That’ll be $300 billion dollars, please.

The time for excuses and foot dragging on the part of the federal government has passed. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the tremendous loss of property and displacement of the citizenry of New Orleans was not the result of a mere natural disaster.

Using data about the soil along the 17th Street Canal — data obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, data that was used to design the levees along the 17th Street Canal — and plugging that data into engineering equations used to determine whether a wall is strong enough to withstand the force of rising water, Team Louisiana found that sheet piling driven to the depths indicated on the Corps’ plans for the levee would not resist 14 ft. of water, but would fail at 11 to 12 ft. of water. Further, they determined that the sheet piling was not driven to the design depth of 17.5 feet, but that it was driven to only 10 ft.

Investigators have been puzzled by the corps’ design since it was made public in news reports. They said it was obvious the weak soils in the former swampland upon which the canal and levee were built clearly called for sheet piles driven much deeper than the canal bottom. It was not a challenging engineering problem, investigators said.

Prochaska said a rule of thumb is that the length of sheet piling below a canal bottom should be two to three times longer than the length extending above the canal bottom.

“That’s if you have uniform soils, and we certainly don’t have that in the New Orleans area,” he said. “It kind of boggles the mind that they missed this, because it’s so basic, and there were so many qualified engineers working on this.”


First, they develop a design that is fundamentally and obviously flawed. Second, they fail to even implement the flawed design to spec. Third, the flaw is so obvious that at least two engineering firms and two divisions of the Corps of Engineers (a minimum of 4 points of review) missed it.

Call me a radical, I suppose, but I think someone has a lot of ‘splaining to do. And I think that the federal government has a lot of money to shell out: to homeowners, business owners, residents, and yes, even to insurance companies. Because this disaster was incredibly unnatural and very preventable. It shouldn’t matter whether anyone in the area affected by the 17th Street Canal levee had flood insurance or not, because their damages were the result of negligence by multiple government agencies and multiple independent engineering firms.

Congress needs to get off their bribe-fattened asses and pony up the cash, pronto.

34 Comments so far

  1. cw (unregistered) on November 30th, 2005 @ 1:26 pm


  2. Cap'n Ken (unregistered) on November 30th, 2005 @ 2:20 pm

    I think it’s been clear that at least on the 17th Street canal, the problem was design/construction. The magnitude of human failure gets more shocking with each report, however.

    I’m curious, though, about the relationship between the Corps and the city and state. Does the Corps essentially serve as a contractor for the local governments in which their projects are built?

    Surely if the Corps had a bad design and they oversaw bad construction, they carry blame here. But do you think ultimately the city and/or state failed in not ensuring that what was being built to protect New Orleans was adequate?

    I lived in Louisiana long enough to know what a poor job the state, parishes and cities do – basically in everything – so I always go with the assumption that when something’s screwed up, it probably happened locally.

    None of this is to say that property owners shouldn’t be compensated for these failures and obviously the feds are the ones with the money … but I think there’s danger in always blaming the feds and always wanting the feds to fix things.

  3. Joe B. (unregistered) on November 30th, 2005 @ 3:19 pm

    Certainly the local levee boards share some of the blame. And it’s obvious that too many politicians at the state level aren’t willing to step up to the plate and create a regional levee board that could potentially function more efficiently than parish boards.

    I’m not an advocate of the feds fixing things. I want the responsibility for that to fall back on locals. But, I want the feds to commit to providing compensation for the neglect on the part of the Corps for the levee failure. Even if every subsequent inspection failed to find flaws in the levee, those flaws were still there, and the levees’ failure was designed in. Ultimately, the responsibility for the design flaw and the subsequent lack of construction oversight falls on the Corps of Engineers.

    I’m also not going to be surprised when the industrial canal failures are ultimately laid at the Corps feet. I could be wrong, but I believe that levee boards are mostly just tax collectors and that the real authority behind the levee system is the Corps of Engineers.

