interesting post from the news....
Experts have warned about New Orleans’ vulnerability for years, chiefly because Louisiana has lost more than a million acres of coastal wetlands in the past seven decades. The vast patchwork of swamps and bayous south of the city serves as a buffer, partially absorbing the surge of water that a hurricane pushes ashore.
Experts have also warned that the ring of high levees around New Orleans, designed to protect the city from floodwaters coming down the Mississippi, will only make things worse in a powerful hurricane. Katrina is expected to push a 28-foot storm surge against the levees. Even if they hold, water will pour over their tops and begin filling the city as if it were a sinking canoe.
After the storm passes, the water will have nowhere to go.
In a few days, van Heerden predicts, emergency management officials are going to be wondering how to handle a giant stagnant pond contaminated with building debris, coffins, sewage and other hazardous materials.
“We’re talking about an incredible environmental disaster,” van Heerden said.
He puts much of the blame for New Orleans’ dire situation on the very levee system that is designed to protect southern Louisiana from Mississippi River floods.
Before the levees were built, the river would top its banks during floods and wash through a maze of bayous and swamps, dropping fine-grained silt that nourished plants and kept the land just above sea level.
The levees “have literally starved our wetlands to death” by directing all of that precious silt out into the Gulf of Mexico, van Heerden said.
It has been 40 years since New Orleans faced a hurricane even comparable to Katrina. In 1965, Hurricane Betsy, a Category 3 storm, submerged some parts of the city to a depth of seven feet.
Since then, the Big Easy has had nothing but near misses. In 1998, Hurricane Georges headed straight for New Orleans, then swerved at the last minute to strike Mississippi and Alabama. Hurricane Lili blew herself out at the mouth of the Mississippi in 2002. And last year’s Hurricane Ivan obligingly curved to the east as it came ashore, barely grazing a grateful city.