How Does a Hurricane Wreck a Sewer System?

12/26/2007 10:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

That's the question that comes to mind when you read Leslie Eaton's NYT piece on the former leader of St. Bernard Parish, Junior Rodriguez. On the plus side, it's probably the first MSM look at Da Parish, a standing rebuke to the media meme that "Katrina" mainly hurt black folks. It's also nice to see the little details Eaton picks up, like Benny Grunch and Wop Salad and the temporary battle for the post of Parish President between Junior and, well, Junior Jr. But, starting from the headline and continuing repeatedly through the article is the hoariest mass-media error of the "Katrina" story: the notion that a hurricane did all this. It reaches absurdity at this graf:

But the sewer system has not been rebuilt, whole neighborhoods remain abandoned, and rows of white FEMA trailers still cover acres.

How does a hurricane wreck a sewer system? It doesn't. What happened to St. Bernard Parish is what happened to New Orleans, the failure of a system of levees and floodwalls that resulted in more than half a hundred breaches, driving a foot-high (or higher, in some areas) wall of water through the table-flat Parish.

Did Leslie Eaton ever wonder why the nearby Mississippi Gulf Coast, which did indeed get whacked by a hurricane, didn't have to rebuild its sewer system? If not, she continues to miss, along with most of her colleagues, the story of what Dr. Bob Bea of UC Berkeley calls the "greatest man-made engineering disaster" in the history of the country.