Skip to content

Insufficient flood protection in New Orleans and Hamburg (Germany)

Local, state and federal authorities underestimated the risks and failed in their response to Katrina. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is blamed the most.
Hamburg, however, is not adequately protected against floods either, according to a German paper. When the levees break, a working class district will be hit the hardest, just like in New Orleans.

Stanford professor and Fulbright alumna Terry Lynn Karl describes FEMA as "Bush's second gulf disaster" in TomPaine:

FEMA was downsized and downgraded from a cabinet position, then placed under the Department of Homeland Security. Its mission of disaster planning and preparation was dropped entirely, and its focus was altered to fight terrorists. Its leadership had no experience in disaster management. The past director was one of Bush’s Texas political cronies, and the current director’s qualifications include a stint as commissioner for judges and stewards with the International Arabian Horse Association, where he was asked to resign for "supervision failures."

Since 2001, billions of dollars were shifted from disaster relief to homeland security and the war in Iraq. Key disaster mitigation programs were slashed, and federal funding for post-disaster relief was cut in half. The Army Corps of Engineers’ budget for levee construction in New Orleans was gutted, including funds specifically aimed at the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project. Preventive measures to protect people and property were not carried out despite FEMA’s own conclusion in 2001 that a major hurricane hitting New Orleans was one of the three “likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country.”

Fellow Fulbrighter Harry would like to respond to President Bush's statement "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." by recommending a four year old article in the Scientific American that concluded:

A major hurricane could swamp New Orleans under 20 feet of water, killing thousands. Human activities along the Mississippi River have dramatically increased the risk, and now only massive reengineering of southeastern Louisiana can save the city.

The left weekly Junge Welt blasts careless in the US, but is also very critical of German policies and concludes that Germans should not act arrogantly and be know-it-all (besserwisserisch), because:
An der Nordseeküste laufen die Sturmfluten seit einigen Jahrzehnten von Mal zu Mal höher auf. Wasserstände, die noch vor drei oder vier Jahrzehnten Deichbrüche verursachten, sind heute fast normal. Vielerorts hat man entsprechend nachgerüstet, von Hamburg ist seit mindestens Ende der 1980er Jahre aus Modellrechnungen bekannt, daß dort der Schutz unzureichend ist. Eines nicht allzu fernen Tages werden in der Hansestadt die Deiche brechen, und wie bereits bei der großen Flut im Februar 1962 wird vor allem der niedrig liegende Arbeiterstadtteil Wilhelmsburg betroffen sein. Dort waren schon damals die meisten der 315 Hamburger Flutopfer zu beklagen. Auch heute ist die Bevölkerung nur ungenügend auf die Gefahr vorbereitet, in der sie lebt.
Summary in English: Storm tides at the North Sea are increasing. Since the late 80s Hamburg knows that it is not adequately protected according to computer models. One day the levees will break and the working class district Wilhelmsburg will be hit the hardest.

According to Deutschlandfunk, a professor at the University of Siegen calls for better levees in Hamburg as well:

Die Resultate von MUSE, der "Modellgestützten Untersuchungen zu Sturmfluten mit sehr geringen Eintrittswahrscheinlichkeiten" liegen für die Nordsee vor, für die Ostsee werden sie gerade erstellt. Schon jetzt ist klar: An der deutschen Nord- und Ostseeküsten sind Sturmfluten möglich, die alles bisher Bekannte in den Schatten stellen. Weshalb Jürgen Jensen die Ergebnisse von MUSE möglichst in den Küstenschutz einfließen lassen möchte: "Die Verwertung dieser Ergebnisse sollte hinsichtlich einer Vorsorgestrategie orientierst sein, das heißt, eine Forderung, Deiche an der Nordseeküste großflächig zu erhöhen, ist daraus nicht abzuleiten. Aber bestimmte Bereiche weisen eben deutlich geringere Sicherheiten auf, wo man sich durchaus überlegen sollte, wie eine Stadt wie Hamburg sich für solche Ereignisse schützen kann, aber auch an anderen Bereichen der Nordfriesischen- und Ostfriesischen Küste, da sind Nacharbeiten durchaus zu empfehlen."


