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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Van Heerden is a civil engineer and LSU professor, actively involved in New Orleans disaster planning, and a resident of the New Orleans area. He (and others) had warned about possible deadly consequences prior to Katrina, and probably dwells too much in "The Storm" on those computer models and discussions. Nonetheless, he clearly makes his point that human errors made Katrina much more serious than it could have been.

An early interesting point was that per the Stafford Act of 10/00, once the President declares a national emergency, the federal government is in charge - thus, there should not have been any question about leadership. Another important point is that FEMA staffers refused to consider emergency Army assistance in erecting tent facilities for the displaced and provision of eg. health services - possibly a major benefit.

Van Heerden states that 350 miles of levees protect New Orleans. Those along the Mississippi rise 25 feet above sea level, are 300 feet thick at the base and 100 feet thick at the top - not a source of problems. The rest, however, range from 5 to 18.5 feet above sea level, and involved canals and Lake Ponchatrain. Levee failures totaled 1,050 yards, in total.

Fortunately the La. Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries prepositioned 6 large and 12 smaller boats at the Jackson Barracks of the local National Guard. This enabled them to quickly begin responding after the levee breaks. The Coast Guard's help was also invaluable - rescuing an estimated 6,000 individuals.

Meanwhile, other units of government were hampered by lack of prepositioning, having to communicate by courier, poor initiative, and turf wars with each other. Airmen at a nearby Air Force base played basketball while residents across the street waited in a Jr. High for assistance. FEMA began shipping emergency supplies Friday after the hurricane, compared to Wal-Mart's start on Sunday prior.

Van Heerden points out that wetlands can help absorb a hurricane's storm surge - however, the area seaward of New Orleans had lost over 500,000 acres of wetlands in the last few decades due to pumping out water (making land available for eg. housing), ship channel dredging, and oil/gas production.

After Katrina the Army Corp. of Engineers began cover-up efforts, claiming that the levees failed because water flowed over them. Considerable evidence by objective reviewers, however, has refuted that claim - they simply were inadequate (eg. primarily sheet steel should have gone down 50 - 65 feet below sea level (and the base of the canals) instead of only 15 feet.

Properly fixing the levees would cost an estimated $30 billion; President Bush has proposed $1.5 billion. The fix would include not only levee rebuilding/strengthening but storm surge gates, moving pumps closer to Lake Ponchatrain, and stopping wetland losses.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As a former emergency management planner, I found this book to be an excellent analysis of what really went wrong in New Orleans. It is a treatise for government officials to learn what not to do and an outline of what we as citizens should demand from our government leaders. It presents very technical information and scientific analysis in a manner that even an elected official can understand. But, beyond presenting the scientific basis of why New Orleans flooded, it presents an outline of solutions that should and must be considered. It is an great testament to the fact that some issues should be above everyday politics and that some important decisions that a government may be asked to make should be based upon science and not political considerations. This is a must read for every citizen and should be a mandatory read for every elected official.

Dr. Barksdale
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The author of this book knows his stuff. He is a scientist and co-founder and deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center. He writes about what went wrong and how these same mistakes can be avoided in the future.

It's scary because a premise of the book is the probability that this kind of hurricane WILL happen again. This is a realistic look. While the storm was inevitable, he thinks that obviously if people could have gotten out, so many lives would have been saved, but the problem itself wasn't the actually storm so much as it was the failure of the levys to stay put. In his opinion, what went wrong is mainly that all levels of government didn't believe that this was could happen, so they didn't prepare. They thought this couldn't happen in their lifetime and didn't do the right things. The people in leadership positions should have disaster experience. They should have 'been through the fire' and that that experience is essential to plan.

This is a hard going book, but it's so interesting and insightful and when you read all the details, then it gives you another point of view to think about. I really liked this and know that it's an impartial look at the actuall facts rather than placing totall blame. Let's hope the right people read this well writen book.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Katrina was the "medium one", not the "big one". For those who are not on the gulf coast, it wiped out an area about 5 miles deep by 100 miles wide. The damage was mostly to middle class suburbs, but also include alot of very wealthy beach front neighborhoods, working neighborhoods, and a poorer neighborhood (the Lower 9). I personally owned 2 houses whose slabs were 10 feet above sea level, and were 10 miles from the "normal" coast, that took 9 feet of water from the surge. There are "below sea level" areas, but Katrina's surge wiped out high ground too.

