A Long-Simmering Stew

We already knew the recipe for this disaster: Add big chunks of pork to a plugged-up toilet.

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NyxoLyno Cangemi/U.S. Coast Guard

Soup's on: Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Shawn Beaty looks for survivors in the gumbo

Why even read the current stories about the backed-up toilet bowl that is New Orleans? As a colleague, well-read webwright Jeff Weston, points out, PBS reviewed this ghastly gumbo three years ago. And nothing has changed since then, thanks to the government, which, as the Washington Post points out this morning, did little but dump more pork into the city.

In "The City in a Bowl," first aired on the September 20, 2002, edition of NOW with Bill Moyers, reporter Daniel Zwerdling didn't have to do much coaxing to get various officials in and around New Orleans to imagine the perfect storm. Walter Maestri, whose name has previously popped up in Bush Beat, told him what the city would look like after a massive hurricane — even if the levees all held, because the water would be trapped inside:

    It's going to look like a massive shipwreck. There's going to be — there's going to be, you know — everything that the water has carried in is going to be there. Alligators, moccasins, you know every kind of rodent that you could think of.

    All of your sewage treatment plants are under water. And of course the material is flowing free in the community. Disease becomes a distinct possibility now. The petrochemicals that are produced all up and down the Mississippi River — much of that has floated into this bowl. I mean this has become, you know, the biggest toxic waste dump in the world now. Is the city of New Orleans because of what has happened.

We already know how the Bush regime allowed people — mostly poor and mostly black — to simmer in this stew. What could have been to prevent it? Probably a lot, but it wouldn't have necessarily saved the mostly black service workers who kept New Orleans functioning.

The best solution posed by anyone in Zwerdling's bleak report was LSU water expert Joe Suhayda's idea of building a huge wall around the historic heart of the city, so that "at least the core of New Orleans might survive."

That's one future envisioned by Suhayda. For more on what he's said about New Orleans, go to architect/web entrepreneur David Galbraith's site. Or to "The Big Easy on the Brink," by Time's Adam Cohen.

On PBS in 2002, Suhayda envisioned a wall three stories' high and maybe 12 miles around New Orleans. That's just the kind of wall that Ariel Sharon is frantically building over in Israel.

Finally, a worthwhile use for Sharon's wall.


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