No Trackbacks


Display comments as Linear | Threaded

ROA on :

According to an article in the Washington Post on September 8, “the Bush administration's funding requests for the key New Orleans flood-control projects for the past five years were slightly higher than the Clinton administration's for its past five years.” The article also said “In fact, more than any other federal agency, the Corps is controlled by Congress; its $4.7 billion civil works budget consists almost entirely of "earmarks" inserted by individual legislators. The Corps must determine that the economic benefits of its projects exceed the costs, but marginal projects such as the Port of Iberia deepening -- which squeaked by with a 1.03 benefit-cost ratio -- are as eligible for funding as the New Orleans levees.” Finally, in what sounds like a long-term bi-partisan problem, the article quotes Tim Searchinger, a senior attorney at Environmental Defense. "It has been explicit national policy not to set priorities, but instead to build any flood control or barge project if the Corps decides the benefits exceed the costs by 1 cent, Saving New Orleans gets no more emphasis than draining wetlands to grow corn and soybeans." [url][/url]

Martin on :

I did not know the budget was still higher than under Clinton. Thank you for giving some perspective, ROA. It seems nearly everyone screwed up. I don't want to make excuses for Clinton, but perhaps he was not yet fully aware of the dangers. Bush (and the Republican dominated Congress), however, definitely should have been aware, because the Scientific American article was published in 2001. What the article predicted turned out to be true. Even the timing of the levees breaking and the water levels. Perhaps this article was the reason, why the Corps wanted more money. Did Clinton ask Congress for less money than the Corps wanted? I don't know. Clinton should have done more as well, because he did not have to fight a war in Afghanistan and in Iraq and the economy was in better shape, so he had enough money. But then again, Bush and the Republican dominated Congress should not have cut taxes for the rich. Thanks for the Wash Post article. I find this quote from it interesting as well: "Louisiana's politicians have requested much more money for New Orleans hurricane protection than the Bush administration has proposed or Congress has provided. In the last budget bill, Louisiana's delegation requested $27.1 million for shoring up levees around Lake Pontchartrain, the full amount the Corps had declared as its "project capability." Bush suggested $3.9 million, and Congress agreed to spend $5.7 million. Administration officials also dramatically scaled back a long-term project to restore Louisiana's disappearing coastal marshes, which once provided a measure of natural hurricane protection for New Orleans. They ordered the Corps to stop work on a $14 billion plan, and devise a $2 billion plan instead."

ROA on :

In another article, the regional head of the Corps said in 2003 that a project to protect the city from a category 4 or 5 storm would take 30 years to complete, with the feasibility study alone costing $8 million and taking six years to complete. At the time he opined, "Hopefully we won't have a major storm before then." [url][/url] I don’t think anything Bush would have done would have improved the levees. After all, the levee that failed had just been repaired.

Martin on :

30 years? It seems, protecting NO wasn't a priority. Even the star wars missile defense project is expected to be ready sooner and costs much more money, while providing very little security, because terrorists can get weapons inside the US easier (the ports are not protected very well) and China, Russia, North Korea can build missiles that confuse the targetting system of the killer vehicle.

Pi. on :

The German government has had more than adequate warning of how devastating floods can be. This year in Bavaria; the last national election in Frankfurt / Oder; every two or three years in Cologne; five or so years ago in Halle / Saale. In many areas the flood defences are indeed being improved, but they are the responsibility of local and not national government. The national government provides aid after the fact, but the Landesregierung, the local government is responsible for protection and prevention before the fact. Pi.

Solomon2 on :

The New Orleans levee situation is complicated. See my blog posts for details; I'll issue an update later this week: [url=]On the Levees of New Orleans[/url] [url=]On the Levees of New Orleans, Book II[/url]

Add Comment

E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.

To prevent automated Bots from commentspamming, please enter the string you see in the image below in the appropriate input box. Your comment will only be submitted if the strings match. Please ensure that your browser supports and accepts cookies, or your comment cannot be verified correctly.

Form options