It also trashed huge sections of marsh and barrier islands.

Van Heerden has been in the forefront of hurricane science for years, and was cited in the 2002 New York Times article, and 2003 Times Picayunne series that presaged the debacle.

This book is a great read. It pulls no punches. Van Heerden kicks several bee hives in an attempt to get awareness to a level needed to attain funding of a straight forward recipe for marsh rebuilding, and protection of New Orleans.

In addition to the human costs, V.H. points out that the loss of the marsh would destroy major fisheries and birding grounds. Lose the marsh = no fish, crabs, shrimp or birds.

[...]

I would highly suggest reading The Storm along with Doug Brinkley's The Great Deluge, which covers the human interest/political side of the fiasco.

I would also suggest everyone wake up, and follow this recipe for healing America's greatest estuary.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book is great for those who know the area of the gulf coast Van Heerden is referring to. I learned so much more about the problems in New Orleans especially about the "bowl" effect, that the media tended to collapse into one, so to keep it simple. I am from Louisiana and lived in Mobile and had no idea of the geological makeup of the area. Althought the ineptness of the government before the hurricane was evident. What saddens me even more is the further ineptitude of the lack of co-operation between all levels of government at the expense of the people of New Orleans. Another oversite in all this above and beyond this book is the almost forgotten Mississippi coast.

VanHeerden's scientific approach is a little over the top for some, but I believe the reader can get a sense of the frustration of those who use science as a useful tool to get the word out. Unfortunately those in power were too fearful of facts.

I see this as a great book about the disasters before and after Katrina and hopefully a learning tool for the government. I am saddened that will not occur even if another "katrina" hits the Gulf Coast area.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is a passionate review of the events leading up, during, and after the Katrina disaster in New Orleans. van Heerden was involved at all stages and tells the story from an insider's point of view. He give reasons why the disaster was exacerbated by human failures with the physical reasons for the levee failures that are backed backed by careful scientific observations confirmed by many other groups investigating the disaster. Everyone should read this book and then take steps to assure that such failures do not result in another preventable disaster - in New Orleans or any other American city.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The disaster known as Hurricane Katrina was both forseeable and could have been prevented. The position of New Orleans below sea level had long made it vulnerable to massive flooding from a hurricane. The failure of the levees to hold back the flood waters spelled the doom of the city and the Delta area.

According to the authors, the Federal government had long known that the levee system in place was grossly insufficient to hold back surging wathers generated by a hurricane force storm. In 1994, the Clinton Administration ignored warnings by the authors that New Orleans was a disaster waiting to happen.

This book not only relates just what enabled Katrina to swamp New Orleans, it also tells just what needs to be done to prevent future disasters. This is a very good book and is must reading for all those who are interested in Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I am a New Orleanian. I was there, I know the details, and I know this writer has a lot to teach about disasters and personal responsibility to the community. He's a good guy who a lot of politicians tried to gag.

The book does a lot of CYA- people who knew what they were doing during Katrina have taken a lot of bludgeoning from fools. Mostly fools in politics and the Corps of Engineers- who caused the whole damn New Orleans disaster through sheer idiocy.

Rad this book and weep, for us, for yourselves. Where ever you live, there's the same incompetance waiting to fail you.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2007
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Good description of what happened during Katrina and the causes of it. However, it is a first person narrative with a bit of self-congratulation embedded throughout (which is kind of annoying).
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Get your dictionary out for acronyms... very confusing at times. Great storytelling in the first half of the book, but much finger pointing at the end. Van Heerden is very passionate about his work and point of view. Story matches reality I guess in relation to this catastrophic, horrible event. Very eye-opening, as our government continues down the same road, levee's ...FEMA... wars..... cover-up after cover-up.... Etc...
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