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Harry Roberts  







Hurricane Katrina  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
15 Sep 2005

  • United States
    East Baton Rouge County
  • Baton Rouge; Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, South Ramp; Louisiana Aircraft LLC
  • 30.525   -91.148
  • Mono
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Two-Channel Mono

Show: Louisiana Swamps
Date: 09-15-05

Baton Rouge Airport

[CJ and JG: informal talking]

[CJ and JG: Informal Talking]

[CJ, JG, and HR: Informal Talking]

00:02:20 Airplane sound.

[CJ: Made many of these overflights before?]

HR: Oh yeah I used to-- friend of mine, Jim Coleman and I used to run field trips for the oil companies when the money was flowing in the 80s and 70s [laughs] and we would do helicopter trips every two weeks.

HR: And we'd do them-- still do them for research purposes and, uh sometimes for field trips for companies and for academic groups that want to see the Mississippi Delta from the air.

OK guys, what's the best way¿
[Informal logistical talking about take-off.]

[Seat belt buckling]
[Informal Talking]

[Engine of plane flares up.]

[Engine Sound]
[Engine Sound]

[Engine Sound]
[Informal talking about setting up, recording, digital cameras]

[Informal talking about Chile, needing to get audio of engine revving up, having a good job.]

[Engine revving.]

[Engine Sound]

[Engine Sound]

[CJ, HR: Informal talking about employee building plane from scratch, diving.]

[CJ: Informal talking about diving and bad sinuses. Fly fishing.]

[Engine revving, then settles.]

[Engine revving, then settles.]

[Engine revving.]

[Engine Sound.]

[CJ: Tests audio levels]

HR: I'm Harry Roberts. I'm director of the Coastal Studies Institute at Louisiana State University and my part of the geologic profession is that I'm a marine geologist and a sedimentologist. And have worked on the Mississippi River Delta system for over 35 years. Now here from LSU.

HR: Kind of an anomaly these days that a person stays at a university for that long period of time, but the Mississippi delta and its depositional system is such a really interesting set of environments, that this is just a wonderful place for a guy like me to spend a career. And I've just really had a wonderful career at LSU and done a lot of very interesting work on the delta, the shelf, and the continental slope, adjacent to Louisiana.

[CJ: What's that over there?]

HR: Louisiana has a corridor of industry up and down the Mississippi river, especially between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that [cough] are uh-These industries are characterized primarily as petrochemical industries. Fertilizer industries, all kinds of petrochemical, refineries. And in fact, the largest refinery in the United States is here at Baton Rouge is the Exxon refinery in North Baton Rouge.

[CJ: So just give me a birds eye view of what we're seeing.]

HR: Well, right now, we're flying from Baton Rouge starting our way down the river toward New Orleans and what we're seeing now is this industrial corridor plus its an agricultural corridor. We're flying down the highest ground in this part of Louisiana. Which is the natural levee surface of the modern Mississippi river and if you, [cough]
look out either side of the plane now, we're flying right over the river, you see beautiful cane fields that are oriented at right angles to the edge of the river.

HR: So this is the high ground or the dry ground that's represented by the natural levees of the Mississippi, and if you look back at the end of these cultivated fields you see wooded areas. These wooded areas are the swamps. That's where the water table meets the surface. And so they cannot cultivate that but it's beautiful swampland and it's a wonderful place- They don't call this sportsman's paradise for nothing. Because those swamps are wonderful places for people who are interested in ecological touring, hunting, fishing, and just sight seeing they are just beautiful places beautiful environments.

[CJ: And swamps aren't just great places to be sportsman or fisherman, but they serve a social purpose in how they are protective of cities, and inland areas, and how they act as a sponge. If you can describe how they act in a protective sense. ]

HR: There's no doubt about that, that the uh, not only the swamps but also the marshes near the coastline act as a defense against the kinds of events we have just experienced with Katrina. And so that marshland attenuates or reduces the effect of water level increase, of wave action, and all the detrimental effects from a storm like Katrina.

HR: A beautiful bend in the river here. I'll try to get the pilots to fly a straighter course. You can fly straight toward New Orleans.

