Saturday, May 14, 2011
Damage already upriver
Is it one more sign of the turbulent weather that has accompanied global warming? The United States Army Corps of Engineers opened the floodgates on the Morganza spillway, for only the second time since its construction in 1954, releasing pressure on the swollen Mississippi River. The deliberate flooding is supposed to help spare Baton Rouge and New Orleans downstream.
Up to 3,000 square miles may be inundated. Local news stations were reporting that land that was farms just last week was 15 feet underwater less than three hours after the spillway opened. This was after only a single one of the 125 bays on the spillway was opened. For local wildlife, it is an epic disaster. The Associated Press reported that, within 30 minutes, 100 acres of land were under a foot of water. The area where the flood waters will drain is home to some of the best wading bird rookeries in the United States, normally from late February to late July, this part of Louisiana is suffused with little blue herons, barred and great horned owls, night-herons, roseate spoonbills, white ibis, egrets along with plenty of alligators.
One of the reasons engineers have only opened one gate, for now, is to give wildlife more time to flee for higher ground.
The human consequences are expected to be severe as well. The BBC is reporting that 25,000 people and 11,000 buildings could be affected by the roiling waters. Estimates are the damages could top $1 billion. The BBC says that residents of Butte La Rose, LA, a community directly in the path of the water, had been told to pack for a long absence. "They told us to move as though we were moving - period - not coming back, not to so much as leave a toothpick behind," said one woman. Farmers in the region are expecting to lose their entire crops in a year of high prices for farm produce.
Brutal. Times are tough.
The Mississippi River is not supposed to crest in Louisiana until the last week of May.