  4. Jonah (unregistered) on November 30th, 2005 @ 3:21 pm

    The Corps is legally charged with the design, construction and maintenaance of the levees through a complex and myriad group of laws including acts of congress and executive orders. They use subcontractors but ultimately the legal burden falls on them. If the final finding is that the levees failed due to human error, the Corps is responsible as dicatated through the letter of the law.

  5. dan (unregistered) on November 30th, 2005 @ 8:25 pm

    All of these government agencies are somewhat at fault. Local,state,the feds,the corps, the levee boards, all of them bear responsibility for the collapse. Doesn’t everyone remember the Mardi Gras fountain? If memory serves the thing cost millions to restore with the city and levee boards coming up with most of the cash. And shouldn’t have someone known that parts were built on land as dense as quicksand?

  6. Santa (unregistered) on December 1st, 2005 @ 7:02 am

    Bitch and moan! Bitch and moan! No wonder the rest of the country has forgotten about you-all! Hindsight is always 20-20; where were all you engineering experts when these levees were built or planned? Move on with your lives!!!The whining on this blog is amazing! you-all must get it from your mayor! Oh, yeah, and let the rest of the country pay to rebuild and bail us out – we gave at the office! Have a merry…

  7. Joe B. (unregistered) on December 1st, 2005 @ 8:17 am

    Thanks! I will bitch and moan, bitch. You know, it’s not like we’re a small to medium sized town on the upper Mississippi so in love with it’s views of the river that we tell the Corps of Engineers to go fuck itself, we don’t want a levee. If we were, you wouldn’t hear the complaining. Instead, we’re the linchpin of commerce on the MIssissippi River that a large portion of the country depends on to move imports and exports in and out of the country. We’re not so collectively foolish that we just frolic like grasshoppers with winter approaching, never doing anything to prepare.

    But, when the federal government assumes jurisdiction over the planning and execution of the levee structures we depend on, it’s not unreasonable to expect that the damage caused by the failure of those structures be covered by the federal government when that failure is due to engineering and construction negligence rather than the actual severity of a weather event.

    So yes, there’s going to be some legitimate bitching from people who work for every paycheck, pay their taxes, vote in every election, and who believe that we were victimized by bureaucrats, not by a hurricane.

  8. kc2ixe (unregistered) on December 1st, 2005 @ 8:43 am

    The biggest problem isn’t that the Feds messed up – but you say the Feds should hand over the money – that really translates into “all the taxpayers should hand over the money”

    Sigh – call it 300 Billion – and 300 million people in the US. That’s $1000 out of the pockets of every man, woman and child in this country

  9. Joe B. (unregistered) on December 1st, 2005 @ 10:36 am

    Yes, the biggest problem IS that the feds messed up. $300 billion is a round number, but when you compare it to what we’ve asked for in the past to help insure something like this didn’t happen by trying to solve the wetlands problem ($14 billion, I think), it’s meant to illustrate that it’s more cost effective to properly protect New Orleans than to fix a disaster of this magnitude.

    Next to other budget items in the federal budget, $300 billion dollars is rather small. We have blithely run a deficit bigger than this more than once, I believe. Considering the number of people affected by failed and flawed levees in New Orleans to the number of people affected by the 9/11 deaths and the relative sums of money expended at the federal level, the levee failure payments start to look like a bargain. And the levee failure can more easily be demonstrated to be the fault of an agency of the federal government than the 9/11 attacks.

    The levee failures here should give people in other parts of the country that depend on the federal government to oversee the design and building of essential infrastructure pause and a reason to demand access and review of that infrastructure.

  10. Santa (unregistered) on December 1st, 2005 @ 5:06 pm

    Your claim of being the linchpin (more like lynch-pin after reading some really racist comments on this site)of commerce appears to be overstated based on shipping tonnage stats! But it does explain the arrogant attitudes of some bloggers at this site! Despite what you-all think, you’re not that important to the rest of the country!
    But you-all certainly have great big brass ones to think that the feds have to increase the deficit so that the rest of us “workers,taxpayers,and voters” have to bail you out! And what’s with the comparisons to 9/11? It’s apples to oranges (unless you-all consider Katrina a terrorist!)BTW, calling Santa a “bitch” puts your name on the wrong list for Christmas – don’t expect much!