HR: But this part of the Mississippi River, the river has a very sinuous pattern.
And of course, in the history of the Mississippi River the corps of engineers has now tried to do - and do a very effective job, by the way, of keeping the river in its present course. But if you look at the history of the Mississippi River the history is a history of lateral migration of that channel over very short periods of time.
HR: For example if you go back to a little town north of Baton Rouge called Fort Hudson, it was a very important port during the Civil War on the river¿It's about thee, four miles from the river now because the river during that period of time that hundred years, hundred-fifty year period has shifted three to four miles from its position during the civil war.

[Sound of Engine]

[Sound of Engine]

[CJ: You were pointing out something here?]

HR: Yeah, as we fly along here, you can see the artificial levee on both sides of the river
This is the manmade feature that was really put up all along the uh-- constructed all along the course of the river. There's over a thousand miles of artificial levee along the Mississippi River and this is part of the problem we're having in Louisiana even though it's been a wonderful flood control structure and worked very well as planned after that devastating 1927 flood which was really the impetus for building these artificial levees.

HR: But the levees keep sediment from naturally flowing overbank during major flood events. And that sediment we're now realizing is one of Louisiana's very most important natural resources. And we've only realized that as a scientific community in the last decade or so. Geologists have been saying that for a long time, but it takes a long time for these messages to get infused not only into the engineering community, but other parts of the scientific and the communities that actually have the wherewithal to actually change some of the structures in South Louisiana.

HR: But anyway, the levees prevent overbank sedimentation. That overbank sedimentation is the process by which this very low-lying land in South Louisiana keeps up with the high subsidence rate. These are very young sediments here. All of South Louisiana is only about 7000 years old. So these sediments are compacting, dewatering, at a very rapid rate. And in order for us to keep up with this subsidence rate, we have to allow the river to put sediment back into these flanking environments like the bays and the marshlands and on the natural levees of the active river channels and of course the artificial levees do not allow us to do that.
HR: So that's part of the problem. It's a very complicated problem. We try to solve one problem we create another problem. But as we get farther south here and closer to New Orleans, you'll see that the levees are not quite as high. That's because the difference between flood and non flood levels of the river decrease as you go downstream. And so it means that the artificial levees even weren't built as high on the lower parts of the river system, so a big storm like Katrina can come over those levees both the natural levees and the artificial levees without much of a problem.

[Sound of Engine.]
[Informal talking about type of plane, need to carry a life-raft because going over open water, so carrying capacity is limited to two people.]
[Sound of Engine]

HR: As we get towards the lower delta we were talking about the artificial levees and one of the plans of the state is to now start breaching the natural levees and artificial levees in certain spots, and allowing the river to do its natural work, and to start building small deltas into these areas and feeding sediment into the marshlands that desperately need that sediment as a substrate as well as a source of nutrients for the plants.

HR: [Cough] The Mississippi River, if you look at the history of it, every thousand or fifteen hundred years, the river changes its course and it has a major shift in this direction that the Mississippi is placing its sediment water along the coast.
HR: So if you really think of it in really simplistic form, the whole coastline of Louisiana is a series of deltas that are like pancakes that are spread laterally and on top of each other. And have made this very complicated looking coastline. But when you simplify it and think of it as a series of pulses of delta intake sedimentation [?] It actually becomes a very simple pattern.

HR: And the areas that are retreating now are the areas that have been abandoned by the river in favor of another course and so those old deltas are actually deteriorating, are sinking, and being eaten on their perimeters by physical processes associated with wave action, currents, and the frequent storms that we have here in South Louisiana.
HR: So all these process are combining to give us this really complicated looking coastline that by the way, is the most productive coastline in America. So all this complication really equals high organic productivity. And that is one of the messages that Louisiana has not been very good at getting out to the nation - that we're not just losing swamps and marshes here, but we're loosing the productivity of the best fisheries in America.

[CJ: Restoration projects. How does a big hurricane like this effect the best-laid plans of scientists, army corps of engineers, and the state and federal government?]

HR: Well a lot of the research work especially in the biological areas is done in localized areas. That is they take a plot- They're trying to check on how different march grasses respond for the example, which ones grow the fastest, which ones grow the densest. Which ones can hold the sediment together the best.
HR: A big storm like this can come through and take a five-year study like that and just completely ruin it. And I don't know if you read the local papers but there are lots of scientific study areas and studies even laboratory studies like in Tulane med school that were ruined by the storm. So not only natural environmental study sites were effected but study sites in hospitals and universities and areas all along the effected gulf coast.

