What are you smoking?

Cynthia Drew, riveting Joyceian free verse notwithstanding, you're an arrogant idiot of the first degree. You ought to be thanking your lucky stars the MSM spent so much time on downtown N.O. so those poor souls could be rescued. Drive East a couple of hours and then North an hour. Tell those folks STILL, to this day, stuck in their destroyed houses with no major TV coverage or federal help how bad it is for the folks evacuated and getting three hots and a cot. I don't think your poetic waxings will get such a warm reception. You arrogant, blind fool.

Harry you want to rebuild different, great...I'm with you...get off your ass and do it. Battle the insurance companies and get what they owe you just like everybody else...good luck. But don't wait for the Feds to solve your problems...do it yourself. You can't tell me that N.O. didn't bring in the bed tax etc. not to have a better looking downtown area. You squandered it..admit it. N.O. partied-on and kicked the can down the road on modernization. Now the bill has come due. It's going to take work but the money's there because the port and refineries are there. You just need to clamp down a bit on the fat cats. You need to structure the city's finances better. It's your city...take ownership of it.

Sobac...what a simpleton you are. Like these people are part of a big LEGO box that some beltway wonks can just plop anywhere and build into Trumanville. Have you been inland and above sea level in Southern LA? Do you even have a clue why N.O. is where it is? Not needed? YGBSM! Have you no knowledge of American physical and economic geography? Building below sea level was a poor decision? Like N.O. was part of some master plan begun in the Reagan era.

Em Messner...get a real job.

Posted by: Willy | September 24, 2005 10:02 PM

Should NEW construction be permitted in any region that is high risk??

Should a new house be built in Miami that is historically just as likely to be flooded by a hurricane as NO?

What is the point of not allowing people to rebuild in NO when they will just relocate and build in another disaster prone area of the country...?

The problem with disaster planning based on PAST events is that it makes you ignore all the other areas of risk (just ask Bush: He was so fixated on teh risk of terrorism disasters that he was blinded to the risk of hurricane disasters).

Posted by: Mike S. | September 24, 2005 10:08 PM

Most US cities along either East or West Coasts are high risk for either flooding or earthquakes for disaster planning purposes.

How to plan better for new construction in any of them is different question than what help Mississippi, Louisiana citizens should expect to get rebuilding their cities and homes after delayed US disaster response increased loss of life, suffering, property damage in their areas.

Also doubt anyone still alive east of New Orleans even if in destroyed house with no federal help yet would say he was worse off than any of hundreds dead still being found, counted in New Orleans.

Posted by: Kathy E. | September 24, 2005 11:47 PM

I'm at least 5th generation American on my father's side and on his father's side, all those ancestors are buried in New Orleans. I don't live there now, but want it built smarter. That means asking the people who live there now what they want. Filling in the land that is below sea level and making those really low areas into a park makes sense to me. The oldest part of the city is already built on higher ground. That's why the Garden District and French Quarter do so well. My brother was at Tulane when Betsy came through. Nobody said things like, "don't build New Orleans." All the same places flooded. Many people will choose not to return and that's a great opportunity for them. For those who can return, they certainly should and please take the time to think about how to rebuild your city smarter. All of coastal Louisiana is in need of repairs. The idea of making New Orleans like Venice is funny. Venice in the wetlands, so there can be snakes and alligators in the canals? Don't think that's a good idea. It works in Florida in places, but don't see New Orleans as a floating city.

Posted by: Lisa J. | September 25, 2005 12:10 AM

You couldn't find a more worthy project to spend money on then restoring New Orleans. There are some as good, but none better. Particularly after five years of this train wreck of an administration and its sole mission of facilitating graft to already filthy rich corporations and individuals, while restricting more and more the spirit that makes America great, and turning it into a one-dimensional caricature of itself -- a bad right-wing one-liner. America needs the spirit and music of New Orleans now more than ever. Rebuild it whatever the cost -- then flood Washington DC.

Posted by: John F. | September 25, 2005 12:18 AM

Lisa J -- 1) If you fill in the dirt, won't it just sink like it had before?

2) Why should the federal gov't be obligated to rebuild NO, especially if they're going to do everything the same? Perhaps we should write a clause "this is the last time". If NO gets waylaid again, LA can fix it. LA needs to seriously get onboard with planning the new NO. Looking at the history pattern, total apathy. Don't rely on the Feds next time, please! It's LA's deal -- make sure it gets done.

Posted by: toshiro | September 25, 2005 12:31 AM

I am a diplaced New Orleanian who lost his house in the flood. I've been floating around the country from place to place since being washed out. Currently I'm in the Washington D.C. area.

Here's why I think we should re-build New Olreans. The rest of this country really sucks. I had no idea what a homogenous nightmare you people live in. I would propose that New Orleans and possibly the state of Louisiana secede from this nightmare you people call America and conduct the reconstruction ourselves.

