From Louisiana … Again

For the sixth time in less than six years, the world hears about Louisiana because of a disaster.  This time it is the Flood of 2011.  The flood waters are heading towards towns, communities, and people in and around the Atchafalaya Basin, an area which is not nearly as isolated as one might be led to believe.  Long after the water recedes and national attention is focused elsewhere, a large part of the state will once again, perhaps for years, deal with the damage and dislocation of this latest event.

In 2005, it was Hurricane Katrina, from which New Orleans and large parts of the upper Gulf Coast have yet to recover. Far less publicized were hurricanes Rita, Ike, and Gustav. Rita hit the southwestern part of the state near the Texas border less than a month after Katrina devastated New Orleans and the far southeastern parishes.

Gustav and Ike arrived in 2008.  Gustav, the worst hurricane I have ever been through, came into the south central part of the state.  Ike, a month after Gustav, actually made land fall on the upper coast of Texas but had a substantial impact in parts of the area damaged by Rita three years earlier.  Last year the Deepwater Horizon explosion, deaths, and spill brought additional attention to this area.[1] Several debates are still raging over the long-term economic and ecological impact of that event.

Now the world knows about the Flood of 2011, the Atchafalaya River, the Moganza Spillway, and a number of small South Louisiana towns and communities which are difficult to find on a map.  Media attention has focused on Krotz Springs, Butte La Rose, and Morgan City. Krotz Springs (pop. c.1300) is in the northern part of the basin on the Atchafalaya River.  Butte La Rose, a community of a few hundred, in a more central part of the basin just off Interstate 10.  Morgan City (pop.12, 000), at the southern end of the basin, is a major center of Louisiana’s commercial fishing and off-shore oil industries. It is like the narrow end of a funnel. The water released into the basin at the Morganza Spillway is flowing toward Morgan City.

These towns are not as isolated as some reports suggest.  They are on the three routes giving access to Baton Rouge and New Orleans from west of the Mississippi River.  Krotz Springs, on U.S. Highway 190, gives access to Baton Rouge.  Traveling from Houston to New Orleans on I-10 takes one within 5 miles of Butte La Rose.  Similarly, drivers go through Morgan City, located on Highway 90 (soon to be an extension of Interstate 49), if they take the southern route into New Orleans.

More remote are the hundreds of fishing and hunting camps and boating facilities found in all parts of the basin. Those camps are an important element in the life of this section of Louisiana. They are used by locals for recreation but many are also money making enterprises. Rented to out-of-staters for both fishing and hunting, the camps produce income.

As those affected by the recent serious of disastrous and deadly tornados already know, the results linger long after national attention is focused on other areas and events.               The morning after Gustav, fifteen neighbors equipped with a half dozen chainsaws and pickups, as well as two tractors, spent the day clearing two miles of lanes and a parish road so that we could get out of our rural neighborhood to the main state highway.  Not far away the damage was slight.  Again, those recovering from the tornados know what I mean. Almost three years later, I can look out the window as I write and see large dead limbs and branches hanging high in the trees reminding me of Gustav.

I live near Grand Coteau, about 10 miles from the western edge of the Atchafalaya basin into which the water from the Morganza Spillway is flowing.  Fortunately for us, Grand Coteau translates as “large sloping ridge.”  In the epic flood of 1927 this small town was one of the destinations of those fleeing the flooded basin. They came with what they could carry and were often accompanied by their livestock.

Louisiana is not the only part of the country to face major catastrophes this year – the wildfires in Texas, the devastating tornados in the middle part of the country, and the flooding in the Upper Mississippi valley.  For us in Louisiana and the Lower Mississippi, the Flood of 2011 is the latest in a several year series of disasters.

My wife and I just returned from a day trip up to the Morganza Spillway, and then down to Baton Rouge where crossed the Mississippi twice.  We came home on I-10 across the Atchafalaya Basin.  What we saw was fascinating, a bit scary, and always sobering.  Right now we would prefer less excitement and attention.  This flood will not be as catastrophic as the one in 1927.  We have had more warning and the control structures are more viable.  Of course, we had advanced warning and improved structures when Katrina struck.  Less disastrous than 1927 would be good because the 2011 hurricane season begins in a week.


[1] On the oil spill see the following by this author:

“The Spill: Reflections From Louisiana,” Foreign Policy Journal, May 17, 2010. .

“Our Fleet is Idle When It Should Be At Sea,” Foreign Policy Journal, May 31, 2010.

“BP Is Not The Only One To Blame,” OpEdNews, June 3, 2010. s

“From the Gulf Coast: A Moratorium Is Not The Answer,” Foreign Policy Journal, July 25, 2010.