‘Times-Picayune’ Details Tragic Turning Point in Disaster

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By: E&P Staff

For the first time today, the Times-Picayune details in full the step-by-step turn of events last Monday when the New Orleans hurricane disaster turned into a true catastrophe. It asks the question: Why were so many officials, and residents, clueless, after the levees broke, flooding 80 percent of the city?

?Top officials,? reports staff writer John McQuaid, ?continued to operate for a full day under the mistaken belief that the danger had passed.?

Even on Tuesday, as still-rising waters covered most of New Orleans, FEMA official Bill Lokey reassured residents in a Baton Rouge briefing. ?I don’t want to alarm everybody that, you know, New Orleans is filling up like a bowl,? Lokey said. ?That’s just not happening.?

McQuaid wrote that the paper?s rough reconstruction of the flooding was based on interviews, and computer modeling. This shows ?that the huge scale of the overlapping floods–one fast, one slow–should have been clear to some officials by mid-afternoon Monday, when city representatives confirmed that the 17th Street canal floodwall had been breached.?

Federal officials have said that they were unaware of the gravity of the problem until Tuesday, suggesting valuable response time was lost.

?It was midday Tuesday that I became aware of the fact that there was no possibility of plugging the (17th Street canal) gap and that essentially the lake was going to start to drain into the city. I think that second catastrophe really caught everybody by surprise,? Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Sunday, adding that he believed the breach had occurred Monday night or Tuesday morning. By that time, McQuaid points out, flooding from at least one of the two breached canals already had been under way all day Monday, evidence shows.

?I?m shocked. I don?t understand why the response wasn?t instantaneous,? said Louisiana State University geology professor Greg Stone, who studies coastal storm surge dynamics.

After describing the events of Monday, and the slow response to them, McQuaid concluded:

?As night fell Monday, many outside of New Orleans breathed a sigh of relief believing the city had been largely spared the worse. But thousands were stranded from the Lower Ninth Ward, across St. Bernard and south to the east bank of Plaquemines Parish. And waters continued to rise overnight throughout central New Orleans. By dawn, they stretched all the way from east to west and into Uptown, and were coursing through the Central Business District. As TV helicopters flew over the city and beamed out pictures of the flooding, the extent of the catastrophe was clear.?

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