Louisiana Flood 2016
Remember the historic flooding in my home state of South Carolina last October? This is worse. It’s not where I live, but it’s worse. For scale, we had maybe 2,000 rescues – this flood had 20,000. Here is an eye-witness account from my friend Bart Kemper of Kemper Engineering:
For those who don’t know what the #cajunnavy is … everyone with boats is out looking for those in need. The police are loosely coordinating it, but we all live here. We know you have hours to find someone to keep them from dying of hypothermia (even in warm air weather) or other trapped conditons. We know the elderly and littles are vulnerable. Pets are being rescued, too. Not only to people keep boats ready at their homes for themselves, but people are coming in from as far north as Bossier (top of the state) to launch and look. The interstates and roads look like the longest dang boat launches.
Bosses are giving people time off to go help. The various charities are flooded with clothing and food.
Here is the trick — remember those many in need AFTER the water recedes. Remember they lost ALL their clothes when the weather changes.
If all you can do in Louisiana is go to work … great. We need to keep the economy going. Entire companies are wiped out. This may not get the press Katrina did, but the effects are going to last for years.
I have been watching events in Louisiana with great sympathy for the people but with the growing realization that, regardless of its causes, climate change is here. We are not longer awaiting future change. We are in the midst of the changes and they seem to be intensifying.
Public television's NewsHour had an interview last night with Louisiana state climatologist Barry Keim (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/scientists-analyze-recent-extreme-weather-events-relation-climate-change/). What a hack! He refused to acknowledge that climate change could be the cause of these storms, some of which had probable recurrence intervals of greater than 1,000 years! The calculated 1,000-year storm was 21 inches of rainfall and one location received 31 inches (!). Our climate has obviously changed when all of our predictive hydrologic models for storm magnitude (frequency, intensity, and duration) are no longer valid.
How does it benefit the people of Louisiana to have their state climatologist deny climate change? It doesn't!! The state will be unprepared and vulnerable because their scientists, legislators, and businesses did not face the truth and did not take action. They would rather protect the oil industry than protect the people. "The chickens will come home to roost" in Louisiana and other states that fail to acknowledge reality and prepare.
As a lifelong resident of Louisiana, I understand that our state, local, and national economy is based largely on an industry which is also flooding us. Floods have always been a part of our culture and this is why many of our houses are above the ground a little bit, but this IS starting to seem a bit more often than usual. However, even those of us who live here and believe that climate change is real are held hostage to the rest of the nation's need for energy. We can't just 'decide' to stop making fuels and chemicals. The rest of the nation demands it of us.
There is no effective preparation for this flooding. Notice how ineffective sandbags are. If the water's coming, it's coming and there's no stopping it. The Corps of Engineers levee system is the best they are willing to do, and it is inadequate for what is coming. Many smaller waterways don't have levees, as these rivers didn't, and levees wouldn't have helped anyway. This is all productive farmland, and as long as people want to eat, farmers will farm it. The only real preparation would be for people to stop farming here, stop ranching here, stop refining fuels and chemicals here, and stop living here.
Before anyone says that we shouldn't live here anymore if it's gonna flood, then we need to evict everyone from wildfire, tornado, and earthquake prone areas, too. Disasters happen. Gotta live. So, we help each other with the boat, the chain saw, or with charitable giving at the church. If it is thought that we need to stop supporting the industries which change the climate, then we all need to stop putting gasoline in our fuel tanks and us people down here won't have to make it anymore to put food on the table. There really isn't much of a true viable solution, other than what we're already doing.
While the LA flood has virtually entirely disappeared from the news cycle, the residents are still struggling with the enormity of it all.
I just came across this excellent on-the-ground article dealing with the aftermath. It's an awesome article and there's lots more words and images to it than you will find in the snippet below.
Sept 17, 2016
In the aftermath of the 1000-year flood that hit southern Louisiana in August, environmental and public health concerns are mounting as the waters recede.
Residents want to know why many areas that never flooded before were left in ruin this time, raising questions about the role water management played in potentially exacerbating the flood.
The smell of mold lingers on streets where the contents from flooded homes and businesses are stacked in piles along the curbside, as well as in neighborhoods next to landfills where storm debris is taken.
I met up with Frank Bonifay whose home and business are in the Spanish Lake Basin region, about 20 miles south of Baton Rouge. We went to his home on Alligator Bayou Road, which for weeks after the flood was only accessible by boat.
On our way we drove past the Honeywell Geismar chemical plant near Saint Gabriel, where workers were dumping soda ash into standing floodwater next to the plant. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) explained via email that the workers were adding soda ash to the water and circulating it with pumps to raise the pH following a release of sulfuric acid and oleum that occurred during an August 13 rainstorm.
“Anything stirred up by the flood in the industrial corridor is ultimately going to end up at my land,“ Bonifay told me. It angered him that the LDEQ didn’t inform residents with property nearby like himself.
“All of the run-off from the petrochemical companies in the area is in these waters,” Bonifay said. He warned local officials that such flooding was inevitable if the state didn’t address water management issues resulting from its continued permitting of new subdivisions and strip malls that replaced marshland in the greater Baton Rouge area.
Bonifay and I had to walk the last two miles of Alligator Bayou because it was blocked off near the cuts in the road that parish officials made to give the standing water a way to escape. On the way to his canoe, we passed numerous drowned animals. Then we paddled through stagnant water to check on his house.
Because of the standing water, he had been unable to remove the contents and gut his house, which was already full of mold.
After my trip with Frank, I drove through Baton Rouge and communities to the east, including Denham Springs and Walker, Louisiana, where damage from the flood was extreme. Over the next three weeks, I photographed some of the piles of debris being removed and the mountains of debris that still remained.
DRC Emergency Services, the contractor charged with removing debris in Baton Rouge, expects it could take until the end of October to complete. The company has quadrupled its estimate of flood debris to 1.3 million cubic yards, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate.
When it comes to debris removal, we are doing the same stuff wrong we did after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Subra told me. “We are still not providing the workers with the proper protection,” she said. “Respirators are needed to protect them from particulates.”
After Katrina, officials were supposed to develop contingency plans to direct the disposal of hurricane debris, so it wouldn’t end up next to residential areas again. But that is exactly what is happening: After August’s flood, LDEQ permitted a temporary landfill next to Monticello — a predominantly African-American neighborhood in east Baton Rouge, where Katrina debris was dumped 11 years earlier.
The Ronaldson Field landfill in Alsen, another African-American neighborhood just north of Baton Rouge has also been permitted to take storm debris following the storm,much to the frustration of its residents. Alsen residents have been against the private landfill since it started operations over 20 years ago.
People living next to the landfills “should be concerned,” Subra said. “The particulates that you would inhale go deep into the lungs and could contain a whole host of bacteria. Asbestos is a huge issue, and sheetrock that starts to degrade lets off hydrogen sulfide, which endangers your lungs.”
My observations are that all of the usual things about American “culture” are on display here. Poor people get the dangerous trash dumped near them without being consulted or considered, and the awful disposable nature of our possessions stands out starkly in the photos.
If these images don’t scream “impermanence!” then I don’t know what would.
The consumer culture cannot die quickly enough in my view. It’s just a lot of stuff without any real or lasting value.
Once I removed myself somewhat from that lifestyle, I became aware of just how much energy is required simply to maintain and track all of my ‘stuff.’
Instead of more stuff being an addition to my life, it was a detraction. The incremental utility of more stuff was overwhelmed by the effort required to purchase, store, maintain and eventually dispose of all that new stuff.