Greg Palast, On Katrina and
government inaction (both in finding housing and in reporting that they levies broke)
18 Missing Inches in New Orleans
By Greg Palast
From the new updated and expanded paperback edition of the bestseller Armed Madhousein stores now.
[Thursday, August 23]It's been two years.And America's media
is about to have another tear-gasm over New Orleans.Maybe Anderson Cooper will weep again.The big networks will
float into the moldering corpse of the city and give you uplifting stories about rebuilding and hope.
Now, let's cut through the cry-baby crap.
Here's what happened two years ago - and what's happening now.
This is what an inside source me.And it makes me sick:
"By on Monday, the White House knew.Monday night I was at the state EmergencyOperationsCenter and nobody was aware that the levees had breeched.Nobody."
The charge is devastating:That, on August 29, 2005, the White House withheld
from the state police the information that New Orleans was about to flood. From
almost any other source, I would not have believed it.But this was not just
any source.The whistle-blower is Dr. Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the
LouisianaStateUniversityHurricaneCenter, the chief technician advising
the state on saving lives during Katrina.
I'd come to van Heerden about another matter,
but in our talks, it was clear he had something he wanted to say, and it was a big one.He charged that the White House, FEMA and the Army Corp hid, for critical hours, their discovery that the levees surrounding
New Orleans were cracking, about to burst and drown the city.
Understand that Katrina never hit New
Orleans.The hurricane swung east of the city, so the
state evacuation directors assumed New Orleans was now safe - and evacuation could slow while emergency efforts moved east
with the storm.
But unknown to the state, in those crucial
hours on Monday, the federal government's helicopters had filmed the cracks that would become walls of death by Tuesday.
Van Heerden revealed:
"FEMA knew at on Monday that the levees had breeched.At they flew over the 17th Street
Canal and took video of the breech."
Question:"So the White House wouldn't tell you the levees had breeched?"
Dr. Van Heerden:"They didn't tell anybody."
Question:"And you're at the EmergencyCenter.'
Dr. Van Heerden:"I mean nobody knew.The Corps of Engineers knew.FEMA knew. None
of us knew."
I could not get the White House gang to
respond to the charges.
That leaves the big, big question:WHY?Why on earth would the White House
not tell the state to get the remaining folks out of there?
The answer:cost.Political and financial cost.A hurricane is an act of God - but a catastrophic failure of the levees is an act of Bush.That is, under law dating back to 1935, a breech of the federal levee system makes the damage - and the
deaths - a federal responsibility.That means, as van Heeden points out, that
"these people must be compensated."
The federal government, by law, must build
and maintain the Mississippi levees to withstand known dangers - or pay the
price when they fail.
Indeed, that was the rule applied
in the storms that hit Westhampton Dunes, New York, in 1992.There, when federal sea barriers failed, the flood waters wiped away 190 homes.The feds rebuilt them from the public treasury.But these
were not just any homes.They are worth an average of $3 million apiece - the
summer homes of movie stars and celebrity speculators.
There were no movie stars floating face
down in the Lower Ninth Ward nor in Lakeview nor in St. Bernard Parish.For
the 'luvvies' of Westhampton Dunes, the federal government even trucked in sand to replace the beaches.But for New Orleans' survivors, there's the aluminum gulag
of FEMA trailer parks. Today, two years later, 89,000 families still live in this mobile home Guantanamo
- with no plan whatsoever for their return.
And what was the effect of the White House's
I spoke with van Heerden in his university
office.The computer model of the hurricane flashed quietly as I waited for him
to answer.Then he said, "Fifteen hundred people drowned.That's the bottom line."
They could have survived Hurricane Katrina.But they got no mercy from Hurricane George.
An older article, covering
the same by Greg, with also how the government threatened to prosecute him.
Since the initial release of
Armed Madhouse in June 2006, much has changed in America. The Department of Homeland Security, after a five-year hunt for Osama, finally brought charges against... Greg Palast.As America crawled toward the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attack, Homeland Security charged me and my US producer Matt Pascarella with violating the anti-terror laws.
Don't you feel safer?
And I confess: we're guilty.
On August 22, 2006, we were videotaping Katrina evacuees still held behind barbed
wire in a trailer park encampment a hundred miles from New Orleans.
It had been a year since the hurricane and 73,000 POW's (Prisoners of Dubya) were still in mobile home Gulags. I arranged
a surreptitious visit with Pamela Lewis, one of the unwilling guests of George Bush's Guantanamo on wheels. She told me, "It's a prison set-up" - except there are no home furloughs for these inmates
because they no longer have homes.
You can't film there. FEMA
is part of Homeland Security and its camps are off limits to cameras. We don't want Osama to know he can get a cramped Airstream
by posing as a displaced Black person.
