Mud, Mud, Mud
- The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans by Lawrence Powell
Harvard, 422 pp, £22.95, March 2012, ISBN 978 0 674 05987 0
One of the most peculiar aspects of the public debate that followed Hurricane Katrina was the emphatic assertion, repeated incessantly in the press, that the storm was a ‘once in a generation’, ‘once in a lifetime’ or ‘once in a century’ event. Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans at the time, bears some of the responsibility: ‘The city has never seen a hurricane of this magnitude hit it directly,’ he told any journalist who would listen. But this was nonsense. Katrina was not even a once in forty years storm, and by the time it hit New Orleans, its winds were barely hurricane strength. Hurricane Betsy in 1965 was more powerful, as was George in 1947, and more violent storms narrowly missed the city in 1969, 1998 and 2004. As any New Orleanian will point out, the greatest part of the damage wrought by Katrina was caused by man, not nature, the result of faulty levees and shipping canals dug imprudently through the heart of the city. This opinion was ratified in 2009 by Stanwood Duval, a federal judge who blamed the flooding damage on the ‘monumental negligence’ of the US Army Corps of Engineers. That decision was reversed on appeal in September on a technicality, but the case appears to be headed for the Supreme Court.