Tuesday, August 29, 2006


I remember.

I remember seeing the satellite images of Hurricane Katrina when it
was a Category 5 in the Gulf of Mexico and thinking how beautiful it
was. And how much that frightened me.

I remember thanking God when I couldn't reach my family at home
but instead on my brother's cellphone as they were driving north
through Alexandria.

I remember showing the radar loops from Slidell to my classes the
morning Katrina came ashore, describing how its path would spare
New Orleans the worst but increase the impact on the Mississippi
Gulf Coast.

I remember going to bed that night thinking the only breached levee
was along the Industrial Canal leading into the Lower Ninth Ward.

I remembered that my Dad was among those who rescued people
from the Lower Ninth Ward after Hurricane Betsy in 1965.

I remember my horror at seeing the first pictures of Lake Ponchatrain
pouring through the breach in the 17th Street Canal.

And my growing fear as my all too well-trained brain brought up a
DEM of New Orleans and mapped the flood in my mind.

I remember much more from the days and weeks and months that
followed, the inside of my cousins's flooded Lakeview home, the miles
and miles of desolation, the weight of the moldy sheetrock and
cabinets my brother and I tore out of my parent's home.

I remember.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mississippi River: Ally not Enemy

In the past year I have been learning (and in some cases relearning)
more about the Mississippi River and its contribution to the state of
Louisiana and the USA in general. I have read translations of the
reports from deSoto's expedition from the flood of 1543 and reviewed
the founding of New Orleans in 1718. I've updated my knowledge of
the oil-bearing strata that lies under Louisiana and its offshore. I've
read piles of papers and reports on subsidence and also how the river
built south Louisiana in the last 5000 years. Last summer (before
Katrina) I reread John Barry's "Rising Tide" in preparation for a
lecture on the 1927 flood in the Natural Hazards course I teach. I
am probably as well informed on this subject as I have ever been
in my entire life.

And what keeps hitting me is how much the Mississippi River
has contributed to Louisiana and the USA. In some ways it
defines us. It's alluvial soils feed millions here and its water brings
food to millions more across the world. The growth of the delta has
not only created much of south Louisiana but the overlapping marsh,
river and marine deposits atop a semi-fluid salt layer created a near
perfect superposition of petroleum source/reservoir rocks and
wonderfully complex traps to hold them in (yeah, I have a thing for
3D seismic). The marsh of delta nourishes an amazingly fertile
fishery. What not to like about the Mississippi River?

And yet we hide it behind levees and let its waters reach the sea in
only a few restricted places. We treat it like a wild beast that needs
to be tamed and kept in a cage. We send most of its life-bearing
water and silt into the deep Gulf of Mexico.

We need to start treating the Mississippi River as a friend and ally,
as one of the greatest gifts God has given to the State of Louisiana
and the nation as a whole. Yes, it is a wild thing and needs to be
respected as such. But we need to restore as many of its natural
rhythms as possible and see to it that it works in our favor as it
should. Some people will have to give up where they live so the river
can flow there again. Some will have to deal with uncertainity, not
knowing what the delta will look like after a big spring flood. But
we'll gain far more than we will lose.