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Don’t Let It Bring You Down June 20, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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As the scenes in Iowa slowly turn the sullen depression of the last year into a warm and encouraging anger, we continue our program of leaning heavily upon ripping off the song titles of our youth to get our idea across.

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Good Morning, America, How Are You June 19, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Corps of Engineers, Federal Flood, Flood, flooding, home, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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GULFPORT, Ill. – Juli Parks didn’t worry when water began creeping up the levee that shields this town of about 750 from the Mississippi River — not even when volunteers began piling on sandbags. ..
Then on Tuesday, the worst happened: The levee burst and Gulfport was submerged in 10 feet of water. Only 28 property owners were insured against the damage…
It is unclear what, if anything, the uninsured Parks would get in government disaster relief. “We’re hoping to rebuild, but it depends what FEMA says and how much we get,” said Parks, who is staying with her husband in a horse trailer…

The rest is here.

A horse trailer: that is where Juli Parks and her husband are staying.

What will it be like to live in a horse trailer for a year. Or two. Or three? Better perhaps than to live in a FEMA trailer and learn too late you have been poisoned, that your children will suffer the rest of their lives.

What our brothers and sisters in Iowa are discovering is the hard truth learned in New Orleans. The levees will not protect you. The government will not save you. What you have still to learn I will get to in a moment. For now, know this: you are on your own.

I blame George Bush.

Wait, stop, don’t hit that comment button yet. Bush didn’t dynamite the levees or destroy their homes. Still, he is the top man in the political establishment that spun the story of New Orleans into a myth with no basis in reality, the ugly story on cable news and AM radio that said what happened in New Orleans couldn’t happen to real Americans. It was “those people” and their corrupt ways that flooded New Orleans. It was the stupidity of people who would choose to live in the shadow of a levee and feel safe.

What happened in New Orleans had nothing to do with you, they were told. Move on. Listen, we have a war to win and we can’t get bin Laden unless you go shopping. Who knows how many more blond high school girls might disappear in suspicious circumstances if you don’t convert to digital cable and get that iPhone. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

It was all a lie.

And now the people who, almost three years after the Federal Flood, chose to live in the shadow of a Federal levee without flood insurance are learning the truth the hard way. You will lose everything, and the government will give you little or nothing. Maybe you will get your own Road Home program that offers half the replacement cost of a house. Perhaps the mortgage holder will lie to you and insist you have to sign that money over (you don’t really have to but they will lie to you as they lied to us, just as your insurance company lied to you when it said you were covered.) You will be left with a piece of land you can’t afford to build on.

When you try to rebuild you anyway will find the cost of construction materials has doubled and tripled since 8-29. Your insurance will increase five-fold. You will have to bear alone the full cost of rebuilding every thing around you. Your grocery bill will double to pay for the new store. Your utility company will gouge you to pay for what they lost in the flood. They will sell off the current power contracts while the power’s out and when it comes back on, the rates will have tripled. Your children’s schools will go without books for a year, if they have schools at all.

You will be told you will be better off if you move away from your home and leave it behind, to go somewhere else. Perhaps it won’t matter. The last place I lived people changed houses like they bought shoes. People cheerfully uprooted themselves to follow careers or just for a change. America has become a rootless people. Perhaps you won’t care.

Or are you more like us? Did you grandfather or great grandfather first break that earth? Did he found a town, its first bank or oldest church? Do you feel an irresistible compulsion to stay? My family has lived in Louisiana for almost 300 years. I am not going anywhere. If you follow in our footsteps, you need to forget everything you’ve heard about New Orleans, and look hard at us, at the real story of what happened here 8-29- and all the days since, because ours is the life ahead of you.

You will have to max out your credit cards, empty your savings accounts and 401ks, and still it will not be enough. You will have to cram your family into a tiny travel trailer and live there for years, even if it is slowly poisoning you. You will need to go to work all day, and come home and rebuild you house yourself all night. If you hire contractors, many will be the same predators who descended on us. They will take what money you have, and disappear. You will go back into your trailer, and you will weep in front of your children.

And still I think many of you will rebuild.

I think those of you who live in the houses or on the farms your parents or grandparents built, in the towns founded by your families generations ago, will insist on rebuilding just as we have. Somehow you will survive it all. I have a tremendous respect for the American people. They have come in the tens of thousands and still come to give of their time and effort to help us rebuild. Many of you who flooded are of that stock, are perhaps people who came to Chalmette or the Ninth Ward to guy homes or hammer up drywall.

If I sound discouraging I do not mean to. I just want you to open your eyes and see what the people of New Orleans have lived. I want everyone in American who sympathizes with you today to understand the truth. What happened in New Orleans can happen to you, and any suggestion that what happened here was unique or the fault of the victims is a lie. Not an exaggeration, or a distortion, or “spin”: a lie. It can happen to you. Perhaps because it has happened to the good people of Iowa and the other Mississippi River states people in America will wake up.

I hope that now they will realize that the country is full of levees that could fail at any moment, bridges like the one in Minnesota that could collapse. They need to know that the government the ruling political classes have worked at gutting and making ineffective for the last 30 years cannot help you, not in its current form or with its current leadership (not just one party or the other: Reaganomics and Clinton Bubblenomics have both gutted our ability to do anything as a nation). Everyone in this nation needs to know that tomorrow it could happen to them if something is not done, and what it will mean to them when it happens.

