NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 7, 2006

What happened in New Orleans was "the single most costly catastrophic failure of an engineered system in history," according to a report issued by the Independent Levee Investigation Team, a blue-ribbon panel led by experts from the University of California at Berkeley and funded by the National Science Foundation.

For example:

  • Some of the flood barriers were built using inadequate materials, the report says, and others were designed so poorly that they provided weak spots for the waters to exploit; still others were left unfinished for lack of funds.
  • Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff remarked that "had it not been for what appear to be structural problems in the building of the levees, Katrina would have been a bad hurricane" but not an unparalleled catastrophe.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers, which was responsible for building the levees that failed, has not yet issued its own final report on the flood and likely will dispute some of the independent team's conclusions.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the most chilling sentence in the report is this one: "A number of these same problems appear to be somewhat pervasive, and call into question the integrity and reliability of other sections of the flood protection system that did not fail during the event."

In other words, there are many miles of levees around New Orleans that were built with the same questionable design principles and materials that were used in the barriers that gave way, says the Journal.

Source: Eugene Robinson, "Drowned by Human Incompetence," Wall Street Journal, May 31, 2006.

For Berkeley report:


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