Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

AP Tasted Crow But Didn't Swallow

In today's edition of The Seattle Times (and in the print, but not online edition of the Kitsap Sun) was an AP article that almost got it right about the levees, floodwalls, topping, breaching, warnings, and Bush's statement. ( seems to have been the first to put this article online, if my "Google" news search is any indication.)

Breach or overrun? What feds knew about levees
By Tom Raum
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Much of the controversy has focused on 10 words: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

President Bush made the statement in a TV interview Sept. 1, three days after Katrina slammed [into] the Gulf Coast and inundated much of New Orleans.

Apparently, there really can be a corrective effect from the work of the big fellows in the "blogosphere" like Power Line. The article as published by the Sun and Forbes, but not the Times, noted:

The transcripts and videotapes have touched off a brushfire among liberal and conservative bloggers, provided midterm election-year ammunition to Democrats and brought a defense by the White House.

Of course, the article didn't point out that the "ammunition" used by the Democrats was bovine excrement. That aspect of the leftists' partisan behavior must be so well known and understood by all that the writer thought it unnecessary to state it explicitly.

Unwilling to eat the crow after tasting it, the AP had this to say about the attempt to portray Bush as either completely ignorant or brazenly untruthful:

There is no specific mention of levees being breached at Bush's videoconference with federal, state and local disaster management officials on Aug. 28, the day before Katrina's landfall. A videotape of that meeting was one of two videos and seven transcripts of Katrina-related briefings reported by The Associated Press last week.

But there were dire warnings of a gigantic storm that could overflow the levees at that session and at other pre-landfall conferences. And specific mention of possible breaches was raised at an Aug. 29 teleconference that included Joe Hagin, deputy White House chief of staff.

Yes, there was a "specific mention" by Hagin the following day -- it was a direct question hours after the storm hit, and it was answered by a Democrat. But the AP doesn't say so until many, many paragraphs later:

Concern over possible levee breaches does show up in the transcript of an Aug. 29 conference. Participating from Air Force One, Hagin, the deputy White House chief of staff, asks about "the current status of the levee system."

Brown, who later resigned as FEMA chief under pressure, told participants he had spoken twice that day to Bush directly and that the president was "asking questions about reports of breaches."

Blanco said that, as of then, "we have not breached the levee" but "that could change." The Louisiana governor said, however, that water in some low-lying areas was 8 to 10 feet deep.

Note how the statement by Brown is interposed between the question and answer, as though he was responding. The actual response was from Governor Blanco. Brown's statement was not made in response to Hagin's question.

Note also how the answer by Blanco matched pretty well with what had been anticipated if levees were "topped" -- flooding in low-lying areas to a depth of 8 to 10 feet, but not flooding throughout downtown New Orleans and around the refuge of last resort, the Superdome.

It's something to keep in mind, because the AP propagandists and Democrats will surely scrape this stuff off their shoes and throw it again later.

This is also something to remember for next time. The congressional report (in the "levees" section) described the reason for the unexpected flooding of downtown New Orleans:

In contrast, there was little or no overtopping along most of the levees in the vicinity of Lake Ponchartrain. The only breach along Lake Ponchartrain was in New Orleans East, which was probably due to overtopping. But in the drainage canals that feed into Lake Ponchartrain — the 17th Street and London Avenue Canal — there was no overtopping, and the failures were likely caused by weaknesses in the foundation soil underlying the levees, the weakness in the soils used to construct the earthen levee embankments themselves, or weaknesses caused by vegetation growing along the levees. These were the most costly breaches, leading to widespread flooding of central New Orleans — to include the downtown area and several large residential neighborhoods. According to Van Heerden of LSU, “the surge in Lake Ponchartrain wasn’t that of a category 3 storm, and nor did it exceed the design criteria of the standard project hurricane.” Nicholson of ASCE concurred with this assessment, adding, “If the levees [on Lake Ponchartrain] had done what they were designed to do, a lot of the flooding of New Orleans would not have occurred, and a lot of the suffering that occurred as a result of the flooding would not have occurred.” [Emphasis added.]

When people, including Bush, talked in the days immediately after the storm about the unexpected, surprising or unanticipated levee breaches that flooded New Orleans, it was often in the context of the greatly increased difficulties posed by the extensive flooding when those floodwalls gave way.

On the evening of the day the storm hit, it looked as though New Orleans had been spared. Late that night, the failure of the floodwalls and the greatly increased flooding became apparent. The next morning, the task of getting to the people stranded in the Superdome was far more daunting. Just cutting a way through the debris on the roads and highways wouldn't be enough.


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