I have hope for New Orleans. For a long time, I had lost hope for America. I wrote these words many times in the last several years: the American experiment is over, and the results are in. It failed. Part of me does not want to believe that in spite of all of the hard evidence around me living in a city still half a ruin three years later. I want to find the fire that made me take a job that paid nothing as a journalist, the spirit that left me in awe when I walked the halls of Congress because I worked there. I want to remember what it was like to believe in a perfectible world, in something as big as a continent worth fighting for. I believe in New Orleans, and will fight for it, but I don’t know if it is enough.

I want to believe that the people of Iowa and Illinois will make common cause with the people of Louisiana and Mississippi, will insist that things change, will demand that the United States once again be about its people, will be a nation and not just an economy: of the people, by the people, for the people, never to perish from the earth.

People in the Midwest with flooded out lives have no time to think of this right now, but the eyes of the nation are upon them. Those of us who have walked that path must tell this story, must demand on their behalf and for all of us–even as we reach out to help our brothers and sisters in the baptism of the flood–that the levees must not fail again somewhere else, that the slow motion, disaster-without-end lived in New Orleans and the whole hurricane coast from Cameron to Gulfport should not be repeated there or anywhere.

Living on Sponge Cake May 23, 2008

Posted by The Typist in NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Is anyone surprised that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who thought it might be OK to stuff expansion joints in flood walls with newspaper in lieu of water proof seals, might have gotten it wrong in rebuilding and reinforcing the 17th Street Canal levees and flood walls, one of the major failure points of the 2005 Federal Flood? Perhaps they should try Bounty. Remember it was the Quicker Picker Upper because it was More Absorbent.

Among other things, [the Corps] repaired the wall by driving interlocking sheets of steel 60 feet into the ground, compared with about 17 feet before the storm. The sheet metal is supposed to prevent canal water from seeping under the levee through the wet, toothpaste-like soil that lies beneath the city, which was built on reclaimed swamp and filled-in marsh.

Over the past few months, however, the corps found evidence that canal water is seeping through the joints in the sheet metal and then rising to the surface on the other side of the levee, forming puddles and other wet spots.

Engineers said the boggy ground is a more serious problem than the corps realizes. [ob Bea, a civil engineer at the University of California at Berkeley,] said there is a roughly 40 percent chance of the 17th Street Canal levee collapsing if water rises higher than 6 feet above sea level. During Katrina, the water reached 7 feet in the canal.

Well, you would think that the events precipitating the Federal Flood would have led to some new thinking about how to build levees and other structures on our slippery, layered sponge cake soil, but the West Coast engineers think not. Just drive the piles deeper and hope for the best, which strikes me as an eminently 19th century solution.

It’s not as if this is a unique problem, or even a local one. I was surprised to learn while living in Fargo, N.D. that most large buildings required piles because of the characteristics of the bed of pre-historic Lake Agassiz–which in some age with a fancy scientific name rivaled the Great Lakes in size–upon which Fargo was built. I ended up helping my son research a short science essay on the subject and found the analogy to New Orleans fascinating. I sometimes think about the soils of Fargo and those 40+ foot dikes that keep the Red River of the North from drowning the place every spring.

Here’s an interesting tale from long ago about the building of a railroad embankment I used to drive along the route of (on Highway 10, a far-north, east-west analog of Highway 90 complete with parallel railroad tracks). Nothing under the sun, it seems, is new; and yet we seem to have such a confounded time figuring out how to deal with it all.

(Tim and Maitri, be sure to click the link. It’s definitely up your alley).

When the levee breaks January 31, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Corps of Engineers, Flood, flooding, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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levees.jpg

See those dots and shaded areas? If you live there, you need to know this: there is no act of incomptence or malice for which the Corps of Engineers can be held liable should your levees (or dikes or whatever you choose to call them) fail. Thousands may die, and hundreds of billions of dollars of damage may be done, and the fault can clearly be that of the Corps, but you have no recourse.

You may think it was just some fluke of indolent and corrupt New Orleans. Think again. Locals basically mowed the grass on those levees, that’s all. Those levees and floodwals were a clear Federal responsibility. And they were not up to the required design specification. Not even close. Are your levees up to standard?

If not (and you won’t really know until you have to start cutting that hole in your attic to escape from drowning), then based on our experience I suggest you begin to evacuate these areas immediately. If you don’t drown, the best you might get (outside of what flood insurance might pay) is on the order of ten or fifteen cents on the dollar. And nothing should you die. That is what New Orleans has received, and I can’t imagine why you would expect any more.

I know most of you don’t have flood insurance. Louisiana had one of the highest compliance rates in the nation. I didn’t carry flood insurance when I lived in Fargo behind 40-foot high dikes and well below the flood stage of the Red River at its worst case. Do you have flood insurance? Do you have a plan for rebuilding your life out of the proceeds of that insurance and that insurance only? If your house and contents are worth more than $150,000 what then? If you owe more than that, are you ready to continue to pay the mortage on a ruin where you can’t live? Do you have enough life insurance should you drown so your family could make that payment on the hole in the ground that used to be your house after you’ve drowned?

If I were you, I would get that for sale sign up today. Or you can join us in demanding that the Corps of Engineers be held responsible for their clear and admitted negligence and that all of the levees in this country be built to do their job, and that the Corps be held responsible if they are not.

Note: I have resisted falling back on Led Zeppelin for a title or even a quote out for two-and-a-half years, but I just couldn’t avoid or resist this time.

New Orleans students take on Corps of Engineers November 7, 2007

Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Corps of Engineers, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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If you have a You Tube account/login, please visit this video’s page and vote for and favorite this video produced by New Orleans school children in support of an 8-29 commission: