[StBernard] Levee Problems Predicted

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Tue Jan 24 07:40:22 EST 2006

Levee problems predicted, documents show
Homeland Security was warned New Orleans could be flooded for months

The Associated Press
Updated: 9:08 p.m. ET Jan. 23, 2006

WASHINGTON - The Homeland Security Department was warned a day before
Hurricane Katrina hit that the storm's surge could breach levees and leave
New Orleans flooded for weeks or months, documents released Monday show.

An Aug. 28 report by the department's National Infrastructure Simulation and
Analysis Center concluded that a Category 4 or 5 hurricane would cause
severe damage in the city, including power outages and a direct economic hit
of up to $10 billion for the first week.

"Overall, the impacts described herein are conservative," stated the report,
which was sent to Homeland Security's office for infrastructure protection.

"Any storm rated Category 4 or greater ... will likely lead to severe
flooding and/or levee breaching, leaving the New Orleans metro area
submerged for weeks or months," said the report, which was released by a
Senate panel examining the government's breakdown in responding to Katrina.

The documents are the latest indication that the federal government knew
beforehand of the catastrophic damage that a storm of Katrina's magnitude
could cause.

Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm on Aug. 29. Some
weather experts, however, believe it had decreased to a Category 3 or even
Category 2 storm by the time it reached New Orleans.

Dire prediction
In 2004, Homeland Security and the federal Emergency Management Agency ran
an exercise called "Hurricane Pam" that provided a dire prediction about a
Category 3 hurricane hitting New Orleans. It found, among other things, that
flood waters would surge over levees, creating "a catastrophic mass
casualty/mass evacuation" and leaving drainage pumps crippled for up to six

The Bush administration has been lambasted for its lackluster response to
Katrina and its aftermath, including criticism that the government should
have known that a hurricane of that strength posed a danger to the area's
levees and was unprepared to cope with it.

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said he was not familiar with the
documents but that the levees situation likely was one reason the government
urged an evacuation of New Orleans before the storm hit.

"We're in the process of participating in a large after-action report,"
Knocke said. "We're deeply committed to finding out what worked and didn't
work, and apply those lessons learned going forward."

Shortly after the disaster, President Bush said, "I don't think anybody
anticipated the breach of the levees." He later clarified his remarks,
saying his comment was meant to suggest that there had been a false sense of
relief that the levees had held when the storm passed, only to break a few
hours later.

Eve of hearing
The documents were released by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental
Affairs Committee on the eve of a hearing about Hurricane Pam and other
government preparations for catastrophes. Pam, a so-called "tabletop"
exercise that began in July 2004, focused planners on a mock hurricane that
produced more than 20 inches of rain and 14 tornadoes.

As part of the Pam project, federal and state officials working with
government contractors also estimated that plans to move victims from
disaster areas were only "10 percent done," the documents show.

"If you think soup lines in the Depression were long, wait 'til you see
lines at these collection point (sic)," said one official, identified as
U.S. Transportation Department regional emergency officer Don Day, in a
briefing on July 29, 2005.

"We're at less than 10 percent done with this trans (sic) planning when you
consider the buses and the people," Day said at the briefing, notes of which
were given to the Senate committee by Innovative Emergency Management Inc.
of Baton Rouge, the contractor hired by FEMA to conduct the exercise.

C 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be
published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

C 2006 MSNBC.com

URL: http://msnbc.msn.com/id/10995817/

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