An October, 2004, synopsis in a National Magazine. A well-researched, widely publicized feature that reads like a news story from last week?
That story didn't come out of a crystal ball. It came out of the mouths of all the people in a position to know what to expect, who knew it would happen. People who study hurricanes and what they do, people who study geography, hydrology, emergency managements and disaster.
They all agreed.
Those people who were interviewed for the feature didn't keep the information hidden. It wasn't in a folder drawing dust in the file cabinet.
Every one of the agencies who were interviewed to create the story had been communicating the information to the State of Louisiana and the City of New Orleans for decades, where evidently it DID sit in file drawers drawing dust.
I know for a fact this is true from personal observation.
During the early 1990s I toured those levies, the lower lying areas with FEMA officials, Red Cross officials, Emergency Management Coordinators from other States inthe FEMA Region VI, Corps of Engineers officials, and Louisiana State and local officials. The precisely same information concerning what would happen if a major storm hit was communicated to and by everyone present. It was obvious. We even kicked around ideas involving specifics of needed emergency plans with City and State emergency managers.
A case can be made that when a tsunami hits and kills people it's an accident. When an earthquake hits in an earthquake prone area and lives are destroyed, it's still an event that mightn't have happened, had reason to catch residents by surprise. A tornado in West Texas tornado alley is still a low probability at any give spot.
This is a disaster of another sort.
Responsibility lies with every human being to behave prudently in matters involving his own personal safety. To look carefully at the traffic before venturing to cross a street with the knowledge that cars use that street. To mosey over toward Metairie if there's a hurricane stalking in the gulf. But, before that, to elect officials of the sort who were responsible officials, who weren't merely demigogues and rhetoriticians.
In this instance the secondary responsibility for the safety of the residents, making sure they had the information to allow them to make prudent choices, lay with the City and the Parrish. An evacuation plan in place and tested. Intergovernmental agreements with inland communities for shelters in the event of an evacuation. Disaster plans in place and exercised. Everyone educated on the possibilities, everyone knowing what would need to be done and when, where and how to do it.
The next level of responsibility lay with the State of Louisiana, and the Governor to absolutely drop a hammer on the heads on responsible local officials who weren't doing their jobs. To use every means available, legal, publicity, and volume to order, threaten, plead and cajole those City and Parrish officials to prepare for the inevitable.
This storm could have happened a decade from now and it would have been no different, maybe worse. The City of New Orleans would have been no better prepared, and Louisiana would have been no better prepared. The population would have been no better prepared.
The lazy, irresponsible, shirking attitude of the residents, the City and Parrish governments and the State of Louisiana would not have changed even though every year the inevitability of this event increased and they knew damned well it was doing it.
There are disasters, and there are disasters.
Edited in as an afterthought:
I did some drinking on Bourbon Street with the Louisiana State Flood Plain Administrator after that tour. We talked about his problems implementing any kind of plan, even the minimums required by law in Louisiana. He was a good guy, a solid, caring black man who'd really like to do his job.
"It's politics, man. The City doesn't like exercizing emergency plans. It might upset the tourists. Out in the parrishes it's all cousins and nephews. They don't want to hear anything about anything but Federal grant money and new roads."