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Harry Shearer

Harry Shearer

Posted: December 27, 2006 01:25 AM

New Orleans: The Stories Buried by Christmas

You don't necessarily expect a group of public-spirited scientists to have the best PR smarts in the world. And so it was that a potentially newsworthy story out of New Orleans--if there are any such in the minds of national media editors any more--kind of buried itself, in a news conference held the Thursday before Christmas. The story: a group of scientists who had led the forensic investigations uncovering the numerous design and construction flaws committed by the Army Corps of Engineers that led to the catastrophic failure of the levee-floodwall structures were now denouncing the selfsame Corp's tepid report, issued the previous Friday, suggesting that it might be a good idea, some time down the road, to close the MRGO canal, for purely economic reasons.

But in a letter to congressional members, the scientists called the channel "a ticking time bomb."

At a news conference Thursday, the scientists called for building barriers to keep storm waves from entering "the funnel." They also said that the Corps report omitted key details.

"Ticking time bomb"--gee, too bad you guys didn't come up with that the Thursday after Christmas.

Meanwhile, the other continuing tragedy in New Orleans, the snail's pace with which homeowners receive federal compensation for the damage done by the disaster, develops further. Not only has the President's own "disaster czar", Don Powell, joined in the denunciation of the private contractor running the program for the state, ICF of Virginia, but Sunday's Times-Picayune documented a history of state attempts to light a fire under the firm, denouncing it for its "lack of urgency" in getting people back home. And in contrast to the delays and layers of paperwork required of New Orleanians seeking to return and rebuild (one told the T-P, "They assume all of us in Louisiana are dishonest"), there is this story, about where the real fraud is in the post-Katrina environment. Surprise: it's still in the no-bid contracts being let by FEMA.

If, in the aftermath of the holiday season, you're still feeling generous, you could visit two places:, which will link you to community organizations actually helping on the ground in the city, and New Orleans itself, where I'll see you next week.