Documentary About New Orleans' Killer Floods Draws Uneasy Parallels to Dallas.

It makes sense that a 212-year-old agency with a $50 billion annual budget would know how to talk. One of many sharp insights in the new Katrina documentary, The Big Uneasy, is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has got its line down cold.

Again and again in the film, various spokespersons for the corps say the same things about Katrina in the same tone of voice with the same eerie lack of facial expression: The corps builds the best works it can, given the politics, given the vagaries of nature, given the hand dealt it by that old blind whore, Lady Luck. If anything goes wrong, talk to her.

If we were in New Orleans, where an estimated 1,500 people died in 2005, we would hear the corps speak in this film and shudder to the marrow of our bones.

Writer/director Harry Shearer believes it's a bad idea in the first place to entrust the nation's flood control efforts to the Department of Defense. It guarantees we're going to mount up, roll out and try to defeat Mother Nature in a war. Let's see if we can defeat the Taliban first.
Tom Roche
Writer/director Harry Shearer believes it's a bad idea in the first place to entrust the nation's flood control efforts to the Department of Defense. It guarantees we're going to mount up, roll out and try to defeat Mother Nature in a war. Let's see if we can defeat the Taliban first.

But we're not in New Orleans. We're here, in Dallas. So how should this film make us feel? Go and see it, please. I beg you. It premieres at the Texas Theatre on March 11. Everybody who is anybody with a stake in the Trinity River levee situation needs to get to Oak Cliff to see this thing. It speaks straight to our own situation.

I watched it at home on DVD. At several points I had to stop it and back it up to make sure I was seeing and hearing the right thing. One slide showed a geological profile of land beneath the levees that failed in New Orleans. When I froze the frame, I froze too.

The soil profile beneath the levees that failed in New Orleans is eerily similar to the soil profiles beneath the Trinity River levees. Both geological patterns are marked by a gray stratum of "flowing sand" reaching beneath the levees like a writhing snake.

That's what pulled the levees down in New Orleans. It wasn't a natural disaster or that other handy blasphemy, an act of God. The hurricane was the act of God. The flooding was a failure of engineering.

This film is crucial to Dallas right now because we are at a point in time before the beginning of the Katrina saga. We're in the prequel. We are just about to build new levees. We have to decide who we trust.

Before our 2007 referendum on building a new toll road out between the levees, the corps inspected the Trinity River levee system and determined it was essentially worthless. They sat on their findings until after we had voted, but in 2009 the corps "decertified" the Trinity levees, ruling that the levees could not provide even the minimum protection required by law of corps-built levees in urban places. So now the levees must be rebuilt.

If you go see this film and listen very closely to the defenses the Corps of Engineers offers for itself in New Orleans, you will see that the corps always argues from the same impregnable and infuriating logical fallacy: 1) We do our best to protect you. 2) But we operate within certain constraints. 3) The protection we offer you is the best that can be done. 4) Therefore you will be safe.

Tell that to the 1,500 dead.

The film, produced and directed by actor/writer Harry Shearer, is based on the report of an independent panel of experts released five years ago and on events and repercussions since then. In it, the corps bases its defense on the argument that it built the kind of levees in New Orleans that the law required and the budget allowed.

That's why the levees were built on sand, the corps says. That's why the metal sheet-pilings and other reinforcements weren't strong or deep enough. The authorizing law said the New Orleans levees "shall be designed for the most severe storm that is considered reasonably characteristic for the region." In the film, you will hear corps spokespersons say that Katrina was not reasonable. I kid you not.

They say it was too big a storm for them to consider, given the legislation and the money. In the film you will also see members of the independent review team pointing to physical evidence they say shows the corps is not telling the truth about the size of the storm: The water surges in New Orleans were not at all off the charts, according to the independent team.

But let's give the corps that one. Let's say the storm was bigger than what the law called on them to protect against. Imagine that we rate levee systems in categories from one to five. Let's say the law told the corps to build a No. 3 levee system.

The engineers look out in the Gulf one day and say to themselves, "Some day a No. 5 hurricane is going to come in here and kick this No. 3 levee system's ass." Do they build it anyway?

There was plenty of evidence that the levees they were building were not good enough. Dr. Ivor van Heerden at Louisiana State University had the scientific evidence showing the levees would fail and tried desperately to get decision-makers to listen to him for a period of some years before Katrina struck. He was ignored then, and for his trouble, he has been fired since by LSU.

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7 comments
Catbird
Catbird

Since Dallas County in now in the hands of Pols who are well on their way to converting it to a Pay-To-Play version of New Orleans, Chicago or Detroit, the future really does look dangerous in more ways than one.

Since DMN is controlled by folks with a financial interest in the outcome of the re-development of the Trinity, the burden of warning ordinary folks to build their lives and their real estate above the 100 year line.

Only sheeple are daring to take a second chance by rebuilding below sea level in New Orleans...only their Texas cousins will populate the Trinity River flood zone.

bbetzen
bbetzen

Remember the "Save the Trinity: This has already been paid for" signs outside the Beckley Court house during the Trinity River Tollroad vote years ago?

This story is by no means over with yet.

Bigtuna
Bigtuna

Why did Ray Nagin NOT USE ALL BUSES ETC THAT WERE AVAILABLE TO HIM??

WHY DID THE DEMOCRAT GOVERNOR STAY SILENT THOUGH THE HURRICANE was forcasted days before she hit?

Why do people keep putting the government in charge of something they cannot handle

SecretCorpsEmployee
SecretCorpsEmployee

Ah, New Orleans - the city should not have been allowed to be developed as extensively as it has been, BELOW SEA LEVEL. The land is sinking lower and lower. No amount of engineering will fix it or protect it, but the Corps will never admit they cannot engineer a solution. Allowing Hollywood stars to come in and declare they want to rebuild and save a neighborhood is foolish. Retreat from the lowlands and moving inland is the solution.

Sinibaldi
Sinibaldi

The message of a blackbird.

Often, in thesky, a littleblackbird describes theprofile of asad persuasion,but alwaysremains, in the light ofa candle.....

Francesco Sinibaldi

IQ
IQ

trouble with the levees?????........blub, blub..........don't know what you're talkin' about.........

 
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