Thursday, September 01, 2005

A little now or a lot later

From the Guardian (via BoingBoing):
The Louisiana coastline may have been so badly damaged by the hurricane because manmade engineering of the delta has led to erosion of natural defences, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The engineering of the last 100 years that has reworked the Mississippi delta with thousands of miles of levees and flood barriers to protect communities and aid navigation, has also disturbed natural barriers which traditionally prevented storm surges and protected against hurricanes, says the society.

"Human activity, directly or indirectly, has caused 1,500 square miles of natural coastal barriers to be eroded in the past 50 years. Human activity has clearly been a significant factor in coastal Louisiana land losses, along with subsidence, saltwater intrusion, storm events, barrier island degradation, and relative sea level changes," the society said in a paper last year.

It warned that "New Orleans and surrounding areas would now experience the full force of hurricanes, including storm surges that top levee systems and cause severe flooding as well as high winds".

The damage done this time may be also linked to White House cuts in funding for hurricane defence to pay for homeland security terrorist defences.

The original article has a lot more interesting points, such as:
  • lack of planning for how to evacuate poor people and others without cars
  • shifting money for levee maintenance to anti-terrorism
  • lack of National Guard personnel due to war in Iraq
Basically, the Feds decided to save $60 million or so by not reinforcing levees, and now we've lost how many billions? Of course, one should question why it's the Federal government's problem at all, and not just the state of Louisiana, or New Orleans, but at some point, they did take responsibility for protecting the city.

No one yet knows the death toll from Katrina, but it has been estimated to be in the thousands just for New Orleans. It's probably comparable to 9/11, but with much, much more damage. Wind damage was unavoidable, of course, but the flooding is turning out to be much worse, and that is looking like it was largely avoidable. The whole city is going to have to be abandoned for months. It would not surprise me if it had to be abandoned completely. Let's face it, building a city between a large lake, the biggest river in North America, and the Gulf of Mexico on land that is below sea level seems like an exceptionally bad idea.

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