  11. Ann (unregistered) on December 1st, 2005 @ 5:39 pm

    It’s the location of, as well as the products that come thorugh, the port of N.O. which make it the linchpin, “Santa,’ not tonnage. Can we all say petroleum, children? I thought we could.

    N.O.’s strategic location has made it pivotal in the economies of the Americas (not just the U.S., but Canada, Mexico, the Cairribean and South America) for, what now, 350 years? Even if you don’t care about N.O., the rest of the nation, and the world, does.

    As for the levees, my husband worked for the Corps at one point and with the Corps on many occasions since – they are notoriously wrong on every level of planning and design. They are top-heavy with chiefs and the competent Indians quit in disgust. The Corps is ultimately at fault – it is the Corps’ responsibility to design, construct and maintain those floodwalls and levees. The Corps failed. The federal government vis-a-vis the Corps should pay not only compensation, but for the construction of a properly designed flood control system. This is the “accountablility” administration – they have a moral, ethical and legal obligation to hold themselves accountable.

  12. Daisy (unregistered) on December 1st, 2005 @ 6:10 pm

    have similar reports been done for the London St. canal? I know the pumping stations around there sucked for ages, but I’m curious, and mad as hell with what’s being revealed so far. thanks for posting it

  13. Santa (unregistered) on December 1st, 2005 @ 8:04 pm

    Ann, thanks for helping to make my point about arrogance! Viability of shipping ports is based on tonnage, no matter what the product!BTW, here’s some info from a report done by the University of Delaware concerning alternatives to using the port at New Orleans in case of a destructive hurricane.
    “Other transportation effects may be increased use of alternate routes and modes–truck, rail, air–to move cargoes that would have gone through these ports and waterways. For example, barged grains may be diverted to Houston via the Gulf Intercoastal Water Way (GIWW) or diverted to the Northwest by rail (and truck); or the grains may be stored for later sale depending on storage capacity and crop. However, the maritime transportation system may be able to adapt with limited service depending on how grain cargoes are handled. For example, midstream transfer of grains is common in New Orleans and may not require dockside grain elevators. Similarly, petroleum imports and transfers may be rerouted to locations in the Northeast, where they are most needed in the winter months and where regional refining capacity may be able to meet demand while the Gulf Coast refineries recover.”

  14. Santa (unregistered) on December 1st, 2005 @ 8:28 pm

    (Sorry, not enough space on previous post.)

    Your exaggerated claim of “N.O.’s strategic location has made it pivotal in the economies of the Americas (not just the U.S., but Canada, Mexico, the Cairribean and South America)” doesn’t quite jive with reality; shipping stats prove differently. New Orleans was toejam before the flood and will be even if it gets rebuilt! Get the chips off your shoulders and get a life! Your whining and complaining is getting real old and quite annoying!

  15. ashley (unregistered) on December 1st, 2005 @ 10:50 pm

    Santa, you are a troll.

    Freeze to death in the dark.

  16. Rich (unregistered) on December 2nd, 2005 @ 12:20 am

    So, SantaTroll:

    Something to recall: New Orleans was a city long before the U.S became a country and sent a bunch of Anglo rednecks here to screw things up.

    And it’s as simple as this: The feds wanted a navigable waterway from the Midwest to the Gulf. To achieve this goal, the government commissioned levees to trap the river in its then-current banks. The government then assured residents and businesses that New Orleans would henceforth be a safe, reliable place to live. Politics had tamed nature. Man had Calmed the Waters. Silly residents for taking the word of government officials.

    Those levees, in addition to normalizing trade, also destroyed the wetlands along the coast by impeding siltation. The river now runs through an elevated bed, and the lack of periodic flooding only made matters worse. But that levee system was implemented to protect us from the storms and the lake as well– since our wetlands shrank and became less and less effective at doing so.

    It wasn’t local and state government that built these levees. Take a look at the maps of the city before the feds got involved and assured us of the security of the city. That’s when the city began to spead out.

