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Harry Shearer is grateful Hurricane Ida was not as disastrous as he feared. The Simpsons star has called New Orleans home since the mid-1990s and was filled with dread as he watched news reports from Los Angeles, which is where he is for the moment.
Downgraded to a tropical storm, Ida slammed into Louisiana on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. In the Ida aftermath, more than a million people are without power across the state, including the entire city of New Orleans. Structures have been destroyed and at least one person was killed.
Shearer, who lives in the French Quarter with his wife, said all of his friends are accounted for and OK.
“We dodged a bullet,” the actor told The Hollywood Reporter Monday afternoon. “The rainfall was less than predicted. Those levee walls, therefore, were not challenged. We can play that gambling game going forward or we can say ‘Replace those walls.’ One of these days, there is going to come a hurricane with really heavy rainfall, those levee walls are going to be challenged and they are not up to the challenge.”
Shearer was referring to the infrastructure system put in place by the United States Army Corps of Engineers after Katrina, which he believes is not sufficient should a massive storm rock the coast.
Shearer is the director of the 2010 documentary The Big Uneasy, which examined the impacts of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and described the levee failures, which led to mass devastation and 1,833 deaths.
Given his experience directing the Katrina doc — as well as keeping in touch with an unnamed source he claims has direct knowledge of the situation — Shearer is worried that heavy rainfall could stress those levee walls again due to the design.
“That is what I was afraid of as they were predicting heavy rainfall with this storm,” Shearer said. “They [the Army Corps] built new structures arguably more robust [after Katrina]. However, what is not being mentioned today is that this new and improved system was built to a lower standard than the one that failed. They did a better job building to a lower standard.”
The United States Army Corps of Engineers could not be immediately reached for comment.
In addition to his concerns, Shearer said it was important to keep Ida in perspective. “Sixteen years ago, hundreds and hundreds of people were seeking refuge in their attics while their home was flooding rapidly. And they drowned in their attics. That is not happening this time as far as we know,” he said.
Continued Shearer, “The difference between then and now is on the 29th [of 2005], when the first phase of the flooding happened, phone service went out and people in the main part of the city had no idea what was going on. And those people on the 29th were going, ‘Hey we dodged a bullet.’ So there was this sickening realization the second day when they got hit by the bullet. So the information environment is a lot better now. We think we know what has been going on in real-time. And we think that hundreds of people are not drowning in their attics as we speak.”
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