Further Divergence

I’m still thinking about Isaac. My writing hasn’t been able to keep pace.

They say every storm is unique, and certainly Isaac was very different from Katrina. Yet comparisons are inevitable, despite being problematic. One headline put it this way:

Drenched New Orleans passes big post-Katrina test

The US Army Corp of Engineers has done a lot of work since the floods of 2005. In monetary terms, it’s something in the neighborhood of $14 billion. I have no idea how many hours of human labor that represents. I still believe we should aim for a higher level of protection. We should build not for a so-called hundred year storm, but for 10,000 year storm, as the Dutch do. But that’s a separate gripe. One story coming out of Isaac is that the work the Corps has actually been tasked with appears to be effective. New Orleans was not flooded by Isaac’s surge.

But immediately outside of these federal flood protection structures, communities did flood. Braithwaite. LaPlace. Slidell. Lots of homes under water. (If you want to help the people who were flooded, please consider making a donation to Beacon of Hope.) A key question is, did our flood protection cause or exacerbate flooding elsewhere? It will take a while for that analysis. But if the answer comes back yes — if the system that keeps my home dry floods someone else’s home — what then, I wonder?

Morganza

Estimated Inundation

It’s been terribly dry here in Southeast Louisiana for a long time. In the midst of this drought, it’s hard to believe that the Mississippi River is riding at historically high levels. All that water is barreling down toward New Orleans. The US Army Corps of Engineers is opening the Bonnet Carré Spillway right now to divert some water into Lake Pontchartrain. More ominously, the Corps is considering opening the Morganza Spillway for the first time in 35 years. That would divert a huge amount of the Mississippi’s flow into the Atchafalaya River basin.

I’ve been wondering about the consequences of this. I understand it would put a lot of farmland under water. It would destroy crops and perhaps even livelihoods. These and other sacrifices are being considered in order to protect Baton Rouge and Louisiana. It must be an awesome responsibility to make a decision like that. I can only hope that all the people in my fair city consider the sacrifice others may have to make on our behalf. How will we conduct ourselves to show that this sacrifice was warranted? Oh wait, this is probably about capital more than human beings. Nevertheless I feel for those people who may be flooded for our benefit.

The ironic part is that the Mississippi actually wants to flow into the Atchafalaya. It would probably have made the switch a couple decades ago if humans hadn’t intervened. The American Rivers conservation organization posted an article yesterday, The Consequences of Controlling a River Course:

If the Mississippi River were to shift course, the effects would be devastating. Several cities would be inundated and might require relocation. Oil and gas pipelines throughout southern LA would rupture and commerce on the river and in New Orleans would be severely disrupted.

However, in ecological terms, the Louisiana coast would be revitalized. The western part of the Mississippi delta would receive the sediment and freshwater it has been deprived of for decades. Increased sediment distribution would reduce coastal erosion, and provide nutrient-rich sediments for terrestrial and aquatic habitat. Additionally, this would reduce Louisiana coastal wetland loss, which currently occurs at a rate of 1 acre every 38 minutes. The combined effects of these ecological benefits would ultimately increase the sustainability of Gulf Coast fisheries.

Something to think about.

And, while the Corps fiddles with control structures, I suppose there’s always the possibility that control could be lost, and the water will have its way. Who knows what will happen?

Trial by Water

I wasn’t feeling quite right. When Xy offered to take our daughter with her on a shopping expedition I assented. It was just starting to rain so I urged her to drive carefully. Off she went.

We’d heard the weather reports the night before talking about a possibly severe “rain event” but I thought that was over. Wrong. I puttered around the house (feeling much better after relieving some gastrointestinal pressure) and after about an hour I sent the following text to Xy:

Jeez it’s raining heavily. I wish y’all had stayed home now. Be careful! Love!!!

Little did I know her phone was sitting on our bed upstairs.

About 45 minutes later I opened the front door and stepped out on the front porch. Loud and profane language began issuing spontaneously from my mouth. Our front yard was under water.

Banks Street Flooding

I texted Xy:

Our street is flooded badly!

I also tried calling her. In fact I called her repeatedly over the next couple hours. She never answered. Little did I know her phone was sitting on our bed upstairs.

And so I puttered and worried. Twitter indicated street flooding was occurring all over New Orleans. Michael Homan and his kids waded by for a visit. After they left I puttered and worried some more and continued to call Xy’s phone, wondering why on earth she didn’t answer and fearing for the worst. Little did I know her phone was sitting on our bed upstairs. Why didn’t I at least tell her to leave our girl at home with me?

And then the kitchen ceiling sprung a new leak. It’s becoming obvious that we need a new roof for the addition.

