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Palast reports: "Nine years ago this week, New Orleans drowned. Don't you dare blame Mother Nature. Miss Katrina killed no one in this town."

FEMA Urban Search and Rescue task forces search neighborhoods impacted by Hurricane Katrina. (photo: FEMA)
FEMA Urban Search and Rescue task forces search neighborhoods impacted by Hurricane Katrina. (photo: FEMA)

Special for RSN readers:
Free Download

Greg Palast’s Big Easy to Big Empty:
The Untold Story of the Drowning of
New Orleans, produced for Democracy Now.

Crime Scene - New Orleans

By Greg Palast,

27 August 14


ine years ago this week, New Orleans drowned. Don’t you dare blame Mother Nature. Miss Katrina killed no one in this town. But it was a homicide, with nearly 2,000 dead victims. If not Katrina, who done it?

It wasn’t an Act of God. It was an Act of Chevron. An Act of Exxon. An Act of Big Oil.

Take a look at these numbers dug out of Louisiana state records:

Conoco 3.3 million acres
Exxon Mobil 2.1 million acres
Chevron 2.7 million acres
Shell 1.3 million acres

These are the total acres of wetlands removed by just four oil companies over the past couple decades. If you’re not a farmer, I’ll translate this into urban-speak: that’s 14,688 square miles drowned into the Gulf of Mexico.

Here’s what happened. New Orleans used be to a long, swampy way from the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes and storm surges had to cross a protective mangrove forest nearly a hundred miles thick.

But then, a century ago, Standard Oil, Exxon’s prior alias, began dragging drilling rigs, channeling pipelines, barge paths and tanker routes through what was once soft delta prairie grass. Most of those beautiful bayous you see on postcards are just scars, the cuts and wounds of drilling the prairie, once America’s cattle-raising center. The bayous, filling with ‘gators and shrimp, widened out and sank the coastline. Each year, oil operations drag the Gulf four miles closer to New Orleans.

Just one channel dug for Exxon’s pleasure, the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet ("MR-GO") was dubbed the Hurricane Highway by experts—long before Katrina—that invited the storm right up to—and over—the city’s gates, the levees.

Without Big Oil's tree and prairie holocaust, "Katrina would have been a storm of no note," Professor Ivor van Heerden told me. Van Heerden, once Deputy Director of the Hurricane Center at Louisiana State University, is one of the planet’s the leading experts on storm dynamics.

If they’d only left just 10% of the protective collar. They didn’t.

Van Heerden was giving me a tour of the battle zone in the oil war. It was New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, which once held the largest concentration of African-American owned homes in America. Now it holds the largest contrition of African-American owned rubble.

We stood in front of a house, now years after Katrina, with an "X" spray-painted on the outside and "1 DEAD DOG," "1 CAT," the number 2 and "9/6" partly covered by a foreclosure notice.

The professor translated: "9/6" meant rescuers couldn’t get to the house for eight days, so the "2"—the couple that lived there––must have paddled around with their pets until the rising waters pushed them against the ceiling and they suffocated, their gas-bloated corpses floating for a week.

In July 2005, Van Heerden told Channel 4 television of Britain that, "In a month, this city could be underwater." In one month, it was. Van Heerden had sounded the alarm for at least two years, even speaking to George Bush’s White House about an emergency condition: with the Gulf closing in, the levees were 18 inches short. But the Army Corps of Engineers was busy with other rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates.

So, when those levees began to fail, the White House, hoping to avoid Federal responsibility, did not tell Louisiana's Governor Kathleen Blanco that the levees were breaking up. That Monday night, August 29, with the storm by-passing New Orleans, the Governor had stopped the city’s evacuation. Van Heerden was with the governor at the State Emergency Center. He said, "By midnight on Monday the White House knew. But none of us knew."

So, the drownings began in earnest.

Van Heerden was supposed to keep that secret. He didn't. He told me, on camera––knowing the floodwater of official slime would break over him. He was told to stay silent, to bury the truth. But he told me more. A lot more.

"I wasn't going to listen to those sort of threats, to let them shut me down."

Well, they did shut him down. After he went public about the unending life-and-death threat of continued oil drilling and channelling, LSU closed down its entire Hurricane Center (can you imagine?) and fired Professor van Heerden and fellow experts. This was just after the University received a $300,000 check from Chevron. The check was passed by a front group called "America’s Wetlands"—which lobbies for more drilling in the wetlands.

In place of Van Heerden and independent experts, LSU’s new "Wetlands Center" has professors picked by a board of petroleum industry hacks.

In 2003, Americans protested, "No Blood for Oil" in Iraq. It’s about time we said, "No Blood for Oil"—in Louisiana. your social media marketing partner


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+83 # indian weaver 2014-08-27 10:42
Sickening. When the government finally implodes and the White House and Congress no longer exist - on paper and in reality, the planet can celebrate. The sooner the better. No wonder dumdum dubya merely flew over the holocaust of New Orleans. He created it. Among his many Crimes Against Humanity, this one more that is against his own country. Whatta guy. Where is he right now anyhow? Still hiding - and he'll have to hide for the rest of his stinking life.
+65 # Glen 2014-08-27 11:24
Many of us have commented on that hurricane and the chaos and disasters following - not to mention the corruption.

