by John Hawkins | September 1, 2005 3:50 am
At the Drudge Report, there’s a big, splashy headline that says, “BUSH VOWS TO SAVE NEW ORLEANS.”
Here’s a basic question that needs to be asked: should we “save” New Orleans?
Keep in mind that the damage done to New Orleans isn’t a surprise. To the contrary, people have known for decades that the city was vulnerable to massive flooding & big hurricanes. Furthermore, in recent years, there have been numerous articles foretelling the havoc we’re seeing today on TV — and worse. For example, here are some excerpts from a 2002 piece called Hurricane Risk for New Orleans:
“And just across the Mississippi River, Walter Maestri is struggling to help New Orleans prepare. Maestri is the czar of public emergencies in Jefferson Parish (that’s the county that sprawls across a third of the metropolitan area). He points to a map of the region on the wall of his command post.
“A couple of days ago,” explains Maestri, “We actually had an exercise where we brought a fictitious Category Five Hurricane into the metropolitan area.”
The map is covered with arrows and swirls in erasable marker. They show how the fictitious hurricane crossed Key West and then smacked into New Orleans.
When the computer models showed Maestri what would happen next, he wrote big letters on the map, all in capitals.
“KYAGB—kiss your ass good bye,” reads Maestri.
“Because,” says Maestri, “anyone who was here when that storm came across was gone—it was body-bag time. We think 40,000 people could lose their lives in the metropolitan area.”
And some scientists say that figure is conservative. People have known for centuries that New Orleans is a risky spot — the biggest river in North America wraps around it; and most of the land is below sea level. But researchers say they’ve been learning just how grave the problem is, only in the last few years. And they say the city and the nation aren’t prepared to handle it.”
“And there’s another reason why scientists worry more about hurricanes every single year. There’s always been a huge natural buffer that helps protect New Orleans from storms. There are miles of wetlands between here and the Gulf of Mexico: they slow hurricanes down as they blow in from the sea. But that buffer is disappearing. Every year, a chunk of wetlands the size of Manhattan crumbles and turns into open water.
Joe Suhayda explains, “So the hurricane can move closer to the city before it starts to decrease. So in effect, the city is moving closer to the Gulf as each year goes by.”
And he says, it’s partly because of those levees along the Mississippi River. When they stopped the river from flooding, they also prevented the wetlands from getting the regular doses of floodwater and mud that they need to survive. Studies show that if the wetlands keep vanishing over the next few decades, then you won’t need a giant storm to devastate New Orleans — a much weaker, more common kind of hurricane could destroy the city too.”
“Maestri says imagine what happens if a huge storm hits just to the east of the city.
“The hurricane is spinning counter-clockwise, it’s now got a wall of water in front of it some 30 to 40 feet high, as it approaches the levees that surround the city, it tops those levees,” describes Maestri. “The water comes over the top – and first the communities on the west side of the Mississippi river go under. Now Lake Ponchetrain— which is on the eastern side of the community—now that water from Lake Ponchetrain is now pushed on the population that is fleeing from the western side, and everybody’s caught in the middle. The bowl now completely fills and we’ve got the entire community under water, some 20 to 30 feet under water.”
Remember all those levees that the U.S. Army built around New Orleans, to hold smaller floods out of the bowl? Maestri says now those levees would doom the city, because they’ll trap the water in.
“It’s going to look like a massive shipwreck,” says Maestri. “Everything that the water has carried in is going to be there. It’s going to have to be cleaned out— alligators, moccasins and god knows what that lives in the surrounding swamps, has now been flushed -literally—into the metropolitan area. And they can’t get out, because they’re inside the bowl now. No water to drink, no water to use for sanitation purposes. All of the sanitation plants are under water and of course, the material is floating free in the community. The petrochemicals that are produced up and down the Mississippi river—much of that has floated into this bowl… The biggest toxic waste dump in the world now is the city of New Orleans because of what has happened.”
“Federal officials are so stunned by these sorts of findings that they’re rethinking their assumptions about New Orleans. Officials in the U.S. Army say, ‘There’s got to be a way to prevent some of that devastation.’ So they’ll study whether they should build more levees and build them higher. They’ll study whether the region needs new highways, so people can evacuate faster.
Critics say, ‘We don’t need more construction, we need less.’
Oliver Houck from Tulane University says, “Stop the foolishness of permitting yet more residential development. We are granting permits every week for new subdivisions right in the path of where this stuff is going to go. We’re still covering those people with flood insurance, Daniel.”
And state and federal officials are asking Congress to launch a massive project to restore the region’s natural defenses. They want billions of dollars to try to rebuild some of the crumbling wetlands, which buffer New Orleans from hurricanes raging up from the Gulf. Scientists say that’s the best way to save the city: make that ancient shield of wetlands strong again.
But even if the country started those projects tomorrow, it would take decades to see results.”
After reading all of this, you’ve got to ask yourself: Do we really want to rebuild what amounts to a major city in a saucer? A city that’s below sea level, that’s probably going to be vulnerable to big hurricanes no matter what we do?
Maybe this sounds outrageous to some people, but I question whether we should be sinking 30-40-50 billion dollars into a city that’s probably always going to be one hurricane away from total ruination.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should short the people who lost their homes and businesses in New Orleans because we certainly should help them get back on their feet. However, maybe, just maybe, we should SERIOUSLY CONSIDER asking people to settle somewhere else lest we end up repeating these exact same events in a decade or two…
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