We need to do everything we can to rescue people still trapped in that annihilated city, but beyond that I think it's time to face facts: New Orleans should be almost entirely abandoned. Let everyone collect their insurance checks and spend their money how they will, but I don't think I single dollar of public money should be spent rebuilding a coastal city that's 80% below sea level. That's just insane. Experts had been predicting this distaster for decades, and now that it's finally come it's time to cut our losses and pull out. No tax dollars should be spent rebuilding or repairing any structure less than one foot above the high water mark.

Nicole Gelinas has an article in City Journal in which she points out that New Orleans was collapsing before Katrina, and the job of reconstruction will be nearly impossible.

The truth is that even on a normal day, New Orleans is a sad city. Sure, tourists think New Orleans is fun: you can drink and hop from strip club to strip club all night on Bourbon Street, and gamble all your money away at Harrah’s. But the city’s decline over the past three decades has left it impoverished and lacking the resources to build its economy from within. New Orleans can’t take care of itself even when it is not 80 percent underwater; what is it going to do now, as waters continue to cripple it, and thousands of looters systematically destroy what Katrina left unscathed?

A city blessed with robust, professional police and fire forces, with capable government leaders, an informed citizenry, and a relatively resilient economy can overcome catastrophe, but it doesn’t emerge stronger: look at New York after 9/11. The richest big city in the country in more ways than one mustered every ounce of energy to clean up after 9/11 and to rebuild its economy and its downtown—but even so, competing special interests overcame citizens’ and officials’ best intentions. Ground Zero remains a hole, and New York, for all its resources, finds itself diminished, physically and economically, four years on.

In New Orleans, the recovery will be much, much harder. The city’s government has long suffered from incompetence and corruption.

We need to help the survivors rebuild, but somewhere else. The WaPo has an article explaining why most ex-residents won't bother waiting around.

First they have to pump the flooded city dry, and that will take a minimum of 30 days. Then they will have to flush the drinking water system, making sure they don't recycle the contaminants. Figure another month for that.

The electricians will have to watch out for snakes in the water, wild animals and feral dogs. It will be a good idea to wear hip boots and take care of cuts and scrapes before the toxic slush turns them into festering sores. The power grid might be up in a few weeks, but many months will elapse before everybody's lights come back on.

By that time, a lot of people won't care because they will have taken the insurance money and moved away -- forever. Home rebuilding, as opposed to repairs, won't start for a year and will last for years after that.

Even then, there may be nothing normal about New Orleans, because the floodwater, spiked with tons of contaminants ranging from heavy metals and hydrocarbons to industrial waste, human feces and the decayed remains of humans and animals, will linger nearby in the Gulf of Mexico for a decade.

Who'd want to return to that?

(HT: James Taranto for the City Journal link, Orin Kerr for the WaPo link.)

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