Finally, about three and a half hours after she left, the doorbell rang, and there she was on our front porch, soaked to the skin and holding our daughter on her hip. She’d driven the car into water and pushed it to start three times, but on the forth time it wouldn’t start. She had to abandon it on Airline Highway and walk home through flooded streets and pouring rain — carrying a toddler the whole way. Luckily she only had to go about a mile and a quarter.

It’s amazing to me no one offered help. She tried flagging down a cab but they didn’t stop. Plenty of police passed by but they didn’t stop. C’mon, a diminutive woman walking through a commercial/industrial zone in knee-deep flood-waters during a “rain event” at night in New Orleans with a baby — are you kidding me?

I of course had no idea they were in trouble until they showed up on the porch. The whole thing shook me up quite a bit. Sometimes I don’t dig living in New Orleans so much. I think I need a drink.

Not Laughing Anymore

When I first heard about flooding in Indiana last week, and saw some pictures of IU students frolicking in the high water in Bloomington, with little indication of property damage or loss of life, I’ll admit I laughed. I used to live there, I’d seen canoes on Kirkwood before — I didn’t think much of it.

But now the situation has changed, as the rains keep coming. Seven or eight people have died, 29 counties have been declared disaster areas.

Suffice it to say I’m not laughing anymore.

Here’s a picture of my Dad wading. The water in this small lake on my parents’ property is overflowing the dam.

Walking the dam

Thankfully I don’t think they’re sustaining any real damage, but many others are not so lucky. Since we found refuge in Indiana when we were flooded out of our home in New Orleans, my heart really goes out to the Hoosier State now.

Bloomington Floods

Once again Mr. Magic writes with news of life in my former hometown:

I thought you might enjoy these pictures of the recent flooding in btown.

It was crazy here last night. I’ve never seen this town as wet in my life,

Maybe it can give you some comfort Katrina, as nobody is safe from flooding, even downtown Bloomington.

I found more pictures on Flickr:

Bloomington Flash Flood

Of course us folks in New Orleans have one universal reaction when we see pix like this:

How can those people live there?

Sorry, can’t help it. It’s become an ingrained reflex. From what I’ve read there was very little damage and no loss of life, for which I am glad. Stay dry, Bloomington.

Quote of the Day

“There’s no reason for anyone to worry.”

So sayeth Section Chief Brett Herr of the Army Corps of Engineers. He’s a talking about a wee small leak that’s been discovered at the 17th Street Canal floodwall.

This is one of the floodwalls that breached and flooded the city back in 2005. These floodwalls were designed and built — with fatal flaws — by the Army Corps. They ignored reports of seepage before Katrina.

And who repaired them? The same Army Corps.

No, there’s no reason for anyone to worry.


Speaking of flooding, and the Corps, they opened the Bonnet Carré Spillway a few days ago to divert water from the swollen Mississippi to Lake Pontchartrain. That got me to thinking about how, once upon a time, it was Spring that was the nervous season in New Orleans. Flooding mostly happened from the river rising, what with melting snow up North and April showers and whatnot. Last year was the 80th anniversary of the Great Flood of 1927, but I don’t remember hearing a word about it in the popular media. Now we’re mostly worried about hurricanes. We’ve got a hurricane evacuation plan, and the local media is always full of hurricane tips. But I honestly don’t know what we’re supposed to do if we get flooding from the river.


Update: At the Chef’s suggestion I offer the following image remix.

No Reason to Worry

Washout

It was raining heavily this morning. I got pretty soaked on the ride to work. There was a foot of water standing on parts of Drexel Drive. I could see air bubbling up from cracks in the street as I rode past. During our staff meeting word came down (via the text messaging system, run by e2campus) that classes had been canceled after noon. So we went home early. I got well and truly soaked on the ride home. Michael says the water is waist-deep on some blocks in his part of the neighborhood.

Flood Marker

I took this picture this morning at Jeff Davis and Conti.

Waterline Marker

I think anyone in New Orleans would recognize what this marker means: that’s how high the water came during last year’s flood. As a point of reference, the waterline was about the level of my neck, and I’m tall.

What I wonder about is: Who put this here, and is it part of a larger project? Are there more markers like this around the city?

Design Failure

The US Army Corps of Engineers now admits the failure of the 17th Street canal floodwalls was caused by a “design failure.”

Or, put it another way, my private property was flooded because of a federal screw-up.

Rising Water

We decided to go further than Jackson MS. We have taken refuge in Mandeville LA, at the home of Xavier prof Jonathan Rotondo-McCord. Mandeville is on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Outside the water is slowly rising, spreading through the streets of this subdivision and into yards and homes. We don’t expect it will reach this house, and we still have power so far. It’s actually quite comfy here with Jonathan’s family and friends who are also taking shelter.

Tomorrow we hope to make it into the city to Howie’s house in New Orleans, on the West Bank. It’s a short drive over the causeway bridge but we don’t think they’ll be letting people across, so we’re gonna try sneaking around the long back way.