The Big Uneasy: Katrina and the Corps of Army Engineers
Spend some time in Louisiana and you discover that Louisiana is like no other state. Some people think that’s because the Napoleonic Code still influences the law, others say the culture is unlike anywhere else, and then there are those that acknowledge it is the only banana republic in the United States. People tend to focus on New Orleans, which is inarguably unique, but the entire state seems to be somehow out of synch with the rest of America.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast; New Orleans suffered catastrophic damage when the levees broke, and became the center of attention. Mississippi Gulf Coast towns may have been devastated or eradicated, but New Orleans was the star. No, it wasn’t hurricane damage that destroyed the Ninth Ward, but the storm of publicity that surrounded the Crescent City dwarfed the horrendous damage suffered in neighboring areas.
Living in Louisiana for the five years leading up to Katrina, I was aware that when a hurricane of a certain magnitude hit New Orleans, the levees would fail and the city would flood. It was not a matter of “if,” but of “when.” How would an “outsider,” a non-engineer know this to be a fact? Every year there’s a hurricane season that blows in media coverage of the danger. Newspapers would rehash the same facts and statistics, reminding Southern Louisiana residents that eventually we’d be hit by “the big one,” and there would be hell to pay. They’d also remind us that the Army Corps of Engineers had put the city at risk by providing inadequate protection.
Harry Shearer wrote and produced a documentary, The Big Uneasy, exposing the culpability of the Army Corps of Engineers in regard to the horrific damage caused by levees that couldn’t withstand Katrina. Expert after expert explains what it is that the Army Corps of Engineers did wrong, how they were negligent, and how they allowed safety standards to be compromised. There is little mention of the Louisiana politics-as-usual that could also be named in the blame game.Continued on the next page