What those of you opposed to our city's reconstruction obviously don't understand is that outside of California and Texas, Louisiana is possibly the most important state to the county's economy. 18% of the country's energy supply runs through Port Fourchon alone...25% overall is supplied by the state. Over 30% of the fisheries are supplied by our state. Look around the room you're in right now....I gauranty you something in that room came through the Port of New Orleans.

That's the just the economic side...the cultural contributions of our city and state to this country are unquantifiable. So I'm all for secession. Then you won't have to worry about how it's going to effect your taxes. We could finance our own reconstruction in ten years with the tax income we currently send to federal government. Our problem is that we have serviced this country's most basic needs since before there was an America, at the expense of our own health, wealth, and safety. From the petro-chemical plants which sit behind that 300 mile levee wall which create the plastics you need to package your food, to the pipes in Port Fourchon which pump the precious life blood of our economy and allow you to drive your gas guzzling SUV down to Applebees to eat the shrimp we've harvested from our "uninhabitable" wetlands, to the cheap IKEA chairs your fat asses sit on which came through our shipping lanes from Asian markets.....if we broke away from America and taxed the natural resources which we supply to this country, we'd have the cash to build 100 foot levee walls instead of having to contend with surburbanite idiots who question why we should rebuild a city which has contributed more to the heart and soul of this country than any other. An America without a New Orleans is a soulless wasteland of strip malls, bad restaurants, shitty corporate music (excluding Austin), cookie cutter townhomes, and greed driven attitudes which think life is about acquiring a larger quantity of crap they don't really need. An America without Louisiana is just plain screwed. So for those of you living above sea level, pretending you understand the importance of New Orleans, or lack thereof, to this country, for those of you pretending you know the engineering challenges of our levee system, for those of you pretending you know the "bottom line" on the cost of reconstruction....let me assure you that you know nothing of which you speak. There are precious few cities in this country which in sheer economic value could justify the cost of being rebuilt after near or total destruction....New Orleans is one.

Posted by: Jason Berry | September 25, 2005 10:50 PM


After reading Cynthia Drew's impassioned rhetoric,I would suggest that she try sense instead of emotion. If she feels that no person not in NO should have a right to comment on the desirability of spending multiple billions to rebuild her city, I would agree as long as NO puts up the money. However, once we start devoting finite national resources to that effort, it then becomes the duty of all of us to decide if such a massive expense is worth the effort. Her analogy of rebuilding NYC after 9/11 ignores the fact that the attack occasioning the expense was not likely to be a recurrent event. The money spent rebuilding a city which is at constant and increasing risk should be spent only if has been a cost/benefit analysis; is it worth expending very major funds to save a place which frankly is (and for the foreseeable future will continue to be) at increasing risk because of rising sea levels and the decreasing protections afforded by shrinking wetlands? When considerng this, we have to consider whether to take on such a massive and ongoing project, balancing the benefits with the ongoing and ever-increasing expenses involved.

Posted by: potaboc | September 29, 2005 04:47 AM

Ok ya`all don't rebuild New Orleans, cut it loose, let it go its own way. That is only fair, if the country doesn't want to pay for New Orleans and the rest of coastal Louisiana then cut it loose. From what I can see southern Louisiana doesn't need the rest of the country. Heck, they got farming, cattle, shrimp and fish, great music, hundred's of years of culture, a vital seaport, so they don't really need us, yeah, they even have oil . . . wait a minute, if they have oil maybe we should reconsider. I mean if we cut Louisiana loose we may have to invade the next day to protect our national interests. Say, do you think Ray Nagin is hiding something in that Superdome? Some sort of toxic-biological-weapon-of-mass-destruction? I heard he wouldn't let certain federal authorities into the city the first few days, that he used some sort of confusion ruse, at least that is what Mike Brown was saying earlier this week, that Nagin and Blanco had conspired against him. Hmmm, we may have to invade. It should not be that hard, as their main military commander has already abdicated and 15% of his troops have deserted. And we already have troops there, yeah they arrived a week after Katrina. Besides, I think the people would welcome U.S. forces as liberators. Hey, maybe we could get them to take the same deal we offered to the folks in Bagdad. Of course you know they would have to adopt a constitution, they have funny ideas about the law down there; I heard they rely on Napoleon or some other dead dictator for their code of justice. What's more they call their counties "parishes." We may be dealing with some sort of entrenched clerical ideaology of hard liners. I also heard that there is a religous minority of Baptists who live in the northen part of the state; do you think they might get angry and send out squads of suicide pirogue bombers to disrupt efforts to rebuild?

I don't know boys, it looks like a mess to me, better off just cutting the whole dam state loose and let them get on their own way, we need them, but we don't need the oil that much, we got Iraq.
Emmett Dwyer, Trenton NJ -home of the Brookly Bridge and the place that Washington marched to the night he crossed the Delaware

Posted by: Emmett Dwyer | September 29, 2005 03:58 PM

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