When the Levees Broke

I’ve been watching When the Levees Broke, a documentary about Hurricane Katrina, the flooding afterwards, and our government’s response to the disaster. It’s a powerful documentary. Constructed mostly of interviews, it details the experiences of the people that lived through the disaster and the politicians and aid workers that dealt with it.

As I wrote before back in September of last year, I’m sickened by how poorly our government handled the disaster. Physicaly, sickened. At the end of the first half of the documentary my sickness had turned to anger. How could this possibly happen? What the hell was our government thinking? Ignore the problem and it will go away? Remind the people of the war in Iraq and they’ll lose interest? No one cares about the people who live in the South? It took the federal government almost two weeks to mobilize troops in New Orleans and evacuate the people. Two weeks! We can invade a country on the other side of the planet in 48 hours but we can’t get troops to a city within our borders in less than two weeks? God Save Us!

The second half of the documentary focused on the rehabilitation of people’s lives the year after the disaster, and also what’s (not) being done to protect and prepare ourselves for future hurricanes. The simple fact is: they’re not rebuilding better levees. Watching this I just felt embarassed and ashamed. The situation with the Core of Engineers is just downright embarassing. I don’t blame them–they’re doing what they can with the resources they’re given. The problem is fixing the problem is not a priority for our government. And it’s a problem we can solve! It’s an engineering problem! It just requires several billion dollars…..

You may be asking: Is the cost of building better levees “worth it”? How many people are actually going to return? What are the chances of another hurricane hitting the same place again anytime soon? Yes, it’s probably unlikely to happen again anytime soon. And probably not that many people will return, and their economic contribution to society may not make the proposition of rebuilding the levees “viable”. But hang on a sec–if you buy these arguments then how can the government allow people to live there? It’s criminal to not build better levees–but if you don’t build better levees, it’s criminal to allow such a large population center to return there.

I’m left with the impression after watching this documentary that the government felt that yes, New Orleans was not a safe place during a hurricane, but the cost of making it safe simply wasn’t worth it. After the hurricane, the government still feels this way and is passively discouraging people from returning there by not doing anything to fix the problem.