Monday, May 22, 2006

10 days to hurricane season and we are still screwed.

A few months ago, I posted a couple of diaries about the levees in New Orleans not being up to standard and being built with subpar materials.  Partially because this has pretty much been blown off by the media, I had posted around a dozen diaries about New Orleans since Katrina hit (links are at the bottom of the diary).

And now we are ten days away from the "official start" of hurricane season, and guess what?  Yup, Homeland Security, the levees, and just about everyone else, is woefully unprepared to deal with the hurricanes.  Maybe this is due to there not being a PDB entitled "Hurricanes determined to strike in the US", but a few reports out today don't give me the warm and fuzzies here.

First up is the National Weather Service's Climate Report Center annual report (the 2006 report was released today) that guesses how bad of a hurricane season it will be.  Of course, this should be taken however you want to take it, since last year's report underestimated the severity of the season:

Last year officials predicted 12 to 15 tropical storms, seven to nine of them becoming hurricanes, and three to five of those hurricanes being major, with winds of at least 111 mph.

But the last season was much busier. In fact, it was the busiest Atlantic hurricane season since record keeping began in 1851.

Last season there were 15 hurricanes, seven of which were Category 3 or higher. Eight hurricanes have hit or affected Florida since 2004.

So how does this year shape up?  Well, according to the Report:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted the 2006 Atlantic Hurricane season will be above-normal and very active.

Speaking at the National Hurricane Center in Miami Monday, Director Max Mayfield, told storm-weary residents what to expect for the 2006 season.

NOAA's 2006 Atlantic hurricane season outlook indicates an 80 percent chance of an above-normal hurricane season.

The outlook calls for a very active 2006 season, with 13-16 named storms, 8-10 hurricanes, and 4-6 major hurricanes.

So far, a bit ominous.  But with all of the focus on rebuilding the levees, "revamping" FEMA and all of the other things that were done by Homeland Security to, well, secure our homeland, you would think that at least we wouldn't be put in a position where the system was at least reinforced by the Army Corps of Engineers to the point where another flood would not be so likely.

Enter in a study that was just compiled by engineers and disaster experts at the University of California, which says that fundamental design problems and the technical weaknesses of the US Army Corps of Engineers means that the flood system remains "dangerous".

According to two reports that I have seen so far, we have these nuggets:

At a briefing for American journalists yesterday, Raymond Seed, a civil engineering professor at UC Berkeley who led the study, said that army engineers had made mistakes analysing seven out of eight places where the levees had failed and missed a catalogue of design errors in the flood walls.

Just a month before the start of this year's hurricane season, Mr Seed said that despite promising improvements, such as the construction of two enormous gates that can block New Orleans's canals in case of flooding, another huge storm could flood the city. "It may still be a very dangerous system," he said.

The findings undermine assurances by the Bush administration and the Army Corps of Engineers that the federal levee repair program due to be completed in June will provide a higher level of protection to New Orleans, which sustained 1,293 deaths and property losses of more than $100 billon from Katrina.

The team's 600-page report disputed most of the corps' preliminary findings about what caused levee breaches, saying the corps' investigators had made critical errors in their analysis.

The mistakes raise concerns about whether the corps is competent to oversee public safety projects across the nation, said Raymond Seed, a UC Berkeley civil engineering professor who led the investigation, which the National Science Foundation sponsored shortly after Katrina struck.

"People think this is a New Orleans problem," Seed said. "It is a national issue."

The Berkeley team found that the defects that caused breaches during Katrina -- including thin layers of soil with the consistency of jelly and sections of levees built with crushed sea shells -- had gone undetected and could be widespread.

But the Corps shouldn't shoulder all of the blame here.  We know that they have been grossly underfunded for years.  There is a lot of blame to go around - apparently, there was a "system of compromises that resulted in substandard design and marginal quality, in exchange for lower costs".  However, you wouldn't know it from our fearless leaders who have been putting the typical "shiny happy face" on things, as evidenced by Chertoff's proclamations of how ready we are for hurricane season.  

All we are missing is for Dear Leader to go on national TV and say something like, "there are some storms that want to ruin the Gulf Coast again this year.  But we are ready for the storms.  And to those storms, I say `bring it on'".

The independent study was funded by America's National Science Foundation, and issued 11 different major recommendations, one of which would be to create a National Flood Defense Authority to replace the Army Corps of Engineers authority to deal with floods.  The team of people involved included nearly 40-50 experts from Berkeley and other educational institutions and other recognized experts in this area.  This LA Times article has some real good information about the background.  

I can't believe that with all that we have tried to do in order to shine a light on this, on top of the catastrophic fuck ups last year that we are pretty much back in the same situation where we have to hope that Mother Nature doesn't lash out at the gays who are dancing in the streets of New Orleans again (or whatever that dolt Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell said last year).

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