[CJ: You had a fix on how this ecological system was damaged and how to fix it. Do you have to go back to square one?]

HR: Uh, no I don't think we have to go back to square one. I think Katrina, you're talking about this storm event. Katrina is going to be a learning experience for us. We've been trying to model in an ecological way and in a physical process way, and in a geologic way, the impact of a category 5 or category 4 storm on the coastline.
HR: We know some of the impacts. We know the impacts of Camille for example. Camille was pretty well-studied and we knew what Camille did to the coast. But Camille took a different path than Katrina. So the path of the storm is really very critical to the impact along the coast, as even the weather forecasters tell you on TV. So this storm will have a chance to look at the specific impacts of a storm that came right over some of the most populated areas in South Louisiana.
HR: And it came across the levee system of the Mississippi River in the area that pro-graded [?] it from New Orleans all the way to the modern birdfoot delta, which is an area of about 80 miles or so.

[Sound of Engine.]

HR: We have to go up to 5000 feet now which is going to make it difficult for us to see very much because it's a little bit hazy. But there's a 5000 foot ceiling- restriction rather, over New Orleans, and I understand that the reason for that is that they are refueling helicopters and all kinds of other aircraft that are being used in the recovery effort.

[Sound of Engine.]

HR: Well were looking out, to the left of the aircraft now you can see that open water area that's- I'll point it out to you here on the map, Chris. This is Lake Maurepas. It's this small lake That's just to the north and west of Lake Pontchartrain and it has a small connection with Lake Pontchartrain. Lake Maurepas is freshwater, totally freshwater but Lake Pontchartrain is brackish and actually has a number of small and narrow connections with the open saltwater environments to the east here, Lake Borne [sp?] and the open water Mississippi sound to the east [beeping sound.] But we're seeing the western edge now of Lake Pontchartrain out of the left side of the aircraft.

[Sound of Engine.]

00:34: 43
HR: I might just mention that if you look again, if you look at all of South Louisiana in a very simplistic way these old river courses are like ridges. Its kind of counter intuitive that the river flows in the highest ground in South Louisiana, but it builds that high ground. Those are the natural levees of the river so those natural levees are partitions that create what we call the geologic-the geologic-cause interdistributary basins. So these basins are defined by the old river courses, the alluvial ridges of those old river courses. And what we're looking at out of the right side of the aircraft, is the modern alluvial ridge, or the levee system of the modern Mississippi River. And it forms the eastern boundary of the Barataria Basin, which you plan to visit tomorrow.

[Sound of Engine.]

HR: If you look out into, out the right side of the aircraft. You will see the forested swamps and now we're starting to see the marshlands of the upper part of the Barataria Basin. Now I'll point this out on the map here's the old levee system of the Lafuse [sp?]
course, of the Mississippi delta, or the Mississippi river, rather. This was active a thousand years ago.

HR: Here's the modern river and its course. And in between these two levee systems is this basin that opens up to the south, and becomes a saltwater environment, more of an estuarine environment and that's called the Barataria basin. If you look to the north now we have another basin that is defined by the Mississippi, the modern Mississippi levees, and then the coastline of the old Pleistocene or older sediments that are north of Lake Pontchartrain. So we have the two lakes, lake Pontchartrain, Maurepas. And then the swamps that we saw as we left Baton Rouge initially from Byrant field.

Now this other course, that we talked about we'll see the products of this other delta that was active some 3000 years ago that's called the St. Bernard delta and it's all east of the modern Mississippi levees. So everything east of the modern Mississippi was deposited as a Delta about 3000 years ago or so.
00:37: 52

[CJ: That's quite recent.]

HR: Yes, it's very recent.

[CJ: The changes in where those sediments are, are there because of changes humans have made in the last 500 years.]

HR: Well, the St Bernard marshes and the St Bernard land mass areas are really natural. Those came from this delta that formed about 3000 years ago. Now it's been accreting sediment very slowly since then but there's no real input of sediment from the river. There's one little break here that's a manmade break, called the Canarvon [sp?] outflow structure that allows a little fresh water and sediment to get into that basin. But that's really the only sediment that gets in there from the river.

[Sound of Engine]
HR: 'kay, out the right side now we're seeing lake Salvador. Which is a large brackish water to fresh water lake that's in the Baratraria basin. So we're getting very close to the city of New Orleans, in fact you can see the city out the left side of the aircraft. [Voice becomes somewhat faint here.]

