How Did This Happen?

The hurricane was the least of the surprises. Why a natural disaster became a man-made debacle--and what this catastrophe says about our rescue capabilities four years after 9/11

Hindsight is 20/20. But once in a rare while, foresight is too. For years, researchers have described exactly what would happen if a megahurricane hit New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf region. They predicted that the city levees would not hold. Their elaborate computer models showed that tens of thousands would be left behind. They described rooftop rescues, 80% of New Orleans underwater and "toxic gumbo" purling through the streets. If experts had prophesied a terrorist attack with that kind of accuracy, they would be under suspicion for treason.

How, then, did we get here? How did the richest country...

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