To give a sense of the full
flavor and smell of Kamp Katrina, we wanted to show that this human parking lot, with kids and elderly, is close by Exxon
Petroleum's Baton Rouge refinery. The neighborhood goes by the quaint sobriquet, "Cancer
Alley."So we filmed it. Uh, oh. The refinery, is a CAVIP, "Critical Asset and
Vulnerable Infrastructure Point." Apparently, you can't film CAVIP.
As to the bust: The positive
side for me as a reporter was that I got to see Bush's terror-trackers in action. I should note that it took the Maxwell Smarts
at Homeland Security a full two weeks to hunt us down. And we're on television.Frankly, Matt and I were a bit scared that, given the charges, we wouldn't be allowed
on a plane into New York for the September 11 commemoration. But what scared us more is
that we were allowed on the plane.Once I was traced, I had a bit of an other-worldly
conversation with my would-be captors. Detective Frank Penantano of Homeland Security told me, "This is a 'Critical Infrastructure'
… and they get nervous about unauthorized filming of their property."Well,
me too, Detective. In fact, I'm very nervous that extremely detailed satellite photos of this potential chemical blast-site
can be downloaded from maps.google.com.
Detective Penantano, in justifying
our impending arrest, said, "If you remember, a lot of people were killed on 9/11."Yes, I remember "a lot" of people were killed. So I have this suggestion, Detective - and you can pass it on to Mr.
Bush: Go find the people who killed them.
18 Missing Inches
Before the Big Bust, we learned
a little more about how New Orleans drowned. Given my line of work, I'm not shocked at much. Yet, this
one got to me."By on Monday the White House knew. Monday night I was at the state
EmergencyOperationsCenter and nobody was aware that the levees had breeched. Nobody."The charges
were so devastating - the White House's withholding from the state police the information that the city was about to flood
- that from almost any source, I simply would have dismissed it. But this was not just any source. The whistleblower was Dr.
Ivor van Heerden, deputy chief of the LouisianaStateUniversityHurricaneStudiesCenter, and the chief technician advising the state on saving lives during
That Monday night, August 29, 2005, the sleepless crew at the state EmergencyOperationsCenter,
directing the response to Hurricane Katrina, were high-fiving it, relieved that Katrina had swung east of New Orleans, sparing the city from drowning.They
were wrong. The Army Corps, FEMA and White House knew for critical hours that the levees had begun to crack, but withheld
the information for a day and night. The delay was deadly.Van Heerden
explained that levees don't collapse in a single bang. First, there's a small crack or two, a few feet wide, which take hours
to burst open into visible floodways.Had the state known New Orleans' bulwark was failing, they would have shifted resources to get out those left in
the danger zone.
Van Heerden: FEMA knew on on Monday that the levees had breeched. At they flew
over the 17th Street Canal and took video of the breech.
Question: So the White House wouldn't tell you that the levees had breeched?
Van Heerden: They didn't tell anybody.
Question: And you're at the EmergencyCenter?
Van Heerden: I mean nobody knew. Well, the Corps of Engineers knew. FEMA knew.
None of us knew.
The prevarications continued
Van Heerden said, "I went to
the Governor's on Tuesday night and I said this, 'There's a lot more breeches than one.' They said, "Whatever you need, go
find out.' I got in an airplane, I flew. I counted 28 breeches."
The White House had good reason,
or at least political and financial reasons, to keep mum. A hurricane is an act of God, but catastrophic levee failure is
an act of the Administration. Once the federal levees go, evacuation, rescue and those frightening words - responsibility
and compensation - become Washington's. Van Heerden knew that "not an act of God, but catastrophic failure
of the levee system" would mean that, at least, "these people must be compensated."Not every flood victim in America gets
the Katrina treatment. In 1992, storms wiped out 190 houses on the beach at West Hampton Dunes, home to film stars and celebrity
speculators. The federal government paid to completely rebuild the houses, which, hauled in four million cubic feet of sand
to restore the tony beaches, and guaranteed the home's safety into the coming decades - after which the "victim's" homes rose
in value to an average $2 million each.But in New Orleans, instead of compensation, 73,000 have been sentenced to life in FEMA's trailer-parks
in Louisiana. Even more are displaced to other states. I asked van Heeerden
about the consequences of the White House's failures, the information about the levee being just one of a list.
"Well, fifteen hundred people
drowned. That's the bottom line."
But why did the levees fail
at all if the hurricane missed the city? The professor showed me a computer model indicating the levees were a foot and a
half too short - the result of a technical error in the Army Corp of Engineer's calculation of sea level when the levees were
built beginning in the 1930s.And the Bush crew knew it. Long before Katrina
struck, the White House staff had sought van Heerden's advice on coastal safety. So when the professor learned of the 18-inch
error, he informed the White House directly. But this was advice they didn't want to hear. The President had already sent
the levee repair crew, the Army Corp of Engineers, to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Enter supporting content here
To Bush page on ADULT cartoon site
To Bush page on ADULT cartoon site
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