New Orleans was originally founded on high ground overlooking the Mississippi River, above sea level. Also surrounded by Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne, New Orleans was susceptible to hurricanes that would come up the coast into the Gulf. Originally New Orleans was naturally protected by “coastal swamps that helped absorb the energy of storm surges before they reached dry land.” (Stillman 228) At this point Americans were more concerned with the floods that happened annually from the Mississippi River. In the early days, settlers built a mile long levee to block overflows from the mighty Mississippi while landowners constructed their own levees.
“In 1879, Congress created the ...view middle of the document...
The Corps determined a hurricane could severely damage New Orleans however nothing pertinent was ever done about this fact. Hurricane Betsy struck New Orleans in 1965, stranding approximately 30,000 people, at least 70 people died and damage surpassed $70 billion. Shortly thereafter, “Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1965, authorizing the first federal hurricane protection for New Orleans.” (Stillman 229)
The Corps built gulf levees and floodgates but again, it was made clear that the best protection was derived from coastal marsh and wetlands. Some opposed protecting the wetlands asking why weren’t the people first being protected. The Corps had a priority to protect against hurricane however at what cost? The people didn’t want to pay for it through cost sharing, it wasn’t a top priority for the Corps so essentially hurricane protection was always on the back burner. They thought the costs were too excessive. In the end, levees, flood gates and pumping stations were installed around the city. But this did not prevent the inevitable from happening.
Repulican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana warned of a catastrophe if a hurricane of Category 4 proportions hit New Orleans. At a meeting two months prior to Hurricane Katrina, Vitter “displayed a computer model of a Category 4 hurricane smashing New Orleans and flooding the city under 18 feet of water. [He stated] one day, it may be Atlantis [and] it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.” New Orleans is described as “a city in a bowl below sea level”. (Stillman, 227)
Senator Vitter always believed New Orleans was a “disaster waiting to happen”. “[He] accused the federal government of neglecting the city’s man-made and natural protections by underfunding levees that were designed only for a Category 3 storm and stalling a massive plan to restore Louisiana’s tattered web of coastal marshes.” (Stillman 227) At the same time Vitter was blaming the government for their lack of response, he was responsible for backing Louisiana’s loggers and their deforestation which was counterproductive as the swamps and wetlands help protect against mother natures’ natural disasters, such as hurricanes. This was holding up legislation that could have been approved to proceed with levee upgrades and the coastal restoration plan.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast at daybreak, “pummeling a region that included the fabled city of New Orleans and heaping damage on neighboring Mississippi. In all, more than 1,700 people were killed and hundreds of thousands of others displaced.” (Laforet, New York Times)
Packing 145-mile-an-hour winds as it made landfall, the category 3 storm left more than a million people in three states without power and submerged highways even hundreds of miles from its center. The hurricane’s storm surge — a 29-foot wall of water pushed ashore when the hurricane struck the Gulf Coast — was the highest ever measured in the...