The NY Times has probably the best round-up of what went wrong to date:
Disaster officials, who had drawn up dozens of plans and conducted preparedness drills for years, had long known that the low-lying city was especially vulnerable. But despite all the warnings, Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed the very government agencies that had rehearsed for such a calamity. On Thursday, as the flooded city descended into near-anarchy, frantic local officials blasted the federal and state emergency response as woefully sluggish and confused.
“We’re in our fifth day and adequate help to quell the situation has not arrived yet,” said Edwin P. Compass III, the New Orleans police superintendent.
The response will be dissected for years. But on Thursday, disaster experts and frustrated officials said a crucial shortcoming may have been the failure to predict that the levees keeping Lake Pontchartrain out of the city would be breached, not just overflow.
They also said that evacuation measures were inadequate, leaving far too many city residents behind to suffer severe hardships and, in some cases, join marauding gangs.
Large numbers of National Guard troops should have been deployed on flooded streets early in the disaster to keep order, the critics said. And some questioned whether the federal government’s intense focus on terrorism had distracted from planning practical steps to cope with a major natural disaster.
Disaster experts acknowledged that the impact of Hurricane Katrina posed unprecedented difficulties. “There are amazing challenges and obstacles,” said Joe Becker, the top disaster response official at the American Red Cross.
Under the circumstances, Mr. Becker said, the government response “has been nothing short of heroic.”
But he added that the first, life-saving phase of hurricane response, which usually lasts a matter of hours, in this case was stretching over days.
While some in New Orleans fault FEMA – Terry Ebbert, homeland security director for New Orleans, called it a “hamstrung” bureaucracy – others say any blame should be more widely spread. Local, state and federal officials, for example, have cooperated on disaster planning. In 2000, they studied the impact of a fictional “Hurricane Zebra”; last year they drilled with “Hurricane Pam.”
Neither exercise expected the levees to fail. In an interview Thursday on “Good Morning America,” President Bush said, “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.” He added, “Now we’re having to deal with it, and will.”
Which, of course, puts the widely ridiculed Bush quote in a new light. This simply wasn’t what was predicted would happen:
President Bill Clinton: Yes, I think that’s important to point out. Because when you say that they should have done this, that or the other thing first, you can look at that problem in isolation, and you can say that.
But look at all the other things they had to deal with. I’m telling you, nobody thought this was going to happen like this. But what happened here is they escaped — New Orleans escaped Katrina. But it brought all the water up the Mississippi River and all in the Pontchartrain, and then when it started running and that levee broke, they had problems they never could have foreseen.
It will be interesting to see what the post-mortem on these disasters and the response will be, but I am willing to bet it is significantly different from the heated stuff we are seeing over the past few days. Already, there is more and more evidence that the noxious memes about levee cuts causing the breach are being dispelled:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday that a lack of funding for hurricane-protection projects around New Orleans did not contribute to the disastrous flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina.
In a telephone interview with reporters, corps officials said that although portions of the flood-protection levees remain incomplete, the levees near Lake Pontchartrain that gave way–inundating much of the city–were completed and in good condition before the hurricane.
However, they noted that the levees were designed for a Category 3 hurricane and couldn’t handle the ferocious winds and raging waters from Hurricane Katrina, which was a Category 4 storm when it hit the coastline. The decision to build levees for a Category 3 hurricane was made decades ago based on a cost-benefit analysis.
“I don’t see that the level of funding was really a contributing factor in this case,” said Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, chief of engineers for the corps. “Had this project been fully complete, it is my opinion that based on the intensity of this storm that the flooding of the business district and the French Quarter would have still taken place.”
Now that won’t stop the partisans from being, well, partisans, but it is nice to dispel the nonsense, if only briefly. I am sure there will be a lot of lessons to learn from this catastrophe, and that will take time and sober analysis that can come after we save all these poor souls who are really going through hell.
And one more thing- I don’t know if this will have any impact on the BRACC decisions, but it should. Last night, Joe Scarborough was broadcasting from an Armory somewhere in Mississippi, asking why the soldiers were not there handing out water.
The answer is simple. The Armory had been shut down. We had already existing ‘pre-positioned’ assets all over the country, and we chose to close them years ago. Just more things to think about.