“Like a Monster Coming down the River”: Record Flooding Threatens Gulf Coast — Again

The Gulf Coast region, still reeling from the oil-laden assault on its ecosystem and livelihoods, is now bracing for what’s being called one of the worst cases of flooding since the 1920s and “the nation’s slowest moving natural disaster.” Economists are projecting billions of dollars in damages just as local Gulf-dependent industries such as fisheries, aquaculture, and tourism are struggling back to profitability after the devastating blows from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the BP oil spill.

Last week, residents braced for the worst-case scenario: levee breaks that could potentially exceed the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina. To ease the threat of flooding in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, on Saturday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza Spillway for the first time in nearly four decades — sending a torrent of water toward thousands of homes in the French-speaking Louisiana countryside, “threatening to slowly submerge the land under water up to 25 feet (7.6 meters) deep.” The massive release of water from the Morganza and Bonnet Carre Spillway, which was opened earlier this month — along with the decision to blow up the Birds Point levee — means the river is slowly spreading across millions of acres of farmlands that contain enormous amounts of pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals that will eventually end up in the Gulf of Mexico.

In addition to immediate public health concerns, scientists are worried these pollutants will exacerbate the already enormous “dead zone” that occurs annually in the Gulf. The dead zone is a lifeless band of water off the coast that forms as a direct result of the influx of nitrogen-rich river water carrying massive quantities of fertilizer and pollution from upstream agriculture and industry. It fluctuates in size each year, and last year’s dead zone was larger than the state of Massachusetts.

Scientists expect the historic flooding could lead to the largest dead zone on record, which could stretch the massive area all the way to the Texas coast. An expanded dead zone will be a major stress on fish, shrimp, and other species struggling to rebound from last year’s oil spill because marine life will suffocate and die if it can’t swim away from or otherwise flee these hypoxic conditions. Thus, as the Thibodaux Daily Comet notes, it will be “another setback for fishermen trawling the Gulf in hopes of making up for last year’s spring fishing season, which was shut down in much of the state by the BP oil spill.”

Additionally, the unprecedented flooding will deal another major blow to the area’s already struggling oystermen. Nearly half of Louisiana’s entire oyster population was destroyed in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe when floodgates were opened upstream to reverse the flow of the river and prevent oil-contaminated water from making its way further inland. As a result, the water became too brackish for the oysters to survive. An insurance program established in the wake of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina did not cover oil spills and was dismantled soon after the BP disaster, leaving oystermen ineligible for assistance. To make matters worse, earlier this year BP reneged on promises to help Louisiana pay for rebuilding oyster beds, claiming it wasn’t the one making the decision to open the floodgates.  

Just when it looked as if Louisiana oysters were staging a remarkable comeback, the impending floods, and onslaught of fresh water, will shut them down again. Another collapse would be absolutely devastating for the state that produces 40 percent of the nation’s oysters.  Mike Voisin, a seventh-generation oysterman, fears that for some of his hardest-hit colleagues, this latest setback will be “a knockout blow.”

Over the next week, tens of thousands of residents will be forced to pack up and head for higher ground while the worst of the flooding slowly makes its way toward their homes. In the words of Melville, LA, resident Gerry Krasgrow, “It’s like a monster coming down the river.” While the Gulf Coast region has shown such great resilience in the wake of Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, one has to wonder how many more hits they can take — and there doesn’t appear to be any relief on the horizon.

For up-to-the-minute information on Mississippi River flooding and video from the ground, visit: http://www.nola.com/.

This post was originally published by the Center for American Progress.


Related Stories:

Gulf Oil Spill: 10 Horrifying Facts You Never Wanted to Know

Don’t Forget the River’s Power: Mississippi to Crest At Record Levels (Video)

BP Funding Tea Party Favorites


Photo from lagohsep via flickr
Written by Kiley Kroh, the Associate Director for Ocean Communications at American Progress


Jerry t.
Jerold t6 years ago

Something is dramatically missing here. The 10 mile instant cancer zone on the Mississippi. Where did that go? I have heard nary a word about it lately.
The Platte river is also a chem freak that is reputed to be able to destroy a wetland with a single drop of it's water. The Midwest floods must have carried a bucket or two of that section of the river to somewhere??
Rah Rah Raygun said: "Jesus will come in our generation and fix all of our onslaughts against nature". Don't worry, be happy, consume the Earth and support our money pigs.
I have little respect for the wealthy folk, they got rich robbing me.

Gloria C.
gloria c6 years ago

maybe we should consider making our houses capable of floating on water.

gerlinde p.
gerlinde p6 years ago

my heart goes out to all the people suffering these floods.

Alexandra Rodda
Alexandra Rodda6 years ago

What a terrible disaster.
Such disasters will become more grequent and more severe as climate change progresses, despite the fact that American GOP representatives have voted it out of existence.
Please do something about global warming and plant a tree with your butterfly rewards today.
The next time you go to the polls, please vote for people who understand what is going on with our overproduction of greenhouse gases.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G6 years ago

Humanity is the "monster", unfortunately the consequences attack indiscriminately!

Hope S.
Hope Sellers6 years ago

So many over simplified ideas as a result to the historic flood of almost a century.

Thomas Artman
Thomas A6 years ago

It's difficult for me to find genuine compassion and pity for people who insist on living on flood plains.

The US Geologic Survey should identify flood zones across the US. Then, give everyone living in them 1 year to relocate, providing Federal relief funds if necessary. That way the poor would have a chance to relocate, preventing the likes of the Ward 9 tragedy from the Katrina flooding of New Orleans.

If anyone refuses to move within that time, then, when the dumbasses get washed out again, they don't get ANY Federal funds, other than emergency medical support.

Sections of cities that fall within the designated flood zones would be abandoned and turned into parks and natural flood-reducing ecosystems.

The price up front would prevent the annual waste of billions of dollars to bail out these morons every freaking year and rebuild their businesses. SURPRISE, a river flooded!! EVERY SPRING! Who'da thunk it?!? It would save billions more to fix and rebuild portions of cities that should never have been built in those locations.

Last, but certainly not least, tearing down developed flood zones and banning future development in flood zones would save hundreds of lives a year, with the chance of saving tens of thousands in anomalous years like this one. It would preserve ecosystems that would provide a bounty of food and preserve a rich diversity of wildlife necessary for all out survival.

Isabel Araujo
Isabel Araujo6 years ago

What a nightmare! My thoughts and prayers for those people

Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

Those poor people!

Yvette T.
Past Member 6 years ago

Yet again, more concern for oystermen and fishermen than for the life forms themselves! It is high time to construct manufacturing faciliies to create the "MOCK" versions of these creatures made from vegan foods! I grew up on Gulf sea"food", and I can attest that these VEGAN REPLICS ARE FAR SUPERIOR in taste, texture, and above all, Karmic consequences. We must promote creation of these vegan substitutes to replenish our Earth, Life, and to restore JOBS to these people who were immoral to trawl and KILL in the first place! See VEGECYBER online for s few ideas on just how successfully oysters, shrimp, tuna, and other marine and land animals can be re-created by artists and chefs who are committed to compassion!!!!

I am SOOOO sorry for all of the water and life being made to suffer with poisons and mistakes we homo sapiens make!