Future Storms, Global Warming Could Devastate Louisiana Coast

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: More Money Needed to Recover From Hurricane Katrina


Aug. 28, 2008—

Three years ago, images of immense destruction and poverty in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward filled the television screens of Americans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Since then, recovery has been slow -- too slow, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told ABC News' Bob Woodruff.

"I think the recovery -- not only in the Ninth Ward but in the city -- is not where it should be three years after the storm," Jindal said.

Watch the story on "Focus Earth" Saturday, Aug. 30, on Discovery's Planet Green network.

Now, Jindal and others in the area are keeping a close watch on Tropical Storm Gustav, which is barreling in their direction. Though the storm's path hasn't been confirmed, it is expected to turn into a Category 3 hurricane and hit the Gulf Coast sometime Sunday.

Jindal has already declared a state of emergency, and put 3,000 National Guard troops on alert, and New Orleans will issue a mandatory evacuation of the city if a Category 3 storm comes within 60 hours.

All this for a city that's still reeling from Katrina.

A Long Way to Go

Many area residents are blaming city and state officials for stalling the process, even as they hear about disaster relief plans like the $10.3 billion Road Home Katrina recovery program funded by the federal government.

"I think the challenge that has gotten people so frustrated is they hear of all these great things, they hear of the federal government saying we've approved over $100 billion," Jindal said, "but they're saying, 'When are we gonna see it on our block? When will we see that police station, that fire station, that school? When will we see it in our bank accounts?'"

But there has been some progress, Jindal continued, thanks to the billions of dollars spent on levee reconstruction.

"And the reason I start there is because people have to be safe before they'll come back," he said.

Despite all the money that has poured into the state for rebuilding the levees and protecting the city from future hurricanes, Jindal said it is just a drop in the bucket considering the city is only prepared for a Category 3 storm.

"We still don't see a commitment to Category 5 protection -- truly comprehensive hurricane and flood protection," he said. "The second thing that's missing from this is a deep commitment not only to flood and hurricane protection but coastal restoration. Building levees alone is like building a great wall to stop the ocean. It doesn't work."

Losing Ground Every Day

Louisiana's 15,000 square miles of coastal wetlands traditionally act as natural buffers from storm surges. For centuries, the fresh floodwaters of the Mississippi River replenished the wetlands with sediment, building them up and flushing out the saltwater blown in by hurricanes.

But when levees were built in the 1930s to control the flooding of the river, saltwater flowing in from the gulf was left unchecked, killing habitats for freshwater wildlife and eating away at the coastline.

The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources estimates that every 38 minutes the area loses an area of coastline about the size of a football field.

"And they say over the next 20, 25 years we'll lose another thousand miles," Jindal said.

Southeast Louisiana is now the fastest disappearing land mass on earth. About 15 percent of it washed away in the last century, and scientists predict that by 2050 another 600,000 acres -- roughly the size of Rhode Island -- will vanish from the coastline.

The governor recently committed another $1 billion, in addition to the billions in federal money, to reverse the coastal damage. Jindal joined Woodruff for a helicopter tour of the wetlands, high above the bayou.

"If you're interested in hurricane protection, if you're appalled by what happened in the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, you should care about this," Jindal said. "Every 2 miles of healthy wetlands reduce tidal surge by a foot. Every year, we're losing 30 miles off this coast. It's important environmentally, it's important for energy, it's important for people's lives."

A Costly Problem

It's important because up to 18 percent of the U.S. oil supply comes through Port Fourchon. And most of it is from rigs located a few miles out into the Gulf of Mexico.

"To give you a perspective, you've got about 5,000 of these structures in the world," Jindal said. "Four thousand of them [are] off our coast out here in the Gulf."

That's why, he said, the federal government and the rest of the nation should have a vested interest in preserving the Louisiana coastline.

"All it takes is a Category 5 direct hit, and we'll all be thinking, 'Why didn't we invest in the coast when we had the chance?'" Jindal said. "It would have been cheaper to fix it in the first place."

Many scientists predict over the next decade we'll see stronger hurricanes -- Category 4 and 5 hurricanes even more violent than Katrina. The cause, some argue, is rising sea surface temperatures caused by global warming.

"I think [we should] let the best science decide," Jindal said when asked his opinion on the global warming debate. "It's pretty clear to me that the land is sinking, the water's rising, and that means that we better act today."