    For centuries this country has profitted from our existence: our oil and gas production, our shipping, and our culture– music, food, literature. We are, and have produced, what is unique in American culture.

    Sooner or later the country will pay the price for its inaction. Pay now, or pay 50 times the cost later, or freeze in the dark, coffeeless, produce-less, eating chain restaurant food and listening to the latest canned garbage out of Nashville. Oh, and whining about the price of fuel. Your choice.

    If it comes to the last possiblity it would serve people like you right. But don’t say we didn’t warn you. We’re used to people not listening to us. (“Learn to pace yourself with the drinking, buddy” or “It’s not smart to wear Mardi Gras beads into Bywater at night when it’s not Mardi Gras time,” or “Gee, Miss Cute Visitor, you might be sorry later if you flash that dude with the camera for beads…”)

    Fortunately, however, I have to believe your view is the minority.

  17. Gulf Aaron (unregistered) on December 2nd, 2005 @ 1:12 am

    Yes – it’s a Federal levee system that the Corps is ultimately responsible for – but let’s not neglect to mention that it’s the nation’s oil and gas needs that drove the historic and ongoing oil & gas impacts on the coastal marsh that used to buffer our city from storms such as these. Now we’ve got navigation canals stretching across the horizon

  18. ashley (unregistered) on December 2nd, 2005 @ 4:57 am

    Right, Aaron.

    That’s why we need to tell the Corps to go far away and get the Dutch in here…because that’s how they do it.

    Multiple techniques: gates, levees (or dikes if you’re Dutch), sand bars, jetties, wetland buffers, all of it. Stuff that isn’t big and grand that the Corps can’t stick a plaque on…stuff that just works.

  19. Joe B. (unregistered) on December 2nd, 2005 @ 12:04 pm

    And it isn’t as though Louisiana hasn’t been trying to get funds to do this stuff, either. Just last year our request for money for wetlands restoration was trimmed to next-to-nothing and the request to bring our energy royalties in line with other gulf states was ignored.

    And, for the record, it’s not arrogance. Very few people in SE Louisiana are under the impression that Louisiana and New Orleans are politically efficient or that we do nearly everything better than everyone else. But most of us are aware that there are things we do better than anyone else. And we take pride in that. What you’re seeing is anger. Anger that our city, our property, our lives, and our living, has effectively been stolen by negligence. I dare say very few people in this country would just suck it up with an “oh well” and a “shit happens” rather than work on fixing it. Bitching and moaning is constructive in its own way and has its own place in the process. Venting our frustrations is not only natural, but necessary. If all that we were doing was venting our frustrations, that would be unhealthy. But New Orleans isn’t doing that; you can drive through most areas of the city and find people in every block doing what they have to do to make things better.

  20. Jackie M. (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2005 @ 12:30 am

    I’ve got an idea and I hope it will shut up Santa. Let’s blockade the river and charge all the ships and barges if they want in or out past New Orleans. Then we can put a meter on the gas pipelines, sort of a pay as you go system. Won’t take long to finance the proper rebuilding of the levees and then we can all go home again.
    Since New Orleans is nothing but toejam, I’m sure no one will mind these minor inconveniences for the rest of time.

  21. Reality Check (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2005 @ 12:30 am

    I have been reading this blog for a while now, and I thought I would add my 2 cents.

    Sir, take your demands and stick em. Your city is dysfunctional, just as it was before Katrina. Never in my life have I seen a more pathetic band of looting barbarians that I did last September. In between bouts of rape, murder, and looting, y’all took time out to make righteous demands of the rest of the country. Interesting how, in a modern American city, there can be tens of thousands of people who can’t scrape together enough money for a car rental or a Greyhound ticket. Nor do they have the basic skills to organize car pools or, once they decided to remain, to store some fresh water in bottles to last for a few days.

