Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Rocket Science

I visited with some old neighbors last night. Well, I should say, "prior neighbors of several years," because they are both many years from AARP eligibility.

They used to live right down the street from me here in New Orleans. My daughter used to ride her bike down to their house to play with their oldest daughter. And it was not uncommon for us to get a Saturday morning phone call from their girls asking if our calendar was open.

When Hurricane Katrina came to town, they packed up their two girls and assorted cats and headed to high ground. When it was all said and done, they landed in Denver, Colorado where the husband's company has an office that needed help. The wife works for the federal government and also found work with the same agency there. And the girls, well, you know how easily most kids can adapt to new surroundings.

So they came back to town for a few days, to rescue some belongings from their flooded house, to visit family and friends, and to chart their return course.

The husband is a mechanical engineer and I'm a civil engineer, so when I saw him he almost immediately asked me to sit down so we could talk about the levees. "The news we get from CNN in Denver is crap," he said. "Tell me what's really going on here."

He knew I'd have the scoop on what the real situation is here, and he asked very specific, insightful questions. I filled him in on the current effort to fix the levees, the initial findings on why the city flooded, and the plan to build more significant hurricane protection if the feds will fund it.

"So, basically, we'd be crazy to rebuild until the levees get fixed," he said. "I mean, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out."

Did I mention he's a rocket scientist? Well, he is. He works for a company that does a lot of work for NASA. He's been hands-on with the Shuttle program, so he knows a thing or two about quality control and risk assessment. He quickly agreed with me that the risk of living with 100-year flood protection just doesn't cut it. And he understands that rebuilding right away and the same way, before the failed levees have even been properly fixed, much less improved, is not a good plan.

Let me be clear about this: I want to rebuild. I think we should rebuild. My only reservation is that we have to rebuild better and smarter. I think New Orleans needs and deserves significant hurricane protection--much more than what we have now. And I think we need to rebuild our homes and businesses higher, so that if and when the streets fill with water, the impact will be lessened.

I'm waiting on the federal government to take care of elevating the levees, and I'll take care of elevating my home.

So where does this leave us, we two neighbors who now live a thousand miles apart? They head back to Denver on Monday, and I will continue to live in my apartment in the "sliver by the river."

And two families continue to hope for good news.

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