I'll start with a topic which is no secret: The flooding of New Orleans was predicted and even expected in the case of a direct hit by a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. This has been known for many years.
Here are a few links to get you started:
The City in a Bowl - NOW with Bill Moyers transcrpit, 9/20/2002.
The Big One - The Times-Picayune
Keeping It's Head Above Water - Houston Chronicle, 12/01/2001
New Orleans' growing danger - Philly Inquirer, 10/08/2004
"It's possible to protect New Orleans from a Category 5 hurricane," said Al Naomi, senior project manager for the Corps of Engineers. "But we've got to start. To do nothing is tantamount to negligence."
It could take 20 years and at least $1 billion to raise the levees high enough and to build floodgates at the mouth of Lake Pontchartrain, Naomi said.
The corps hoped to begin a study this year of the steps necessary and the costs. Just the study would take four years and cost $4 million, Naomi said, but the money is not in the federal budget for 2005, though the Senate has yet to act."
In a December 2000 article The Lost City of New Orleans, Lori Widmer quotes Shea Penland, a geologist and professor at the University of New Orleans:
It would cost a billion or two dollars to make the levee 30 feet high. A major flood with loss of life could cost $10 billion. What's wrong with this picture? If we know the worst-case scenario is billions and it would take a billion or two to prevent it, why don't we do it? I don't think anyone's thinking about it.
As of 2000 the Army Corps of Engineers estimated a price tag of $15 billion over 5 years for a comprehensive project which would not only bring the entire region up to Cat 5 standards but re-engineer the waterflow to help restore the barrier wetlands and more.
It was one of the first things to get cut to offset Bush's tax cuts. I guess Bush is not so serious about "Homeland Security" after all. New Orleans is the fifth largest shipping port in the world and considering the huge percentage of our energy infrastructure that's located there... well, some folks would consider its safety and security a priority.
Here are a few links on the budget cuts:
New Orleans district of the Army Corps of Engineers faces record reductions - New Orleans City Business, 6/6/2005
When the Levee Breaks - Will Bunch - Attytood
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.
-- Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 8, 2004.