"Fifteen hundred people drowned. That's the bottom line," said von Heerden. He shouldn't have told me that. The professor was already in trouble for saying, publicly, that the levees around New Orleans were no good, too short, by 18″. They couldn't stand up to a storm like Katrina. He said it months before Katrina hit -- in a call to the White House, and later in the press.
So, even before Katrina, even before our interview, the professor was in hot water. Van Heerden was told by University officials that his complaints jeopardized funding from the Bush Administration. They tried to gag him. He didn't care: he ripped off the gag and spoke out.
It didn't matter to Bush, to the State, to the University, that van Heerden was right -- devastatingly right. Exactly as van Heerden predicted, the levees could not stand up to the storm surge.