Friday, March 03, 2006

Once more unto the breach

The BBC has been all over the Bush Katrina warning video:
It appears to contradict Mr Bush's statement four days after Katrina hit, when he said: "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."
The footage does the president no favours, the BBC's Justin Webb reports from Washington.

It shows plainly worried officials telling Mr Bush very clearly before the storm hit that it could breach New Orleans' flood barriers.

Actually, that’s not true. Look closely at what the BBC article says later:
Another official, Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center, tells the final briefing that storm models predict minimal flooding inside New Orleans during the hurricane.

But he adds that the possibility that anticlockwise winds and storm surges could cause the levees at Lake Pontchartrain to be overrun afterwards is "obviously a very, very grave concern".
So that's minimal flooding expected unless the levees are overrun. What did Bush say again?

“I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."

Uriel Wittenberg took the New York Times to task over this very same issue last September after many NYT columnists had wilfully confused “overrunning” (or "overtopping") and “breaching":
The issue of whether a levee breach was foreseen, as opposed to flooding because of levees being overtopped, is not a quibble, since some news accounts have suggested that the breach significantly contributed to the chaos prevailing after the hurricane had passed. For example:
Local officials in Louisiana said the scope of a double whammy -- a Category 4 hurricane coupled with a large breach of a levee -- simply overwhelmed them.... [The Washington Post, September 2, 2005]

Levees obviously remain a central issue in the crisis. As experts expected, Katrina showed that a Category 4 or 5 hurricane would send water over the top of the city's levees and flood its below-sea-level "bowl." But the breaches in levees and canal walls made things dramatically worse and raised broader questions about the area's flood control system. [New York Times, September 11, 2005.]
It was the breaching, not the overruning, that was the big problem. However, another video has now emerged proving that false information was given regarding the breach of the levees:
In the new tape, Louisiana's governor [Kathleen Blanco, Democrat] is seen assuring federal emergency management officials that New Orleans' levees were holding — hours after a levee breach had been reported.
I await the BBC's headline reports and hours of conjecture on this latest development.



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