In New Orleans: the ecology of it

The presbytère, next to St Louis cathedral, exhibits the hurricane Katrina catastrophy. The bureau of meteorology warned that it would be a disaster like the city has never had. That the winds, at 260km/h would damage the most sturdy houses, and that the storm surge would be 15 to 20 feet about the 25 feet the city is protected for. After this declaration, some areas were under mandatory evacuation. The Superdome was designated as last resort shelter. The hurricane came and destroyed the levees around the New Orleans. The storm surge flooded the entire city. Just a month later, hurricane Rita devastated the south west of the area, near the texas border. The rest of America and the world looked at New Orleans and its victims, stuck in their attic or in the Superdome for longer than expected. Most of the deaths were of those ones, victims of heatstrokes and dehydration, of tiredness and suffering. For some, help didn’t come, and when they though it would, it was a lie. Miscommunication failed them. Some avoided the crowded and foul Superdome and were waiting on the highway for evacuation buses. Some committed suicide while gangs were shooting at each other. But in all this distress, some brave souls took their boats to save their neighbors, or left their spot in an helicopter for weaker people. The community grew stronger after the disaster. Some never returned, most did, because it’s their home. They returned months after the storm. A local (Richard) told us that he smelled hurricane Katrina 2 years and a half after the disaster. People finally able to come back were opening the doors of their house, their garage, their refrigerator, and the putride smell would set off in the whole neighborhood.

Katrina is a natural disaster, but the consequences are human made. Like I was telling you in the post “along the Mississippi River”, swamps are disappearing because of human activities. It’s the size of a football field area disappearing every 90 minutes. The levee system, canal dredging, and the draining of the lands will eventually make the gulf advance 33 miles inland by 2050. Without the swamps, the trees, the winding waterways, the city is without protection and exposed to catastrophies like Katrina. The structures at the time were incorrectly planned and engineered, and the emergency response fell short. Now engineers learnt from the disaster and government allowed more funding for the structures. Population is aware that it’s human responsibility for the storm consequences and natural habitat has been restored in places.

In the afternoon, after Sullivan has been serviced, we drive to a swamp: the Barataria preserve. The area is stunning, lush, and home to many dragonflies, frogs, lizards, turtles, alligators and birds. The area took a hit with Katrina, but the magnificent Cypress trees are still standing. There we met Richard and Juliana, locals avid of nature, they told us about what we saw, the frogs, the irises, the trees… They even invited us for dinner! That’s next level hospitality, thank you both, and thank you New Orleans.