Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Levee Issue

A prediction, levees and the levee breaks are going to be extremely big news in the next few weeks.  

We’ve already heard some of it.  And frankly a lot of the news will likely criticize the failure to upgrade them.  But, the levees are going to be big news because the body count will be significant. And the outcry will grow, as tragic discoveries of people drowning in their homes will be trumpeted by an outraged media.

We will learn, as if it is new news, that the major levee failure was the result of empty barges broken free by the hurricane ramming the concrete retaining walls.  Survivors in Baton Rouge who relayed the stories to reporters in the evacuation centers have already reported it.

We will also learn that local officials knew about the large breach in the levees several hours BEFORE there were any news accounts.  While reporters and officials noted the rising water in New Orleans early Monday evening, the fact of breaches in the levies were not widely reported until Tuesday morning.  Hours after the fact.

CNN was the first to report that two levees had failed.  Interestingly after midnight early Tuesday morning a late night anchor was interviewing an executive from a downtown hospital who was pleading for help. She reported that the water was rising a foot an hour, and that the first floor of the hospital would be inundated within a few hours.  

In a bit of very good reporting, after the woman told him that she had been told that the levees had been breached in two places, the anchor asked very specific questions of the woman to determine if she was repeating rumors or had witnessed the breaches herself.  She had not seen it, but had been told about it by city officials.

CNN ran a breaking news update with the information about fifteen minutes later.  Fox didn’t issue an alert for another six hours.

While in the coming weeks we will hear mostly about how budget cutting doomed New Orleans.  It will likely be a year or more, before the questions fly about what city officials actually did once they knew the levees were breached and that New Orleans was being inundated.


AP Story brings acknowledgement of the grim realities facing New Orleans:

Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff

"I think we need to prepare the country for what's coming," Chertoff said. "What's going to happen when we de-water and remove the water from New Orleans is we're going to uncover people who died, maybe hiding in houses, got caught by the flood, people whose remains are going to be found in the streets. ... It is going to be about as ugly of a scene as I think you can imagine."