    I see now that, in keeping with the looter mentality of your populace, you now have put a dollar figure on your demands. If you think that the feds are going to hand over 300 B to a bunch of organized burglars, forget it. They have dispensed a lot of aid, for which you have expressed no thanks. Cities and private charities around the country have donated billions – and you have yet to post a kind word on their behalf. That is about all you are gonna get.

    Finally, as to some posters’ suggestions here that we all benefit from the region’s oil and gas supplies, I say – that is true. Those narrowly focused industries have helped the country, and you can be sure that they will recover, with federal aid if necessary. But the tens of thousands of parasitic welfare cases that made NOLA the crime capital of the US have never helped the country as a whole. Never paid taxes. Never served in the military. We owe them nothing except our pity and contempt.

  22. ann (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2005 @ 9:25 am

    “They have dispensed a lot of aid, for which you have expressed no thanks. Cities and private charities around the country have donated billions – and you have yet to post a kind word on their behalf.”

    You must not have read this blog, or others like it, or the Times-Picayune, or the Memphis COmmercial Appeal or any other paper running stories about Gulf Coast residents very closely. A sincere “thank you” does not have be a sniveling grovel, Reality Check. Besides, most people who gave out of the goodness of their hearts neither expected nor required any thanks, but it was, and is, still profferred.

    Oh and BTW, I believe it was the “parasitic welfare cases” of the 256th Louisiana National Guard Brigade that were unavailbale to help with rescue operations becuase they were in Iraq.


  23. winewench (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2005 @ 10:58 am

    I am a relocated NewOrleanian and I have a suggestion. How about collecting money from all the people who took money from FEMA and the Red Cross who didn’t lose anything? I know several. I also know they have joined you in bitching about not getting the funds necessary to rebuild. I didn’t expect anything for a natural disaster. I was living below sea level and we would joke about how one day the ocean would come in and take over. It did and it has and it would have regardless of the levee system. The destruction of the wetlands was too great. We have been getting money for a disaster, natural or unatural. Does one scream that it’s not enough or does one except the help thats offered and keep going? People all around me have been giving or are giving all they can and all I have seen are people on TV or in the news whining about how it’s not enough. There are people, houses, schools, jobs that offered to help and what happened where I am was that they were refused. The fact that conditions are being put on all the generousity does make NewOrleanians look spoiled and arrogant. Some type of City is going to be rebuilt. With this magnitude of destruction it takes time and some of it will just evolve. What is the issue here? It’s not what you invision? It’s not what you want? Do you replace slums with slums to house the poor? Do you sink the money in the Quarter? Do you run a deficit so high that our kids will be paying for a City they may never see? Have you all really thought about what type of plans will work and whether you have the means to carry them out with or without help? Alot of people weren’t doing a thing before this happened. I feel very sad that it took a disaster this large to make Louisiana take a serious look at their problems. And all I see from out here are whining, bitching and moaning. PS By the way, the idea about the river and charging? The river pilots were doing just that. It’s not a new idea.

  24. EVAN (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2005 @ 12:04 pm

    Why do I carry the unfortunate prejudice that “Reality Check” is holed up in some basement in Bitter End, Long Island or Borington, Wisconsin and the only access he has to the outside world is his computer and Fox News? A piece of unsolicited advice for Reality Check: Get out of the cave and see that there is more out there than the shadows you see on those walls that surround you.

  25. Reality Check (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2005 @ 12:29 pm

    To Ann:

    Obviously, you are the product of the NOLA public schools, since your post lacks any hint of logical flow. The fact that components of the National Guard were serving in Iraq has nothing to do with the fact that NOLA was a breeding ground for a parasitic welfare culture. If the good citizens of NOLA had a different culture, they would have made efforts to take the most basic self-help measures that could have alleviated much suffering. That includes: keeping emergency funds on hand so that procuring a bus ticket or car rental is not an impossibility, organizing a car pool out of town, or volunteering to drive the hundreds of city buses that were available for evacuation. Oh, and don’t loot and rape your neighbors.