Most Americas don't really know what happened in the city and along the coast. They don't even know Blackwater was the first to arrive in the city, followed by Israeli Special Ops. Most Americans followed the propaganda and misinformation coming from the government and the media.

New Orleans was essentially a training ground for control, citizen manipulation and dispersal, and militarization. No supplies allowed in, no help from coast guard or Cuba, Wal-Mart, or anyone else was allowed until the city was "taken".

It is an event that should serve as a warning to other cities.
+56 # cordleycoit 2014-08-27 11:40
As a old time resident there is nothing surprising about this tale of corruption and venality.Never in a long life of reporting have I seen such racism and criminality as we find in Louisiana. The rich are inbred and the poor enslaved,workin g for the man. Looks like the rich are going to drown the poor, again.
+37 # Glen 2014-08-27 11:58
My brother lives in New Orleans, on the lake, just high enough to have escaped the flooding. I did nothing but research the event and after. There were citizens in hotels high enough to transmit calls and emails. They saw a much of what went on before folks had a chance to report later, including the shooting on the bridge when folks attempted to flee the city.

When it was over, no citizens were allowed back in to rebuild, rather thousands of illegal citizens were brought in, bringing work, certainly, but also crime, looting, and more. Pretty rough stuff and the city hasn't truly recovered.
+39 # MsAnnaNOLA 2014-08-27 12:21
Most of the city has recovered. Tourism is booming, but we did have a diaspora of poor people. The Road Home program which was the grant program was based on pre-storm home values. So naturally it enriched the already rich in rich areas and fell woefully short for the already poor in poor areas. Many have never returned and have not been able to fix their homes.

One of the biggest travesties was the neighboring area cops that would not allow people to leave the downtown are on foot. Also when I evacuated the Mississippi cops were telling you where you could and could not go. This is illegal. We saw our opportunity and by passed the cops in Mississippi that were stopping people. Thankfully we did because we arrived at our hotel in Little Rock just as the outer bands were arriving. Otherwise we would have been stuck on I-55 during a hurricane like one friend of mine. Why? cops in Brookhaven, MS would not let people leave the interstate. This is not the America I want to live in.
+27 # Glen 2014-08-27 12:41
The stories are in the thousands, MsAnnaNOLA. There were people who had to sneak back in to check on their homes and they did it by boat across the lake. I learned a lot from this and from reading Isaac's Storm, concerning the hurricane that hit Galveston all those years ago. Better be prepared to fend for yourself and take action ahead of time, if possible.

Of course, we all do know not everybody has the option to take that action so get stuck and often die. AND they don't have axes or hatchets to chop holes in their roof.

A fellow on his porch that my brother and others passed by, asked him why he wasn't leaving. He said, they'll turn the pumps on. Of course those pumps didn't work.
+3 # ReconFire 2014-08-30 22:47
Why? cops in Brookhaven, MS would not let people leave the interstate. This is not the America I want to live in.
Let's be fair and tell the whole story. This was not illegal, it's the plan our Governors agreed on. You're state agreed to this plan well before Katrina made landfall. The reason the plan was written like this is so Mississippian's would be able to evacuate off the coast as well,( least we forget we in Mississippi took the brunt of the storm. not New Orleans). We gave you the Interstates to evacuate, leaving the back roads for our own citizens and you want to complain about that? I'm sorry for the heartache and headache's you've endured post-katrina. I always thought we had allot of corruption, but we had the most damage and have for the most part rebuilt. One last thing, we on the Mississippi coast want to thank everyone from around the country and abroad who helped us. We will never forget you're kindness and support.
+30 # torch and pitchfork 2014-08-27 12:39
Solution Idea Page...(contrib utions welcome)

1. task the Army Corp of Engineers to repair and recreate the protective swamplands and of course the bill goes to US Taxpayers unless the Big 4 would like to exercise their corporate conscience.
+30 # Lorraine B. 2014-08-27 13:17
Wow, who knew!! This is the first I ever heard of the real reason why N.O. went under. Bless RSN, and the internet, the last muckraker source of news available.
+10 # MsAnnaNOLA 2014-08-28 08:33
Quoting Lorraine B.:
Wow, who knew!! This is the first I ever heard of the real reason why N.O. went under. Bless RSN, and the internet, the last muckraker source of news available.

Keep in mind RSN does not write the majority of the content on its site. Please note that this article is from
+6 # thekidde 2014-08-27 13:58
Must be time to burn down a few gas stations on the way to corporate HQs with rope.
+21 # danireland46 2014-08-27 15:01
Thanks Mr. Palast. I had heard that Big Oil was responsible for the dangerous terraforming that enabled this region to be susceptable to hurricane damage, but I've never seen a better explanation. The fossil fuel industry Is buying and lying its way to the total destruction of our planet. They buy universities to suppress info; they lie to everyone about the damage they do. They only care about profit - they are criminals who must be stopped.
+5 # Kootenay Coyote 2014-08-27 19:59
'...the dangerous terraforming that enabled this region to be susceptable...'.

