Big Ruler in the Big Easy

Illustrates Flooding Threat

Pralines were tough to come by for a bit the other day in the French Quarter.

A giant blue tarp was in the way, draped over the New Orleans Famous Praline Company, a signature tourist stop on Royal Street. The praline guys were willing to hide their doorway to make a point: They don't want to drown.

This is the worrying time in America's sunken city, the great bowl of a metropolis next to the Mississippi called New Orleans. Louisiana's emergency officials estimate 100,000 people will die if a major hurricane strikes the city.

To drive that point home, a lobbying group, America's Wetland, commissioned the giant tarp, which featured an 18-foot ruler. The giggly schoolchildren hoisted above the tarp for the photo op belied its sobering message: "New Orleans 18 feet under water."

Louisiana's senators -- Democrat Mary Landrieu and Republican David Vitter -- don't agree on much. But they do see eye to eye on the looming calamity that the kids on the tarp were publicizing Wednesday on the opening day of hurricane season.

The state's congressional delegation is pushing for a share of offshore oil drilling revenue to pay for some of the $14 billion or so of coastal restoration projects that state officials say are needed to prevent "a tsunami-like disaster" that could submerge some of the most storied streets in the South.

"It seems like something out of science fiction," said Sidney Coffee, the state's director of coastal policy. "But it's not."

-- Manuel Roig-Franzia

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), right, joins students, business owners and officials in New Orleans for a dramatization of French Quarter flooding. A giant ruler marked the flood level of 18 feet projected during a Category 5 hurricane.