An editorial in the recent issue of Nature gives a good overall summary of the whole mess:
Knowledge of the risk of a storm-induced flood in New Orleans has been widespread in the scientific community for years, and researchers have sought to improve our understanding of it. Much of this work has taken into account stubborn facts such as the propensity of the poor, the elderly and the sick to ignore evacuation orders.If in the aftermath of this disaster heads in certain administrative positions do not roll I will be sorely disappointed. Many people died that shouldn't have, if only a fraction of the total monetary cost of the damages had been spent a few years earlier to upgrade levees and other systems that were sorely understregth.
There seems to be a disconnect, however, between the process that identifies such risks and the people who make the decisions that might manage them. There are indications that many senior politicians — not just President Bush — were simply unaware that the New Orleans flood risk even existed.