"I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."
—President Bush on ABC's Good Morning America, Sept. 1, 2005
[F]or the length of one hundred and twenty miles, from the Balize to New Orleans, and one hundred miles above the town, the land is defended from the encroachments of the river by a high embankment which is called the Levee; without which the dwellings would speedily disappear, as the river is evidently higher than the banks would be without it. When we arrived, there had been constant rains, and of long continuance, and this appearance was, therefore, unusually striking, giving to "this great natural feature" the most unnatural appearance imaginable; and making evident, not only that man had been busy there, but that even the mightiest works of nature might be made to bear his impress; it recalled, literally, Swift's mock heroic,
"Nature must give way to art;"
yet, she was looking so mighty, and so unsubdued all the time, that I could not help fancying she would some day take the matter into her own hands again, and if so, farewell to New Orleans.
—Fanny Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans, 1832.
(Thanks to former Slate Fraymaster Moira Redmond.)
Discussion. A pedant might observe that the levee of which Mrs. Trollope (Anthony's mother) wrote was on the Mississippi River, not Lake Pontchartrain, which is where the levee gave way in the recent New Orleans flood. I won't dispute the point. It nonetheless remains true that in general, the hazard of a levee giving way in New Orleans was recognized—even by lay persons—for at least 173 years prior to Aug. 29, 2005.
Oh, and people have been worrying about this in the 21st century, too. "We pretty much knew this would happen somewhere along the line," said Gregory W. Stone, director of the Coastal Studies Institute at Louisiana State University in a Sept. 1 interview with Cox Newspapers.