HR: And you can see the international airport, the Louie Armstrong airport there to the left of us. The south shore of Lake Pontchartrain. And now we're starting to see the flooded areas out the uh front of the aircraft. We're not quite there out the left side of the aircraft yet. But you certainly can see the city very clearly now. Even at 5000 feet with a little bit of haze.

HR: So that's the 17th street canal, the famous 17th street canal that we're just coming up that's opposite the aircraft. And you see it's running just from the aircraft now right out into Lake Pontchartrain. And the flooded areas are to the right or to the east and south of that canal. But that's the canal that broke.

There you can see the causeway that's going across Lake Pontchartrain. Now we're seeing the kind of dark looking regions of the city that represent the standing water around all the houses and buildings in this part of New Orleans. But really there are lots of dry areas now-and sort of surprising if you look at the satellite imagery you can certainly see- spot imagery especially shows the beautiful dry areas and the old geomorphic high ground, the levees and the ridges that ran through the city, they're dry, and the surrounding areas have standing water and are wet.
[CJ: Which channel is this?]

HR: That's uh, that's the uh, I'm not sure which one that is, Chris.

[CJ: You get an idea of just how big this city is, and how much water it would take to actually flood - it's a lot of water.]

HR: Well you can look at this golf course. See that golf course? It's completely flooded. That park area¿ And, um, you can now see standing water in all of the subdivisions that are over close to the lake.

HR: Yeah, it's a huge city and the subtle topography within the city. Even though people say that New Orleans is a bowl, which it really is, and it has levees all the way around it, it also has subtle topography associated with it. And many of the areas that were slightly higher remained dry during Katrina. But the areas that were the lowest in terms of topography were the ones that are still holding water and are currently being pumped.

HR: Now that's lake front airport. That's the industrial canal that you read about in the papers, running into Lake Pontchartrain. The intercoastal canal we're looking at that, that's intersecting with the industrial canal which runs into the river, the Mississippi river.
HR: So now we're starting to take our turn-if you look at this map, we're leaving the city. And now we're starting to turn into lake - sorry - away from Lake Pontchartrain and into St Bernard Parish and down the course of the modern Mississippi River.
HR: So these were - we're really turning in to the most hardest hit areas that were effected by Katrina where the eyewall came right over some of these areas, just literally devastated the whole community. These are the smaller towns and cities that are down this long neck of land that leads to the birdfoot delta.

HR: Now we're turning right around the river, it's called the Eglish Turn. It's the last major bend in the Mississippi River. Off to the south of us is Chalmet which really got pounded. Just terribly hit. Very good friend of ours lost his house, he lost several boats, he was in the boating business. His wife lost her real estate business and building. And they're just having to start all over. They're currently in Fort Arthur, Texas. So that's just one story of thousands of people that lost everything in this part of Louisiana.

[CJ: I suppose a lot of these ships have no way to unload their cargo.]

HR: Well, that was true, of uh, certainly of the first part, the first period after the storm. But I'm told that the shipping industry is back on track. They're shipping a lot of cargo now to Baton Rouge because some of the docking facilities here in New Orleans were severely damaged. But shipping is continuing. It's not what it used to be, but it's not shut down on the Mississippit River. And that's one of the reasons that New Orleans will come back. It is such an important shipping location for this part of the world and this part of the Gulf of Mexico. Mississippi river drains the interior of the United States. Most of the grain that's produced in the agricultural belt in central north America comes down the Mississippi and is shipped out of Baton Rouge or New Orleans from barges.

HR: Now we're seeing the St Bernard marshlands that were just literally devastated by Hurricane Katrina. And you're seeing some of the outflow features from the water that was built up or the storm surge that came through this area and then flowed back across these marshes. And I think you can see the flow patterns in the geomorph-in the geomorphology of the marshlands here. If you look out there, you can see how the marshes are lineated. And that's part of the backflow that existed after the storm.

[CJ: When you say lineated what does that mean?]

HR: Well, just linear patterns within the marsh itself¿

[CJ: Before and after comparison]

HR: If you look at air photos or sat imagery of this area which we've done already, you can see there was some lineation to the marsh here. It's been very strongly amplified by the storm. This was a key study site for many LSU researchers who were studying marshlands in the St Bernard area. And many of their studies have just been obliterated by this storm.
HR: If you look at the marshlands on the right side of the aircraft¿look at the difference.

