November 12, 2009 08:00 ET

Book Review: "Catastrophe in the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow"

NEW ORLEANS, LA--(Marketwire - November 12, 2009) -, a New Orleans-based non-profit formed after Hurricane Katrina with a mission of raising awareness about the nation's levee systems, today announced that it is releasing a series of book reviews by its founder Sandy Rosenthal that address the New Orleans flooding of August 2005 beginning with "Catastrophe in the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow" (Island Press, 2009).

Sandy Rosenthal provides the following commentary on the "Catastrophe in the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow." The opinions expressed below are those of Sandy Rosenthal on behalf of, and include:

Authors William R. Freudenburg, Robert Gramling, Shirley Laska and Kai Erikson tell a fascinating story of what they consider the most dangerous project undertaken in the history of Louisiana's lower delta -- the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). And as the title implies, this project serves as a warning call to us all.

The authors, one a professor of environmental studies (Freudenburg), and the others in sociology, describe how the MRGO, an obscenely expensive wetlands-killing navigation channel constructed and maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers was obsolete on the day it opened.

Intended as a shortcut for ships to reach the Gulf of Mexico, the MRGO was also a shortcut for salt intrusion (there was no flow) which killed buffering cypress trees and plants.

Then on August 29, 2005, the MRGO helped create a funnel that sent storm surge into the heart of the city exactly as predicted by Dr. Hassan Mashriqu of Louisiana State University (pg 131).

So not only was the MRGO a monstrous "environmental and economical failure," say the authors, it was also the "single cut that led to 1,000 deaths."

The authors sternly denounce the attitude that the environmental damage to south Louisiana is "inexorable" and thus acceptable and an "unavoidable by product" of the construction and maintenance of the MRGO.

A small number of business people made a lot of money in 1965, asserts Freudenburg et al. But during Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of thousands lost their homes and livelihoods. Many lost their lives.

The authors close by pointing out that the situation in New Orleans is far from unique, that "we are all from New Orleans" and the "Katrinas that lurk on the other side of the horizon threaten us all."

The book also blasts two persistent myths. The authors point out that New Orleans saw "the most successful rapid evacuation of a major city in human history." They also highlight how citizens did not have reason to believe the levees could breach, that "no one ever asked them to evacuate on the grounds that the levees and floodwalls were about to fail."

One assertion (page 95) does lack documentation. Author Laska credits the Army Corps for wanting larger levees not floodwalls for outfall canals in New Orleans' main basin, but provides no documentation.

Nonetheless, in closing, "Fine job!" to these four authors who presented us a mountain of data in an accessible format. This is the first book to lay out a clear story about the MRGO failure, and to neatly lance some particularly tenacious myths about the New Orleans flooding.

Next, Sandy Rosenthal will review "Perilous Place, Powerful Storms: Hurricane Protection in Coastal Louisiana" by Craig E. Colton (University Press of Mississippi).

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