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August 25, 2015

Is New Orleans prepared for the next Katrina?

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New Orleans has spent a lot of money updating its defenses in the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina caused widespread flooding, but some fear that it may still not be enough when the next storm hits.

The city spent $14 billion on strengthening earthen levees, installing new flood walls, pumps and floodgates and constructing a two-mile long wall to block storm surges to meet the 100-year flood standard. The 100 year flood has a one percent chance of being equaled or exceeded during any given year. It can also be termed the “one percent “flood since this relates the event to an annual time period instead of a 100 year time period.

The new system is the best storm defense New Orleans has ever had, said head of the New Orleans office of the Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Rick Hansen.

But many engineers and disaster response experts agreed that densely-populated areas such as New Orleans require at least 500-year protection, meaning defenses that can withstand storms even stronger than Katrina, according to historian John Barry.

Another area of concern for not just New Orleans, but the majority of coastal Louisiana, is the erosion of the state’s expansive delta over the last century. For thousands of years, water flowing out of the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico deposited soil and fresh water to create Louisiana’s coastal marshes. But houses, resorts and businesses have eaten up nearly 2,000 miles of those wetlands.

The wetlands, swamps and forests along the coast provide a buffer against storm surges moving inland during a hurricane. Levees built to stop the river from overflowing prevent fresh water from reaching the marshes, while canals carved by oil and gas companies trying to reach rich deposits beneath the delta allow in salt water that kills off plant life.

Small scale efforts to rebuild the wetlands have been successful, but there is not enough funding to restore them to protect against another devastating storm.


Warm up questions
  1. Has your community ever experienced a damaging storm? What happened?
  2. What happened during and after Hurricane Katrina?
  3. Why was the city of New Orleans so badly affected by the storm?
  4. What can cities do to protect themselves from storms?
Critical thinking questions
  1. If so much has been spent on improving New Orleans’ structural defenses, why has as much emphasis not been placed on restoring natural defenses like the wetlands?
  2. What can the state of Louisiana do to prevent the erosion of more wetlands, besides rebuilding them?
  3. Who should be responsible for providing the remaining funding needed to restore Louisiana’s coast? Why?
  4. What lessons can the United States learn from what happened in New Orleans after Katrina?
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