[CJ: It's almost uniform.]

HR: It's a very consistent marshland. So on the western side of the levees, or the western side of the Mississippi River, the marshlands that are associated with the Barataria Basin at least in this part of he basin did not take a hard hit. They look very consistent, very uniform, and very little in the way of damage from 5000 feet, and least. We can't see it.

[CJ: Looks more like a green mossy carpet on the side that wasn't hit. On the side that was hit, it looks like rivers running through what used to be a uniform mossy carpet. Broken up.]

[Informal talking, HR gives instructions to pilot.]
[Sound of Engine]

HR: You can see the agricultural fields, back here that have been flooded. Standing water in them now from the storm. There was a lot of damage [on?] hurricane here in South Louisiana. And on the eastern side now, if you look out the left side of the aircraft out in those open water areas. Those are some of the most important oyster beds in South Louisiana. And you can imaging now with that storm coming right over those oyster beds, I'm sure that most of the oyster reefs and state oyster seed grounds are now covered in sediment and will probably have to be started all over again.

[CJ:is it just a matter of sediment?]

HR: These are brackish water marshes. Right where we are, left of the aircraft. Salt water is not a great problem for these marshes, but they are for the marshes up close to New Orleans which are the freshwater marshes. And those freshwater marshes, when they get a dose of salt water like Katrina handed them, they don't handle it very well. And so that is one of the problems with a storm like this, and I'm sure when you talk to the biologists, they will go over that in absolute detail because that is always a problem in post storm recovery.

HR: Look at the barges, gee, just all over the place.

[CJ: Now we've taken a turn, we're flying over the vast marshlands. The hurricane has just wiped out what used to be a uniform mat. Like mange on a dog.]

HR: These areas right here, this is a very productive area in South Louisiana for citrus farming and truck farming and what you're seeing right now are all those farms under water. And you're only seeing the tops of the trees sticking out. But all of these areas were areas where vegetables were grown and particularly citrus fruit. Some of the most wonderful citrus fruit you've ever tasted comes from this part of Louisiana. Just reall sweet, and really good citrus fruit. But this took a real hit, this industry in this part.

[CJ: These marshes to the left, they're not supposed to look like this.]

HR: Well, they're broken marshes, but you can see some of the areas where the interior of the marsh, the little open water areas have opened more than they usually are. They're more complex looking than they usually look and that's from the storm. Eroding the interior of the marshland and also eroding the perimeters of these little spits and marsh islands you see out there to the left of us.

HR: You can see where the-see the sand over on the base of the levee. That's where the river came over the artificial levee and spilled onto into this area that we're flying over now.

HR: Look at the devastation. [Audio becomes faint.] All these houses are just completely destroyed.

HR: And there's a problem here. You can see this little spit of land that runs from New Orleans all the way down to the mouth of the river. On the west bank is where most of the people live and they've put up a levee on the western side to keep rising water from Barataria Bay from coming into this productive spit of land. There's also a levee on the river side. So if the water gets in this area, it's trapped between those two levees. And you can see that it obviously did get in this area during Katrina.
HR: Now you can see some of the citrus groves that have been just literally devastated by the storm.

00:55:30 get my bearings here and see where we are¿

HR: There's quite a lot of river traffic so the river is being used as an artery now not only for freight but probably for the restoration process as well.

[CJ: As you pass the dry land areas¿]

HR: That was a trailer park and you can see just fragments of trailers. And I would say there are 20 slots for trailers there...that area was full-that area was probably full of trailers prior to Katrina, now you see a few trailer parts and that's it, everything else is gone.

[CJ: It seems that every building that's on dry land. Is broken in half, strewn with debris¿.slowly but surely broken down by the wind. Trailers on their side.]

HR: Chris, look at those school buses down there in disarray. There must be
20 school buses in all different orientations plus all these houses just completely off their foundations and just chaotically strewn around the ground.

[CJ: There are large trees all down just in a row, what used to be buildings now just piles of debris. Forests look like they've been crushed by a giant. Somehow Mississippi looked serene.]

[CJ: On the map this area looks just like wetlands but there's quite a bit of industry¿everything manmade now has been brought down to ground.]

HR: There's a breach right back there in the levee on the western side of this spit of land
You can see where the water had spilled in from Barataria Bay. Every man made structure is damaged, there's no question about it. The trees are blown down, amazing wind power here.