    As for the lack of thank-yous for the charitable giving to date, I didn’t suggest that people gave because they wanted to be thanked. Indeed, most givers will never even meet their beneficiaries. But the fact that you and others on this blog can’t muster up any real gratitude without feeling like you are sacrificing your pride again points to an entitlement mentality that is prevalent in welfare dependents. Productive, healthy people have no problem expressing heart-felt thanks, and don’t feel like they are groveling.

    To Evan:

    Nice to know that you have so little in the way of defense that you have to resort immediately and exclusively to arguments ad hominem. FWIW, I live in a large, culturally diverse city, have friends, family, and am productively employed. I don’t live in a cave. In fact, it is because I interact with a lot people in my home town and elsewhere living their lives productively and decently that I saw the contrast with the 50% of NOLA residents who disgraced themselves last Sept.

  26. Joe B. (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2005 @ 1:45 pm

    Reality Check, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Thanks for playing.

  27. Laurie (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2005 @ 6:21 pm

    So let’s blow ’em all up again.

    We still need to drop those rigs and create a reef system.


  28. Laurie (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2005 @ 6:32 pm

    We’ve only been petroleum dependent for under 50 years.

    Automobiles used to go much much slower, use much less petroleum, and not go that far at all.

    Now, we jet accross continents, and are almost entirely petroleum dependent.

    We need to start beginning to use alternate energy forms! All alternate energy forms.

    No one form of energy should ever run the market again.

    If the new energy form wasn’t petroleum enough dependent it was burned.


  29. winewench (unregistered) on December 4th, 2005 @ 6:54 pm

    Yea Laurie! I would also like to see reefs and wetlands. I want the oil dependency to be a thing of the past. Hopefully New Orleans will get her priorities straight and seriously consider this route before madly rebuilding. Clean water, reefs and wetlands would be a good start.

  30. Laurie (unregistered) on December 4th, 2005 @ 7:31 pm

    Hey! Mayor Magin, supposed governor Blanco if you

    see this it’s time to stop allowing the federal government to

    lead this region around with collars around our necks-now,

    do something right shut down the petroleum dependency,

    drop ’em, in the Gulf of Mexico.

    They owe us back pay for stealing from this region and

    creating a region dependent on working for the rigs alone.

    Where’s the Soil Conservation Service yellin’ and

    screaming right now?


    We are not the Dutch; they are not

    geographically near same, I’ve been there.

    There are more of us than you can count!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  31. ann (unregistered) on December 5th, 2005 @ 10:17 am

    Reality Check, assuming makes an ass out of you.

    Not that it is germane to the coversation, but FYI, I also live in a large, culturally diverse metro area in the South and interact with people from all walks of life, productive and otherwise. I’m from Louisiana, but not New Orleans. You really need to brush up on your geography – there actually is more to the state than the B.R./N.O. corridor. While we’re on the topic of school subjects, of what school system are you a product? I need to make sure to keep my kids far away – that new math you’re spouting is scary: At least 80% of the metro population evacuated so at MOST 20% remained when all hell broke lose. So – hmm – to what 50% are you referring?

  32. Laurie (unregistered) on December 5th, 2005 @ 6:07 pm

    What if we put small solid holes in the levee that can be closed off so that we can get some of our wetlands back!!!!

    It’s a thought.


  33. cw (unregistered) on December 6th, 2005 @ 10:37 am

    every miserly, pennypinching, deduction-taking self righteous Taxpayer in this sorry excuse for a country should stop crying about spending billions at home while happily shelling out billions for utter bullshit in iraq.

    you’d have money left to take care of yr own country if you hadn’t paid for the other b.s. like the lapdogs of george bush you are.

  34. cw (unregistered) on December 6th, 2005 @ 10:40 am

    Flood Washington – Demand a Commitment to Louisiana’s Coast and Communities

    Join me in flooding Washington! Louisiana groups have launched an effort to generate 300,000 e-mails demanding category 5 protection for New Orleans and Southern Louisiana. That means effective levees and flood control projects as well as comprehensive coastal wetlands restoration to give Southern Louisiana a critical storm buffer. Please take a second to help spread the word!

    Click on the link below or cut and paste this into your brower –

    Take action now at

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