Rebuilding New Orleans

We all know that rebuilding New Orleans will cost the U.S. a fortune. Estimated costs are already up to $200 billion and we haven't even started yet. My question is that if everyone in New Orleans knew that the levies could only withstand a category three hurricane why did they stay when they knew that it was a category five. I know that some were unable to leave, but if that was you and you were able to get out wouldn't you? Also, why weren't the levies ever repaired to withstand a category five? For years people have been talking about this disaster happening. Why weren't we better prepaired? http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/sep2005/nf20050913_8975_db082.htm


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destiny said...

Being told to evacuate your home would not be an easy thing to comprehend. I bet the reason most people stayed was that they didn't take the disaster threat completely seriously. Maybe they thought they would be safe if they hid under their covers, so to speak. I don't think anybody saw the hurricane being as bad as it actually was. People were blown away with the destruction, no pun intended. Most people were barely getting by with what they had. Where would they have gone to if they did leave their houses?
As for the levies, I guess we now know to build them better. Oops.

sara said...

I had a similar discussion with my mom the other day. We concluded that their were several reasons that people didn't leave. First off they didn't have anywhere to go or they didn't have any money. Second, they didn't think it was as big as it was.

Frank said...

The problem could be where to go and the cost of waiting out the storm. Why were the levies not strong enough? I don’t know but it could have something to do with passing the buck, and with many people talking about their known weakness and not doing anything about it does raise concern. Noticing that most casualties are the poor elderly with no family support system, and you’re right it was the worse case scenario, hope everyone learned from it.

Dr. Tufte said...

-1 on Taylor for a poorly formatted link.

There are a number of technical issues here - I used to live in New Orleans, so let me clue you in a bit.

1) Going from a levee that can withstand a category 3 to a category 5 would not have been cheap - you're probably talking about doubling the cost and time to build every time you go up a level.
2) Bigger levees means tearing down existing homes built near the levees. This is unpopular.
3) A finer point is that the levee served its purpose successfully - that being to keep the water out. What did happen was that the levee failed in several locations. This is substantially harder to predict and prepare for (it's like the old joke about how you figure out how much weight a bridge will support - drive over it until it collapses and then rebuild it). So, now we know that the levees were not as strong as we thought.

As to why people didn't evacuate, there are two reasons (beyond poverty):
1) Louisiana has a very paternal government which people rely on to bail them out.
2) The previous mayor used the Superdome as a refuge of last resort from Georges in 1998. This created a precedent for people to not plan to evacuate.

And as hard as it is to imagine now, hurricanes are routine in that area. People get used to not leaving. I personally stayed through Andrew (a category 3 in 1992) and Opal (a category 4 in 1995). Fortunately, neither came as close as Katrina did.

Finally, the extreme damage is focused on a small area. Camille went a few miles to the east of Katrina in 1969, and the levees held.

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