Katrina’s Wrath and Google Maps

By on September 4, 2005

Those geniuses at Google are at it again, now providing satellite photos of the areas of New Orleans, LA, that were hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. If you do a Google Maps search for New Orleans, LA, you’ll get the map of the city with an extra red button, labeled Katrina, in the upper-right corner. Click on that and you’ll get satellite photos from August 30. Click on the Satellite button and you can see the “before” pictures for comparison.

(Right now the Katrina satellite photos cover just a portion of New Orleans; I wonder if they are working on expanding the coverage to show other hard-hit areas like Biloxi or Gulfport, MS. New Orleans is getting all the press right now, but there are other areas that have been virtually wiped out and could benefit from the publicity that Google Maps could give them.)

Some areas of interest are the Superdome, a shot of Highway 610, with abandoned cars all over, and one of the breached levees.. From that last link, zoom in and scroll around to see all of the houses that are flooded. Again, clicking on the Satellite button will show you what things looked like pre-Katrina.

It’s astounding to see how much of the area is under water. Not surprising given the fact that much of the city is below sea level and protected by levees, which failed to hold up against a Category 5 hurricane.

Now allow me an editorial comment about the New Orleans disaster…

I’ve been a homeowner long enough to realize that water can be your worst enemy. Harnessed in pipes and sinks and hoses it’s a necessity. Routed away from the house by way of shingles, gutters, downspouts, and landscaping, that’s fine as well. But let water get into places in a house where it’s not meant to go — sheetrock, plaster, wall cavities, insulation, carpet, etc… — and you’re in trouble.

Here in South Dakota, most houses have basements, and a couple of the houses I’ve owned have had landscaping issues that have led to water in the basements during heavy rains. Water and basements — especially finished basements — don’t mix. When it happens, it’s ugly, time consuming and expensive to deal with. I tend to be rather difficult to work with and use much more colorful language when dealing with wet basements.

The homes in New Orleans that right now are flooded will never be the same, I’m sure that many who survived will want to restore their homes and places of business, but that will be extremely expensive. Even those that have only a few feet of water surrounding them will need to be gutted to remove all of the wet wallboard & carpet so that the framing can be allowed to dry properly. Without doing that mold will quickly make those places inhabitable. The biggest challenge facing those property owners wanting to rebuild is finding good, reputable contractors to do the work. It will be a scammer’s holiday.

But the real question is whether the cost of rebuilding can be justified. I don’t think so.

Now is the time for those in city leadership to make some tough decisions about the low-lying areas in New Orleans. While it may be possible to upgrade the levees to protect against another storm of this magnitude, will the cost of that plus the rebuilding of all the homes and businesses exceed the cost of relocating everything? Indeed, some of the historical buildings lose out if the city is relocated, but how many more storms could those buildings withstand if they are restored?

In the pioneer days, one of the primary considerations when choosing a building site was proximity to things that are needed and respectful distance from things like potential floodwaters. It seems to me that it was a bit foolish and irresponsible to buy property in an area that is below sea level and continues to sink.

Following Katrina, it would be even more foolish and irresponsible to rebuild those areas that are flooded, and likewise for those areas that weren’t flooded but were damaged by the storm and are still below sea level. Given the likelihood that much of the money being spent on either rebuilding or relocation will be Federal tax dollars, my tiny little vote would be for relocation.



  1. RE: Flood damage – You are right but in this case you don’t go nearly far enough. I hope that your experiences has involved “clean” water, but in NO the water is a toxic stew of chemical and decaying biological matter that will permeate everything and that will be virtually impossible to sanitize enough for human habitation.

    But there is a huge flood control problem upstream that supports your point. About 75 miles upriver from Baton Rouge (search for Simmesport, LA, and scan NE), the Mississippi River is trying to find a new mouth to the South along the shorter and steeper Atchafayasla River basin. It would have done years ago this except for the Corps of Engineers adn their Old River Control Structure, a series of dams sitting on mud that is 7,000 feet thick. Most of the flood control on the rest of the Mississippi is planned to protect this structure.

    This folly is doomed to failure and when it does, the old River outlet will turn into a brackish lake and neither NO nor Baton Rouge will have a source of fresh water.

    REF: John McPhee, The Control of Nature, (1990), ISBN 0374522596. Its a great read and also explains Los Angeles flood control.

  2. One of the big reasons that NO is having this issue is that Louisiana is losing the coastal wetlands, at such a rate that an area the size of Manhattan turns from marsh to ocean every year. In the old days, the land that eroded was replenished by the Mississippi outflow, but that’s so heavily guided and redirected now that it doesn’t deposit nearly the sediment it once did.

    Many ecologists are saying that one of the reasons NO was hit with the crippling tides that it received was that there are fewer coastal wetlands now — the city is closer to the ocean, with less of a tidal basin to absorb those tides.

    A guest on Meet The Press this morning price tagged the wetlands restoration project at about one billion. There’s been a funding bill on the table for it that’s been shot down for years.

    Another thought for you from the same guest:

    [W]e got three feet of subsidence, sinking,in south Louisiana in the 20th century because of the levees. Right now, because of global climate change, the Bush administration’s own studies say we will get between one and three feet of sea level rise worldwide because of our use of fossil fuels.

    The big, big, big take-away message here is: New Orleans is the future of Miami, New York, San Diego, every coastal city in the world, because whether the land sinks three feet and you get a bowl in a hurricane like this, or sea level rises worldwide, same problem.

  3. It’s even worse than you describe. The mouth of the Mississippi now reaches the edge of the Continental Shelf and the North American topsoil that it contains is now dumped into the abyss. So instead of rebuilding Southern LA and the beaches of Texas, it is completely wasted.

  4. A guest on Meet The Press this morning price tagged the wetlands restoration project at about one billion. There’s been a funding bill on the table for it that’s been shot down for years.

    Yeah, I caught part of this too and looked into it.

    The proposal claims that stormsurges can be reduced by 6 (15cm) inches for every 2 miles (3.3km) of wetland restored. Since the storm surge was approximately 25 feet in some places, we’d only need 50 MILES of wetlands…. it’s just not feasible or likely.

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