[CJ: Did you look at this area after Ivan?]


HR: After Ivan, yes we did look at it. This area did not get that hard hit after Ivan. There was a lot of, in Louisiana, there was a lot of destruction offshore to the oil and gas infrastructure. I don' know what that sort of infrastructure has sustained with Katrina.
They're still out there trying to survey that. But this part of Louisiana during Ivan fared pretty well.

[Sound of Engine]

HR: I said the destruction is just amazing here. There's nothing standing. Every manmade structure is just absolutely devastated.

HR: This is - worse than Camille. We flew Camille in 1969.

HR: We're coming up on Empire now. This is the oyster capital of south Louisiana,
And want to see what happened to the oyster fleet, and the shrimp fleet, and the Menhaden fleet that docks here in Empire.

[Sound of the Engine.]

HR: That is just amazing. There are ships¿Look at these two Menhaden ships on the highway. Those are big ships. Oh man¿that is incredible.

HR: This is one of the most productive oyster producing areas in south Louisiana we're flying over now. Its in, its on the west side of Empire and we did a geophysical survey here last year. I'd like to come back now and see what this bottom looks like, because it took a very, very strong hit- Empire is just absolutely destroyed. The oyster boats, the shrimp boats, and the Menhaden fleet, all those vessels are up on the highway piled up along the levee. It's really a disastrous looking thing. The highway is underwater here in this part of Empire.

[Sound of Engine]

HR: Look at the debris- that is amazing. And of course the fuel that was stored here is spilled. You can see the sheen on the water. But the devastation to the shrimp fleet and the oyster fleet is just absolutely amazing. This is going to take literally years to recover from.

[Sound of the engine.]

HR: Yeah, I've never seen any devastation like this in the lower delta, after a hurricane, even Camille. Which was a pretty close hit. The devastation wasn't like this.

[CJ: It takes a lot to get a boat that's what? 40 or 50 tons up on the highway¿]

HR: Those boats, I'd say, are probably 150 180 feet long, so¿

[Informal instructions to pilot]

[CJ: This is not Venice¿?]

HR: This is not Venice, this is Empire. Let me show you where it is on the map. Empire is just up the river from Venice¿ [informal talking re: location on map.]

HR: So we're very close to Venice. We have one slight bend in the river and Venice is sort of the end of the road. And Venice, very important history here, because Venice has been the jump off point for supplying the oil business in this part of the Gulf of Mexico for years. And that's why it's been such an important spot and from what I understand Venice has sustained the same kind of destruction as Empire. And if that's the case, its going to be a long time before Venice gets back to its prominence as a supply point for the oil business.

[Sound of Engine.]

HR: You can see what I was talking about earlier - that there's a levee a storm levee on the western side of this spit of land and the levee on the river on the east side and its impounded storm waters. So this whole area now not only has been devastated by wind and over-wash, but it has standing water just like the interior of New Orleans.

Looks like they're actually working on trying draining some of that water out back there. Breaking the levee and letting it drain into Barataria basin.

[Sound of Engine.]

[Very faint talking between CJ and HR: "Good grief!" "That is just incredible" "Big Barge!"]

HR: Yeah, I come down here frequently for field trips and I like to fish and Venice is one of the best places to fish in the world, I think, you can catch bass,¿.
[listing places to fish]

HR: But boy, I'll tell ya, it's gonna be a long time before things are back to normal down here if they ever get back to normal because the infrastructure is just absolutely wiped out.
HR: Now this is Fort Jackson. It's an old fort that was built in the early 1800s, renovated and now, you can see it over here on the left. It was to keep those British guys from coming up the river and attacking New Orleans. There's a fort on this side and a sister fort, Fort St Phillip on the opposite side but Fort St Phillip has sunk out of sight. Fort Jackson was renovated but it's now flooded with water.

