Katrina: As inevitable as it was preventable

There’s more to squirrel hunting than walking into the woods. Here’s two experts’ tips for bagging a limit.

The cost to the nation to fix the long-ignored problem (of coastal erosion) — $14 billion — is only a fraction of the inevitable cost if the inaction continues — $100 billion in infrastructure alone.

— Todd Masson, Louisiana Sportsman, August 2003

“This is the Bangladesh of America, flat and watery and horribly exposed to hurricanes.”

— Mike Tidwell, Bayou Farewell

 

“Excavation of the (Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet) could result in major ecological change with widespread and severe ecological consequences.”

— 1958 Department of Interior report

 

Many of the citizens and government of St. Bernard Parish have consistently voiced their concerns about the channel, the erosion of their parish, and the direct access the MRGO has provided for tropical storm surges and hurricanes, giving them an unimpeded superhighway from the Gulf into the city of New Orleans.

Their concerns are not without cause. An article in the October 2001 issue of the Scientific American warned that a worst-case hurricane impact could swamp the entire city of New Orleans under 20 feet of water, killing thousands of people. The areas projected to be most impacted? St. Bernard, Orleans and Plaquemines.

— Rusty Tardo, Louisiana Sportsman, August 2003

 

Future then took the president to the city of New Orleans. They stood atop a three-story building in the French Quarter. Only those buildings with three or more floors were visible. The rest were covered with water.

“This is a day that is coming,” Future said. “The marsh was New Orleans’ protection, but the front lines are now too thin.”

— Todd Masson, Louisiana Sportsman, September 2005, published 11 days before Katrina struck

 

We knew.

We all knew.

While revelers danced on St. Charles Avenue, bounding for beads and buoyed by spirits, we knew.

While football teams battled and bled for national championships and tall, slender trophies in the heart of the Big Easy, we knew.

While anglers roared down twisty bayous on their way to full ice chests and life-long memories, we knew.

This day was coming. We knew it.

Hurricane Katrina arrived on the Louisiana coast Aug. 29 with a force and fury that humbled mankind, and the Bayou State will never be the same.

Laissez les bon temps roullez. It’s French for, “Let the good times roll.” But the times in New Orleans right now are anything but good.

We all saw footage of the carnage in downtown New Orleans and all of St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. We felt our hearts break watching helplessly as mothers carried listless babies, begging anyone for a drink of water. We saw afghans and hole-ridden throws inadequately covering bodies left to rot on sidewalks in the blazing summer sun. We watched whole families walk for miles away from the malaise and anarchy of the Superdome only to be turned back by checkpoints or high water.

And politics be damned, they were agonizing sights to behold and, worse, to ponder.

But I just can’t get away from the fact that we knew this was coming, and it was all avoidable.

For a politician, Gov. Blanco has been remarkably inarticulate in the days since Katrina roared ashore between Grand Isle and Buras. She’s seemed unsure of herself, and has lacked the lightning-quick decisiveness innate to strong leaders. Our state and its citizens have suffered because of it.

But I do have to give the governor props for one thing. Back in December, she wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post asking for help from Congress and the White House to restore the Louisiana coast.

“This is a potential national disaster that need not happen,” she wrote.

She was right about that.

Congress after Congress, White House after White House, both Republican and Democrat, ignored the Louisiana coast. We cried, begged and pleaded — even threatened — for help, but only trickles came. We warned that many would die, we predicted oil infrastructure in shambles and a national gas crunch, we prophesied about New Orleans becoming the next Atlantis, a lost and forgotten city, but administration after administration had better ways to spend our tax dollars.

And now they’re finally spending them on us — only the price tag is much higher. Coastal conservationists were pushing earlier this year for $14 billion to resurrect and restore the Louisiana coast. Washington scoffed at that number, and authorized less than $2 billion over 20 years for the cause.

As of last count, the federal aid authorized by Congress for Hurricane Katrina victims was $62 billion. Economists think that may balloon to $200 billion by the time the nation has healed and moved on.

All we wanted was a lousy $14 billion.

What the price tag is now to repair the Louisiana coast is anyone’s guess. Katrina’s fierce winds and scouring storm surge were as devastating to the fragile marsh as they were to towns and cities in the parishes of Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Orleans and St. Tammany. Hopefully, Congress and the president won’t go into sticker shock. If they do, it’s only a matter of time before a new storm with a different name delivers the same result.

In the meantime, we’ll be here keeping you up to date. Louisiana Sportsman magazine took a body blow from the storm that hurts us much more deeply than our pocketbook. Many of our long-time advertisers, who have grown over the years with the magazine, are simply out of business, their stores ripped from their slabs or flooded to their ceilings.

Like the rest of the Southeast Louisiana residents, some will rebuild, others will move on. We wish those in the latter category the best of luck in their future endeavors. Those in the former have our commitment to assist in any way possible.

We’re here for the long haul. Even in the wake of the wicked witch named Katrina, there’s no better place to live on the face of the earth than the Bayou State.

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About Todd Masson 614 Articles
Todd Masson has covered outdoors in Louisiana for a quarter century, and is host of the Marsh Man Masson channel on YouTube.

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