Saturday, March 04, 2006


The "What? A tree falling on my roof could make a hole in it?" defense

I think I have come up with a name for the contemptible sort of deflection of responsibility involved in claiming that Bush was not warned that the levees of New Orleans could breach. It is the "I didn't realize that a tree falling on the roof could cause a hole in it" defense. What follow are the thousand words equivalent to MEC's photos (below). This is what the Army Corps of Engineers says: The principal causes of levee failure are (1) internal erosion, known as piping; (2) slides within the levee embankment or the foundation soils; (3) overtopping; and (4) surface erosion. ... Further, when a levee is overtopped, it may breach, so complete analysis also includes the components of a dam-failure analysis. Why would a levee that is overtopped be at high risk of breaching? Um, well, because overtopping can be caused by a huge rise in pressure, such as that caused by a storm surge. Not only that, the surge can scour beneath or, assisted by floating debris, even rip away at the surface. Retaining walls, which the Corps lumps in with earthen works (levees) for the purpose of explanation, cannot suffer internal erosion. What actually happened in New Orleans? Testimony of the LSU Hurricane Center Deputy Director, Ivor van Heerden: * "At 10:00 pm on Saturday 28th August 2005, 32 hours before landfall, we put out an email and warned that New Orleans would flood as the surge would overtop the levee system especially in Orleans East and St Bernard Parish. We warned that we expected levee erosion. We also reminded the emergency managers assembled at the State EOC that during Hurricane Betsy (1965) the Industrial Canal had been breached and that if we lost levees the flooding would be far more severe than the model depicted." So, ok, the White House only had 48 hours warning that New Orleans would flood and a historical example to show that this was for real. Not to worry! The water would pass harmlessly over the top of the levees, leaving residents damp but otherwise magically protected. After all, what's a little 9, 10, even 11 foot wall of water against the great might of an 18-inch thick retaining wall? Continuing: * "The flooding of New Orleans represents two separate flooding events, distinct in time, space and intensity. In eastern New Orleans levee failure accompanied a surge overtopping event, flooding surrounding communities; in western New Orleans catastrophic levee failure caused the flooding." * Focusing on what happened in the most densely populated areas: "West of the eye and especially over Lake Pontchartrain the maximum surge was 10-11 feet and winds those of a Category 1 storm (72-76 mph)." * "Preliminary findings by the State of Louisiana Forensic Data Gathering Team are that in the case of the 17th Street Canal, London Ave Canal and the Industrial Canal, levee collapse and flood breaching reflected unstable soil conditions and a lack of foundation support and water percolation seals, given the soft, porous and highly organic nature of the soils. In the case of the Industrial Canal, levee overtopping may have hastened the structure’s collapse." * "The 'I' wall levees [i.e., retaining walls] consist of linked steel pilings approximately 18 inches wide...and then a concrete wall ...At least one contractor complained the structure was not stable due to the soft soils." * The 17th Street breach occurred at approximately 10:15 am on the 29th August, 2005, one hour after the peak of the surge when the water level was about 9 feet above sea level. During Katrina a 200 foot section of the levee slid sideways 35 feet in a classical example of a lateral slide failure – a pressure burst...Our preliminary finding is that this canal levee “I” wall design in these very weak soils and substratum, was an accident waiting to happen. At the very least the sheet piling should have been sunk to 60 feet below sea level. * At London Avenue East Mirabeau, ..."The sand layer appears to have been exposed on the floor of the canal after it was dredged around 1990. The main conduit for water percolation from the canal under these 26 foot deep pilings, due to the pressure of the Katrina surge, would have been via the beach sands. The walls ... in the center appear to have collapsed outwards. ... there was a blowout due to water under pressure escaping from the canal below and under the pilings using the porous sand layer as the pathway." * There are two major breachings on the Industrial Canal south of its junction with the Gulf Intra Coastal Waterway. The breachings appear to have occurred before the peak of the surge when the water level was at the top of the levee wall (7:15 am). Was Bush briefed that New Orleans was in danger of catastrophic flooding? Yes. Focusing on whether the one word "breached" was or was not used in briefing the president is an attempt to deflect from the clear statutory and moral responsibility the president had to respond in proportion to the size of the disaster. It's like a homeowner claiming that he he couldn't foresee that a tree falling on his roof just might make a hole in it. If Bush was too bored by his duties, too stupid to understand, or too unwilling to ask questions, he should not be in a position to cause the senseless deaths of so many Americans. Update: Unlike right-wingers, we want you to read the other side. Here is a right-wing site pushing the NBC-Myers-White House spin effort. It's cynical pecksniffery like this that alienates sane people from the right.
Thanks--I was trying to explain this to a friend, but this is much better.
And thanks back atcha, Jawbone.


Noted with pleasure. Skippy has characterized the Republican position as "We don't think anybody anticipated that things might happen while he was in office and he'd actually have to lead the country."
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