Almost eleven years ago, I was in a car on my way to Baton Rouge to wait out a hurricane for what I thought was a long weekend. I had a backpack with a few t-shirts and some shorts, my laptop, and, for some reason I still can’t explain, a photo album. As I wrote last year, and as most of the world knows, New Orleans flooded, causing the 80% of the city to go underwater.
Now the situation is reversed. Huge swaths of the Baton Rouge are underwater. Tens of thousands of people are displaced. And in the coverage I’ve seen, many of the comments are unflinchingly cruel, hauntingly familiar, and smugly ignorant. I’d like to address some of the general comments here where someone may learn something, rather than in a comment section because arguing with idiots online is a futile exercise.
That’s what you get for living there.
NO ONE DESERVES TO LOSE EVERYTHING IN A FLOOD. That shouldn’t have to be said, but apparently it does. No one deserves this kind of destruction and loss any more than the victims of earthquakes or tornadoes. For some reason though, we see floods as both predictable and avoidable, and therefore the people affected by them somehow brought it on themselves. There are other implications in this statement, but I’ll address them further down.
What did you expect?
I’m sure many of the victims expected that they were being smart by buying and building houses in areas that hadn’t flooded in a century. I’m sure they expected to be safe and dry and protected from hurricanes.
They didn’t expect two feet of rain in 72 hours.
They didn’t expect the Tickfaw River to rise 18 feet in 12 hours, or for 4 rivers to break previous flood records.
They didn’t expect to become stranded for over 24 hours on major highways.
They certainly didn’t expect to deal with the second 24+ rain event this year.
Why do people keep building in flood plains?
Fun fact: not all of the state of Louisiana is a flood plain. While we are part of a massive river delta, and we do suffer alarming coastal erosion, those weren’t really the issues here. We’ve had an exceedingly wet spring, followed by a dramatic rainfall event.
People are saying this is “unprecedented,” but what about Katrina?
I was going to be snarky here about Baton Rouge and New Orleans being different cities, but that doesn’t serve as well as actual information.
According to google Maps, Baton Rouge and New Orleans are about 80 miles apart. For reference, New York and Philadelphia are 90 miles apart. While they are both on the Mississippi River, there’s no doubt that Baton Rouge, being farther upriver and farther from the coast is higher ground and less prone to flooding. Baton Rouge did not flood during Hurricane Katrina.
It is also important to notice that New Orleans was not flooded by rainfall. The city was actually on the “better” side of the storm (for those of you not from hurricane prone areas, yes, there is a better side of the storm to be on). What caused the flooding in New Orleans was the failure of levees near Lake Pontchartrain (as opposed to the ones along the Mississippi River) to withstand the coastal surge that accompanied the storm because they were improperly constructed. In one case, a barge broke free of its moorings and smashed a levee wall. The levee issues and the ultimate causes and responsibility for the flood are complicated issues and are still being argued today.
The important distinction is that Baton Rouge is suffering a catastrophic and unexpected natural disaster (like a tornado), whereas New Orleans suffered a catastrophic and unexpected infrastructure failure (like a bridge collapsing). Katrina did cause devastating destruction as a natural disaster, but that was seen further east, in Slidell, Mississippi, and Alabama.
How can I help?
This is the other kind of comment in the comment section. The Gambit posted a great list of places you can donate goods and money. The five-day forecast for Baton Rouge shows a 50-80% chance for more rain. If you can help, the need is real.