Lonecat has written well on Katrina, here are some collected quotes:
New Orleans is, as far as I can tell, built in a swamp. The only thing keeping it above water most of the time is levees along the edge of nearby water. These things need regular repairs. If the levees had all been in good condition it would still have been a disaster but nowhere near so bad. The levees were in poor repair because the repair budget had been cut. The government needed money to pay for a) the war in Iraq and b) tax cuts.
... and people could, and did, predict that flood defences were inadequate. "At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars. ".
Also see this article [mirror] which says: "On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: 'It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.'
Also that June, with the 2004 hurricane season starting, the Corps' project manager Al Naomi went before a local agency, the East Jefferson Levee Authority, and essentially begged for $2 million for urgent work that Washington was now unable to pay for."
This series of articles from 2002 goes into some depth on the issues of floods in New Orleans.
Despite what George W said about nobody being able to anticipate this, the people paid to keep an eye on this saw it coming and Washington did not listen, and this time the countering information was in the public domain.
Canada offered to help. They offered their Disaster Assistance Response Unit, featuring amongst other things an osmotic water filter which could be flown to New Orleans to filter water for people to drink. George Bush said no.
I cannot understand this at all, it seems on a par with the Kursk in it's pigheadedness. Someone offers to help, you say 'thank you very much'. With the Kursk one could imagine the reason of protecting state secrets, I cannot even imagine a possible reason for declining help here.
Meanwhile in other parts of America people complain about having to pay $3 for a gallon of petrol. It's hard to feel sorry for them when I'm paying over £3 for a gallon of petrol and don't consider this particularly bad.
Though it isn't the immediate concern, I have thought that long term, higher US petrol prices may be a good thing. Encouraging them away from their SUV gas-guzzlers. This could help reduce the CO2 output of the US.
Of course, the first problem is the alleviation of the problems in New Orleans, to help the people on the ground. However, at some point attention will have to be directed to the decisions made by the people in charge both before, and after, the actual hurricane. Was redirecting the levee money reasonable in the light of information known at the time? What about refusing Canadian aid?
The difficulty will be to do this without the benefit of hindsight.
It does all rather beg the question of the state of US readiness for disasters in general. To finish, I'll quote a correspondant [via the BBC] who said: "The only difference between the chaos of New Orleans and a Third World disaster operation, he said, was that a foreign dictator would have responded better."
6/9/05 (that's september for the middle-enders)
Additional: Lonecat's Unfortunate Advert