November 12, 2009 08:00 ET
Book Review: "Catastrophe in the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow"
NEW ORLEANS, LA--(Marketwire - November 12, 2009) - Levees.org, a New Orleans-based non-profit
formed after Hurricane Katrina with a mission of raising awareness about
the nation's levee systems, today announced that it is releasing a series
of book reviews by its founder Sandy Rosenthal that address the New Orleans
flooding of August 2005 beginning with "Catastrophe in the Making: The
Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow" (Island Press, 2009).
Sandy Rosenthal provides the following commentary on the "Catastrophe in
the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow." The
opinions expressed below are those of Sandy Rosenthal on behalf of
Levees.org, and include:
Authors William R. Freudenburg, Robert Gramling, Shirley Laska and Kai
Erikson tell a fascinating story of what they consider the most dangerous
project undertaken in the history of Louisiana's lower delta -- the
Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). And as the title implies, this
project serves as a warning call to us all.
The authors, one a professor of environmental studies (Freudenburg), and
the others in sociology, describe how the MRGO, an obscenely expensive
wetlands-killing navigation channel constructed and maintained by the US
Army Corps of Engineers was obsolete on the day it opened.
Intended as a shortcut for ships to reach the Gulf of Mexico, the MRGO was
also a shortcut for salt intrusion (there was no flow) which killed
buffering cypress trees and plants.
Then on August 29, 2005, the MRGO helped create a funnel that sent storm
surge into the heart of the city exactly as predicted by Dr. Hassan
Mashriqu of Louisiana State University (pg 131).
So not only was the MRGO a monstrous "environmental and economical
failure," say the authors, it was also the "single cut that led to 1,000
The authors sternly denounce the attitude that the environmental damage to
south Louisiana is "inexorable" and thus acceptable and an "unavoidable by
product" of the construction and maintenance of the MRGO.
A small number of business people made a lot of money in 1965, asserts
Freudenburg et al. But during Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of thousands
lost their homes and livelihoods. Many lost their lives.
The authors close by pointing out that the situation in New Orleans is far
from unique, that "we are all from New Orleans" and the "Katrinas that lurk
on the other side of the horizon threaten us all."
The book also blasts two persistent myths. The authors point out that New
Orleans saw "the most successful rapid evacuation of a major city in human
history." They also highlight how citizens did not have reason to believe
the levees could breach, that "no one ever asked them to evacuate on the
grounds that the levees and floodwalls were about to fail."
One assertion (page 95) does lack documentation. Author Laska credits the
Army Corps for wanting larger levees not floodwalls for outfall canals in
New Orleans' main basin, but provides no documentation.
Nonetheless, in closing, "Fine job!" to these four authors who presented us
a mountain of data in an accessible format. This is the first book to lay
out a clear story about the MRGO failure, and to neatly lance some
particularly tenacious myths about the New Orleans flooding.
Next, Sandy Rosenthal will review "Perilous Place, Powerful Storms:
Hurricane Protection in Coastal Louisiana" by Craig E. Colton (University
Press of Mississippi).