Nine years later: Is the Gulf Coast prepared for another Katrina?
August 29, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, Science

This post originally appeared on Environmental Defense Fund's EDF Voices blog.

By Estelle Robichaux, Environmental Defense Fund

Hurricane Katrina was the costliest and one of the deadliest storms in United States history.

Hurricane Katrina was the costliest and one of the deadliest storms in United States history.

Nine years ago, as Hurricane Katrina gathered strength in the Gulf of Mexico, I called my grandmother and namesake to wish her happy 84th birthday – and to urge her to leave her home on Bayou Lafourche until the storm passed.

It would take several more days before I heard my mother’s voice over the phone and was reassured that everyone in my family was fine. Thankfully, all we lost to Hurricane Katrina were material things.

As we mark another anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina on August 29, the memory of the infamous storm and its aftermath is still vivid for many current and former Gulf residents.

While New Orleans and many coastal communities have since been revitalized, some scars remain visible and serve as a reminder of the tremendous and destructive power of Mother Nature. They call on us to act now to prepare our communities for the next big storm.

River helps rebuild wetlands

In their most recent reports, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Climate Assessment warned that as the climate continues to warm, the North Atlantic basin will likely experience more Category 4 and 5 hurricanes.

While the Gulf Coast won’t necessarily see more storms in the future, scientists believe they may be more intense. This, combined with the effects of sea level rise, means the region’s communities and infrastructure will be increasingly vulnerable to storm surge and high winds associated with tropical storms.

At Environmental Defense Fund, we’re working as part of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition, to rebuild healthy wetlands in coastal Louisiana, using the natural power of the Mississippi River to take advantage of sediment in the river to rebuild land.

In addition to levees and other structural storm protection measures, the state needs resilient coastal wetlands to be part of its hurricane risk reduction system. Coastal wetlands can serve as an important buffer and retention area for storm surge.

That way, when the next big storm shows up, Louisiana communities and cities will be better protected.

Economic stakes are huge

For the last 40 years, EDF has been working to address the root causes of land loss in Louisiana and find innovative solutions to restore the delta. One-quarter of the state's coastal land area has disappeared since 1930 and Louisiana continues to lose land at an alarming rate – one football field every hour, on average.

Coastal restoration will help save jobs and industry vital to our economy, and help us build resilience against catastrophic storm surges like the one brought by Katrina.

It also has direct implications for important national and international economic and ecological systems:

  • 100 million birds live in or pass through the delta each year, with 400 different species relying on the delta at some point during their life or migratory cycles.
  • Louisiana has the largest commercial fishery in the lower 48 states.
  • Five of the 15 largest ports in the country are in Louisiana, and 60 percent of all grain exported from the United States is shipped through the ports of New Orleans and South Louisiana.
  • Louisiana is home to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the only deep water oil port in the United States capable of offloading deep draft tankers.

Coming up: Peak hurricane season

With only three named storms to date in 2014, this year’s hurricane season has so far been unusually quiet. But today, nobody in Louisiana is sitting back.

The peak hurricane season, which falls between mid-August and the end of October, has only just begun. This means the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts may see more action soon enough.

At the same time, data show that the intensity and duration of hurricanes continue to increase. Louisianians know we must act now to restore our coast and the protection it gives us before the next Katrina comes along.

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