Most Read: Local

Posted at 11:40 AM ET, 05/16/2011

Mississippi River flood round-up: Sacrificing Louisiana countryside to save cities


Water diverted from the Mississippi River spills through a bay in the Morganza Spillway in Morganza, La., Saturday, May 14, 2011. A steel, 10-ton floodgate was slowly raised Saturday for the first time in nearly four decades, unleashing a torrent of water from the Mississippi River, away from heavily populated areas downstream. (Associated Press)
In an effort to protect Baton Rouge and New Orleans from the historic flood waters upstream, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza Floodway Saturday, diverting vast quantities of water from the Mississippi River to the Atchafalaya River, flooding acres upon acres of the Louisiana countryside.

The New Orleans Times Picayune reports this morning:

Over the next two weeks, as much as 125,000 cubic feet per second will be moved from the Mississippi to the Atchafalaya at Morganza, joining more than 700,000 cubic feet per second diverted into the Atchafalaya through the Old River Control Structure.

The massive diversion of water poses a risk to “28,000 residences within the floodway that are outside ring levees” the Times-Picayune said. The flood waters also threaten a number of oil and gas production facilities.

The Associated Press tells the story of one family:

About 11 miles north of Krotz Springs in the town of Melville, Mary Ryder, her fiance and her fiance’s father were loading up a trailer with as many belongings as they could fit to drive over the levee to stay with relatives on the other side of town. Ryder lives in a mandatory evacuation area, where water is starting to creep into backyards. They worried about what might happen if a broader evacuation is ordered.

“They say we have to leave town. We have nowhere to go,” she said. “What are we going to do? I have no idea. We need help up here.”

Meanwhile, modern engineering spares Baton Rouge and New Orleans where water levels are projected to remain more or less steady according to the National Weather Service.

On the blog Living on the Real World, Bill Hooke - Director of American Meteorological Society Policy Program - asks a number of thought-provoking questions related to the ethics of sparing these cities at the expense of small towns and countryside in rural Louisiana :

First, let’s put ourselves in the place of people packing up, preparing to leave the only homes they’ve ever known. Picture the decisions we’re trying to make. Which paltry few things are we going to take? Where are we going to go? What resources can we draw on, given that we’re losing our jobs as well as our homes? What do we tell the kids, who know something terrible is happening but can’t comprehend it?. . .

Or…put yourself in the shoes of people in New Orleans or Baton Rouge. .,How can you look them in the eye next time you see them? What can you possibly do to make them whole? To show your gratitude for the sacrifice they made? To demonstrate that you all really were in this together?. . .

.... let’s now put ourselves in the shoes of those who are making the decision to open the Morganza Floodway. Is there any joy here? Any self-congratulation?

Hooke concludes with an important message:

What’s happening in Louisiana is not just happening to someone else, someone faceless. It’s our destiny unless we consciously make decisions to get off this cycle of inevitable disaster and repetitive loss. Across the nation, each of us has played a small part in what’s unfolding today. And we’re playing a bigger part in similar tragedies lining up to happen tomorrow. We can and should do better. The starting point? Building-in community resilience into every aspect of our thinking, rather than just treating it as an afterthought.

By  |  11:40 AM ET, 05/16/2011

Categories:  U.S. Weather, Latest

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company