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Politics Mondays: E-Letter To Mike Dunne and The Advocate Re: "LSU Storm Expert Rejects Levee Failure Explanation"

Your article, "LSU Storm Expert Rejects Levee Failure Explanation", is one of the most significant articles I have seen since the entire controversy over Minister Louis Farrakhan’s suggestion and hypothesis that the levee near New Orleans’ Ninth Ward was exploded, began.

Last week, I similarly wrote Daniel Machalaba of The Wall St. Journal regarding his article, "Still Unknown: Did Barge Strike Levee?" His article also focuses on an underreported aspect of the factors that possibly affected a levee breach, which may be more responsible for the flooding of New Orleans than the winds of Hurricane Katrina, alone.

What I see in both of your articles is an intellectual honesty and open-mindedness that is so obviously lacking in journalism today and, of course, even more so in opinion and ideologically-driven talk radio and cable news shows -especially where the subject of race and 'conspiracy' are concerned.

While I had been hearing mention made of the LSU report your article centers on, I did not learn of your specific article until I was blessed to hear Minister Louis Farrakhan’s September 23, 2005 address from Memphis, Tennessee. In that address, the Minister mentions you by name and the subject matter of your article. He also makes reference to a few other articles and information sources, in an interesting presentation.

I think it is important for people to think carefully about what your article and that of Mr. Machalaba point to. And that is, in my view, that there exists a reasonable and rational basis for suspecting that there is more to the reality of what caused the levee to break than what has been publicly offered by government and the mainstream media. Allow me to outline several salient points of that basis.

First, there is the detail, which seems to have been missed by many who have focused improperly on Minister Farrakhan’s remarks. And that detail is, what he mentioned again on Friday night, in Memphis – that it was New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin himself, who told Minister Farrakhan that there was a 25-foot crater underneath the levee near the Ninth Ward. Mayor Nagin did not tell Minister Farrakhan that it was an explosion that caused that 25-foot crater. The Minister came to that conclusion himself.

Secondly, it was not just Minister Farrakhan who believes that there was an explosion. New Orleans residents themselves, who live in the area believe this. One such individual is Mr. Joe Edwards, Jr. who was interviewed by ABC News anchor and correspondent David Muir. He tells Mr. Muir, "I heard something go boom!...I know it happened. They blew it." In addition to local New Orleans residents, like Mr. Edwards, Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post said on the September 18th edition of "Meet The Press", "I was stunned in New Orleans at how many black New Orleanians would tell me with real conviction that somehow the levee breaks had been engineered in order to save the French Quarter and the Garden District at the expense of the Lower Ninth Ward, which is almost all black...But these are not wild-eyed people. These are reasonable, sober people who really believe that."

Third, there is the unresolved question, raised by the September 9, 2005 The Wall St. Journal article, "Still Unknown: Did Barge Strike Levee?" by Daniel Machalaba, which states that the Army Corps of Engineer considered the possibility that a barge is responsible for the levee breach in the Ninth Ward, but never investigated it. In addition, there is a University of Michigan scientist, Mr. Steven Wright, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, who is quoted in the September 13, 2005 edition of The Michigan Daily as saying, "The levee was constructed of a concrete wall on top of an earth-built levee. My understanding is that one failure was in major part caused by the impact of a barge with the levee itself."

Fourth, there is the possibility of a historical precedent as seen through the information contained in John M. Barry’s book, Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How Changed America, which makes it clear that the dynamiting and sabotaging of levees is part of the history of floods in New Orleans. He describes the scenario where the "city fathers" of New Orleans decided to make a point and show that they would never let the water surrounding the city threaten its existence and opportunities for investment from places like New York, by making a decision to dynamite a levee 13 miles below the city to flood out their neighbors. Mr. Barry denies that race was a factor in this decision and points out that mostly Whites were flooded out. But regardless to race, the fact remains that in the city of New Orleans, according to respected author and historian John M. Barry, advice and counsel has been given to deliberately blow up levees in order to save the city. In Chapter 18, page 222, Mr. Barry writes:

After the 1922 flood the chief of the Army Corps of Engineer had advised the New Orleans financial community that, if the river ever seriously threatened the city, they should blow a hole in the levee. In the years since, those words have never left the consciousness of either the people in St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes, who would be sacrificed, or those who dealt with the river in New Orleans.

On page 231, Mr. Barry writes:

Hecht raised another point. Even if no river water entered New Orleans, the flood could destroy the city financially. People were building boats, tying them to their porches, stocking groceries. To liquidate inventories, wholesale suppliers were cutting prices in half and begging customers around the country to buy. Daily, hundreds of thousands of dollars were withdrawn from banks. If the fear grew great enough, if a run developed on a bank, it would hurt, and perhaps even destroy, weaker banks. Short-term credit was disappearing, period. Long term, if the nation’s businessmen lost confidence in the city of New Orleans, serious damage could result. Rival ports were hungry. The Illinois Central recently had – for the first time – shipped a load of molasses from Gulf Port Mississippi. US Steel was planning to ship exports out of Mobile, Alabama.

Pool’s bank was the most vulnerable in the city; he had aggressively loaned money to sugar planters. A crevasse on the river’s west bank could destroy them, and his bank. Dynamiting the levee on the east bank might also relieve them. Pool argued: "The people of New Orleans are in such a panic that all who can do so are leaving the city. Thousands are leaving daily. Only dynamite will restore confidence."

Fifth and lastly, there is your article which says:

Paul Kemp, director of the Natural Systems Modeling Group at LSU's Center for Coastal, Energy, and Environmental Resources, said researchers studying watermarks and other evidence to sharpen their future predictions saw no evidence that walls along the two canals had been overtopped. Breaches along those canals accounted for much of the flooding in New Orleans.

The findings of the LSU center, which predicts hurricane storm surges for emergency officials, clashes with the explanation that has been given by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The corps has said the floodwalls collapsed after water flowed over them, eroding the back-side levees inside which the floodwalls were erected. Once that support was eroded, the floodwalls burst, sending water pouring into the Lakeview area and all the way to downtown, the corps surmised.

But Kemp said his group's models are designed to predict levee overtopping. The predictions called for 11- to 12-foot surges in the canals, he said. Overtopping would have required about 14 feet, he said.

I think any reasonable and rational person with an open mind – not bound by ideology – would have to conclude that there is justification and various forms of evidence for considering the possibility that the levees were breached and the Ninth Ward flooded for reasons other than that provided by the mainstream media and local, state and federal government including the Army Corps of Engineers.

I hope that you will be among those in the media with the courage and continued insight to pursue this line of thought.


Cedric Muhammad

Monday, September 26, 2005

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