Reader response:

"I'm a native of New Orleans and my grandmother was in Hurricane Betsy (1965). Before she died, she told me that the levees were dynamited during Betsy to save the French Quarter. I'm telling you this because it is believed by New Orleans natives that the same thing happened during Katrina. (2005). If you don't know your past you don't know your future. A lot of conspiracy theories come from events that have already occurred. I wouldn't waste my time lying."


Were the New Orleans levees dynamited?
Manuel Garcia, Jr.
9 December 2005

I am sure that many people believe levees were dynamited during Hurricane Katrina, and in the past.

The ability to detect the traces of bombs and dynamite after explosions is something that is done very well by many police agencies around the world. I am not aware of any physical proof ever being found or shown (and verified) for the case of levee breaks around New Orleans. I believe it would be very hard for such a conspiracy to remain secret forever, because people eventually talk, sometimes from their deathbeds to clear their consciences. In many other cases of conspiracies, here in the U.S. and elsewhere, the facts eventually leak out even when the physical traces have been removed or have disappeared. This is why we know about many old foul deeds, both political and criminal.

Another aspect is that I do not see how blowing up levees at one section of New Orleans saves another from flooding. The quantity of water in the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain is just enormous compared to what it takes to flood the area of New Orleans behind the levees. There is no way a breach in the levees in one location will lower the height of the water in the river, lake or delta; and of course these are connected to the Gulf of Mexico. To me, it would seem that breaching the levee away from the French Quarter, to "save" it, is like trying to put a hole in the back of a boat to keep water from leaking in through a hole that has opened at the front. The force and pressure of water all along the levee does not diminish just because a hole forms in one location. So, it makes no engineering sense to blow up the levee at one point deemed expendable in order to keep floodwaters out anywhere, and to keep another breach from occurring at some high-tone area like the French Quarter. A levee break at any location is due to the physical condition of the levee at that location and only at that location; and once a breach forms, water will pour in until all the connected land behind the levee is flooded to the height of the river and lake. Those sections of city above such a height will remain dry.

If the break is small, it may take some time to flood the city, especially if efforts are underway to plug the hole and pump out the water that is pouring in. In this case the flooding might be contained nearer the break, and more distant parts of the city saved from flooding. But it makes no sense to create or enlarge any leak anywhere.

I do not imagine I can convince people to abandon a conspiracy theory they believe in. What I can say is that as I seek more facts about the situation of the levees, I find no good evidence for the dynamite idea, nor am I able to find that the dynamite idea holds up to scientific and engineering reasoning. Instead, I am able to find that the natural forces involved in the flow of large amounts of silty, muddy water during violent storm conditions are more than enough to cause the results we witnessed: levee breaks, flooding, loud noises and air concussions.

My suggestion is to take a conspiracy theory, like the dynamited levee theory, as a hypothesis, something to be proved or disproved. Then seek facts, physical data, and investigate for yourself. Take the conspiracy assumption as a challenge to become more knowledgeable about the subject. As you build up verifiable facts and a logical analysis, you will come closer to the truth by eliminating assumptions or statements you can prove to be incorrect. As you become clearer about what is true and what is fiction, you become better able to see how the problems, both social and technical, exposed by the conspiracy you are investigating can be solved.