Who Drowned the Big Easy? What You Haven't Been Told

Don’t blame the Lady. Katrina killed no one in New Orleans. In fact, Katrina missed the city completely, going wide to the east. It wasn’t the hurricane that drowned, suffocated, de-hydrated and starved 1,500 people to death in August 2005. The killing was done by a deadly duo: a failed emergency evacuation plan combined with busted levees. Here’s the story you haven’t been told.
available from www.GregPalast.com
A year before Katrina, the Bush Administration did something quite unprecedented: took the planning for evacuating New Orleans away from government and gave it to a private contractor, Innovative Emergency Management (IEM). But there was a big problem with implementing the plan when Katrina hit: no one could find it.

Something else was missing in their office: expertise. The company claimed their CEO, Madhu Beriwal, had “a lot of experience with evacuation.” However, the company couldn't name a single city for which Beriwal had planned an evacuation before getting the lucrative FEMA contract.

But IEM and the Bush FEMA crew did draft a plan; and they had good reason for letting it float away. Basically, the expensive plan was, if a hurricane hits, get in your car and drive like hell.

Problem is, 127,000 New Orleans residents didn't have cars. And if the Bush contractors didn't know it, Ivor Van Heerden did. Dr. Van Heerden is Deputy Chief of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center. Long before Katrina struck, his team developed a sophisticated computer model for evacuating the city which did not involve abandoning those without wheels.

Van Heerden complained, offered to give FEMA the LSU life-saving plans for gratis. He was told to back off, he said, by a state official, one who now works for IEM. Back off or there would be consequences.

Nevertheless, using his special post at LSU, Van Heerden took warnings right to the top, “to senior White House officials.” He had a list of concerns. An Army Corps miscalculation had left the levees too short, by a mere 18 inches. That might not seem like much but the LSU models showed raising the levees just a bit would have prevented their breeching in Katrina's tidal wake.

Greg Palast

Get the rest of Palast's investigation of the White House's drowning of New Orleans in the newly released edition of his bestseller, Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans—Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild; with the new chapter, “Busted,” the story of how Palast was charged by Homeland Security with violating anti-terror laws while filming the New Orleans story for Democracy Now! For video of the investigation, visit www.GregPalast.com.

Other YES! resources on New Orleans:

Where FEMA Feared to Tread


by Tim Shorrock (August 2006)

In the first days after Katrina, health care was brought to New Orleans in the form of medics on bicycles. The Common Ground Clinic remains a vital resource for health care in the city.


After the Storm, Brainstorming Begins


by Francesca Lyman (May 2006)

The Common Ground Collective served hundreds of displaced residents of New Orleans' Ninth Ward, and it started well before any other help came to town.


Economic Rebirth After the Storm


by Meizhu Lui (February 2006)

The Houma Nation gets some economic advice after its community is devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Look for more solution-based New Orleans stories and see our Summer 2007 issue for a new article on Common Ground, including an interview with Malik Rahim.



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