On Wednesday, we had the opportunity to go an look at the levee with Professor Steven Nelson from Tulane University here in New Orleans. In addition to teaching classes, Professor Nelson has conducted independent research on why the levees failed, and what needs to be done to prevent such a catastrophe in the future. The tour started in the Ninth Ward, where the levees broke in two spots. He explained some architectural and geological considerations that go into building levees, and was very informative. From there we drove over to Lake Ponchetrain and he explained more about how the effects of storm surge can be prevented, and how the Gulf Coast is severely environmentally damaged. We also viewed a portions of the levee deemed to be most structurally at-risk, and a portion of the canal by the city park that has no levee and was allowed to flood. The tour answered some questions about the science and politics that make the levee systems work and/or fail. It also made me think about many different things related to Katrina such as natural disasters in general, responsibility, and human error, to name a few.
What struck me most about Professor Nelson's talk was how preventable this disaster was. Before this, I thought that a disaster like Katrina was bound to happen, that it was just a matter of time. Mother Nature would overcome all our human engineering. However, it is totally preventable, and if only those responsible for the building the levees had not taken so many shortcuts, and done a more thorough job researching the best way to build it, we would not see the mass devastation that we do now. Obviously I can't explain it here, but if you want to learn more I recommend going to Professor Nelson's webpage devoted to his research on Katrina. It saddens me to think of the price the people of New Orleans are paying for the lazy mistakes made by the engineers and politicians responsible for the construction of the faulty levees.
What saddens me even more is the fact that steps are not being taken to improve the entire levee. As it is, it is only being repaired in the places that it failed. In those places, it has been redone using better levee building methods. However, the rest of the levee is of the same old second-rate design that killed hundreds of people, and thousands more homeless. People, when will we learn from our mistakes?