Sunday, August 29, 2010

Katrina, 5th anniversery thereof

Every one (NPR, NBC, WSJ, Fox, you name it) is doing a Katrina story. I watched Brad Pitt showing off new green houses with solar panels in the Lower Ninth Ward. We had pundits complaining of the slowest of the disaster response, community development corporations showing off new construction, finger pointing, and endless talk.
But no talk about the root cause. The root cause wasn't racism, classism, illegal immigration or dreadful public schools. The root cause was the floodwalls broke under the weight of 18 feet of water and let the Gulf flow into the city. Most of New Orleans is below sea level, and once the floodwalls failed the town filled up with water.
Before New Orleans can do much rebuilding, the floodwalls and levees must be fixed. No bank is going to grant a mortgage and no insurance company will offer homeowners insurance to a site that is below sea level, unless there is a strong public commitment by Army Corps of Engineers to defend the site against the next flood. Banks are not keen on mortgages when the collateral for the loan is liable to be destroyed in the next spate of bad weather. Insurance companies are equally reluctant to insure places that are going to generate humongous losses. Banks won't grant mortgages unless the place is insured. Few private citizens can afford to rebuild without a mortgage and insurance. Until the Corps of Engineers makes clear which neighborhoods will get levees and floodwalls, and which ones won't, little private redevelopment is going to occur.
In five years following the disaster the Corps has said nothing.

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