I, along with the rest of the world, can't believe how bad things have gotten in New Orleans. It seems that there is some fundamental organization missing from the rescue effort, and our president is, as usual, useless. BUT, as a budding engineer, I feel the need to disagree with some current sentiment that finds fault with city civil engineers and the failed flood control measures. There are certain natural guidelines that are incontrovertible, engineering intervention or not. If you build in a flood plain, you will experience floods. It is really that simple.
Check out this site about Holland's 700 year struggle with flooding, and the massive engineering that has gone into preventing it. Also, if you get the chance, check out John McPhee's book "The Control of Nature" where he discusses the Army Corps of Engineers' extensive attempts to save New Orleans from the Mississippi. It is important to realize that we (engineers) can do our best, but Mother Nature will always hold the winning card. The underlying mistake is allowing destruction and development in tidal and freshwater wetlands, and on river deltas! All of the previous "engineering" to prevent flooding in these areas has only made the situation worse.
None of this is to say that we shouldn't try to save established cultural treasures, such as New Orleans. But in addition to flood control, there should be a back-up procedure for swift, efficient rescue and remediation. I am agog at the lawless void that is transpiring.
Okay, now that I've gotten that out of my system, I need to thank my wonderful sister. She has gotten me seriously thinking about volunteering to help. I am currently signed up for a local Red Cross emergency training class, but they are full until mid September... I'll keep you posted.