That would be 'deterraforming '.
+9 # Glen 2014-08-28 09:34
Actually, it wasn't just big oil, it was also the Corps of Engineers who OK'd a canal through what was once that wetland, allowing even more water to surge inland. It was also the Corps that turned a blind eye to the levees. It took a long time to sort it all out and determine fault.
+15 # skylinefirepest 2014-08-27 15:20
Bear in mind that people also died because they thought "the government will save us." And don't forget the famous comment that Jesse Jackson made about the school busses that were not used to save people..."who was gonna drive them?"
+10 # MsAnnaNOLA 2014-08-28 08:37
Quoting skylinefirepest:
Bear in mind that people also died because they thought "the government will save us." And don't forget the famous comment that Jesse Jackson made about the school busses that were not used to save people..."who was gonna drive them?"

Please keep in mind that 80% of the city evacuated. The ones who did not most probably did not because they did not have car or the money for gas. This is not the same as hoping that the govt would save us. The storm happened on Aug 29. Government checks such as social security and ssi go out after the first of the month. So most likely finances was why they did not evacuate.

Others were unfortunate enough to be in a nursing home in a floodplain behind the levees. When the levee burst a whole nursing home was under water in St. Bernard Parish. Most died including the mother of a prominent politician.

What other American city would have 80% evacuate? Name one. Most could not accomplish this. We know the danger and have been practicing this for decades.
-1 # skylinefirepest 2014-08-28 16:02
True but only to a point, MsAnna, because it was well documented that some were caught because they didn't think the levees would fail, some decided to shelter in place, some simply didn't save themselves even though the means was available, and some famously waited for the government to save them. There were also, as you say, some that didn't have gas money and when you come right down to it...many didn't believe it was going to be "that bad".
+12 # socrates2 2014-08-27 15:47
Unless one is willing to become a shill and apologist for corporate malpractice and criminality one will not get their support. That's how the intellectual class survives under the prevailing ideology we call "capitalism."
Reminds me of the cowardly sacerdotal caste that thrived in the Dark Ages under sponsorship of strongmen, when men in robes--from the Pope on down--theologic ally "justified" the rule of bullies under the mantle of "divine right of kings."
Be well.
+3 # Kootenay Coyote 2014-08-27 19:59
'Divine Right of Kings' was a Renaissance invention.
+14 # shawnsargent2000 2014-08-27 19:35
Rebuilding the Mangroves that would buffer the Gulf is an awesome idea, that could employ thousands of Americans, to do the restoration work!
Well said Greg !
+19 # Radscal 2014-08-27 20:36
I knew the President did less than nothing after the flooding, but I did not know that the White House was aware of the first levee breech before the Governor. After that first levee was breeched, there was still time to save most of the victims.

"“The USS Bataan, a 844-foot ship designed to dispatch Marines in amphibious assaults, has helicopters, doctors, hospital beds, food and water. It also can make its own water, up to 100,000 gallons a day. And it just happened to be in the Gulf of Mexico when Katrina came roaring ashore. The Bataan rode out the storm and then followed it toward shore, awaiting relief orders."

Those orders did not come. After the flood had crested, the Bataan's helicopters were brought in to pluck survivors off of roofs, but this ship had all the capabilities to minimize the horrible loss of life, yet was not called to assist.
+10 # Glen 2014-08-28 07:50
The coast guard was not allowed to bring in diesel fuel, Wal-Mart not allowed in with water, volunteers from out of state not allowed in, repair work on electricity and communications not allowed, material to block the hole in the dike not allowed, helicopters and aid sent to folks outside New Orleans, such as government folks to save their homes. The crimes against citizens are in the dozens.
+11 # restore2america 2014-08-28 07:01
Yet another example of corporations killing thousands to make a profit. And don't forget BP savaging the Gulf. This is what fascism looks like.
+10 # MsAnnaNOLA 2014-08-28 08:45
If you really want to get the full breadth and depth of the levee failures, please watch this movie by Harry Shearer. I lived this disaster and learned a lot from the documentary. There were over 17 levee failures as I recall. I had no idea when I watched it.

Also if you want to be educated on levees overall go to

They give a rather alarming statistic about how many Americans actually live behind levees. People all over the country live behind levees. According to their information obtained by FOIA, over 50% of Americans live behind levees.

This is not only a New Orleans problem, it is an American problem.
+6 # Glen 2014-08-28 09:38
Thank you MsAnna. I had forgotten They worked hard in their research. River manipulation, weirs, unnecessary levees, draining swamps and wetlands for farming and development - all has contributed to flooding and disaster. Not to mention irresponsible building and water manipulation too close to fault lines, such as the New Madrid.
-13 # chrisw 2014-08-28 15:07
It alarms me that Mr. Palast cannot find it within himself to devote equal attention to the residents of Gaza. I suspect another agenda is at work here.
+5 # kevns007 2014-08-29 12:09
Could a President get any more incompetent than George W. Bush?

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