[Sound of Engine]

HR: Now we're right at the last bend in the Mississippi river and heading south. Our next destination will be Venice, in fact I can see it in the distance here. If you look off you'll see a channel leading off to the west, southwest. That's called the jump. That's the point at which the artificial levee on the Mississippi stops. So there are no more levees of this magnitude on the Mississippi south of Venice. So this is the end of the line for the levee system. And so the river then has started to spread out. It has numerous distributaries, and that's why it has that name - the birdfoot delta - because it looks like a birdfoot because of all these channel systems that are distributing the mud and Mississippi river and sediment.
HR: Now we're gonna fly over Venice here in a minute. But again just make the point that this was the distribution point for pike, drilling mud, and all kids of personnel and facilities for the oil business in this part of the Gulf of Mexico. And as everyone knows, the oil business is a big part of the Louisiana economy. And certainly a big part of the economy of the people who live in this part of Louisiana in Venice, and Empire, Buris [sp?] and other little towns up and down this bit of land.
See another plane flying this devastated area. But I can tell ya - It is going to be an awful long time to get this back on track. And get Venice up and running as a supply point again for the oil business.
This part, very near Venice, the road is underwater, all houses are in standing water. There is a lot of what apparently looks like wind damage to man made structures. And just little- literally total devastation of this area.

[CJ: The road is underwater.]

HR: the road is underwater, yeah. I think the only place you could travel here is on top of the levee and that's where I see some trucks and other vehicles on top of the levee. But now you can see Venice, out the right side of the aircraft. This area has certainly taken a hard hit.

[Sound of Engine.]

HR: We're gonna take a turn around Venice here, and you'll see all the docking facilities [audio becomes faint] that were used to -
[informal talking - gives pilot directions]

HR: But you can see all the fuel tanks, the dock facilities, the loading facilities this also was a place where a lot of shrimp boats called home. And I'm looking at just total devastation now - boats, big barges, up on the levee. Boats hanging on uh what looks like roads, former road beds. Really terrible devastation here.

[Sound of engine.]

HR: I'm looking at the fuel tanks they look like they're full of water now. Uh, this area of marshland that we're flying over- we're making a circle around the little town of Venice and this port facility. And I can tell you that the houses and most of the commercial buildings are standing in water if they're there at all.

[Sound of Engine]
[HR goes go to give pilot directions]

HR: I saw some dead cattle back there. Uh, in one of those open water areas. A friend of mine had 500 head or so of cattle on these levees along the southern pass distributary. He got some of them out but obviously some of them didn't make it. There are a lot of cattle on these subtle levees down here in the lower delta. You wouldn't think you could raise cattle here, but they can. And they can't go anywhere so [laughs] So I guess it's a pretty good deal, you don't have to have fences. But you do have the added disadvantage of the occasional hurricane that comes though and you can't get your cattle out.

[Sound of Engine]

HR: This high-standing marsh grass is called Rosocane [sp?] the scientific name is fragmites communis. And it's typical of many tropical and sub-tropical deltas throughout the world, and you can see the damage here. The marsh grass stands 10 to 12 feet high and it's just blown over here in this part of the delta so the wind damage here is quite substantial.

[CJ: Does that make it a good habitat for crabs and shellfish?]

HR: Yeah it's a good habitat for alligators as well. Lot of alligators live in this part of south Louisiana, and they like that Rosocane.

[Sound of Engine]

HR: But I must say, that other than just pushing over the rosocane I cannot see a lot of damage and that's really typical of the delta. That the parts of the delta that are receiving sediment like this modern birdfoot delta. And that was one of the reasons I wanted to fly down here to see if there was any substantial damage, but the sediment is a buffer to damage. So as long as you are bringing in and building the surface and creating a shallow water environment with a lot of sediment in it that attenuates the storm waves and the storm surge, the damage is minimal to the natural environment. But when you get up into the areas like the freshwater marshes that don't have that sediment, the damage is very substantial. And I think you'll see that tomorrow on your trip to Barataria Bay.

[Faintly: "There's the old lighthouse!"]

HR: All of the buildings around the lighthouse are gone [audio faint] but the lighthouse survived. Again. [laughs]. Isn't that amazing? But that was the mouth of the river in the late 1800s. And Eades [sp?] built the jetties from that point southward so boats or sailing ships could get in the river without hitting the river mouth bar. Those jetties narrowed the channel, increased the velocity, and thereby eroded the bar and kept the channel deep enough 30 ft or so, so that traffic could come in the river. Now you can see the devastation. This was a newly-built area here. Sport fishing camps and things like that just completely wiped out. I don't even recognize where we are.

HR: But it's interesting that that old [faint beeping sound] lighthouse that's been here for well over 100 years is still here overlooking southpass, but everything that man has built since then is gone.

[CJ: the way people talk about a surge¿]
[HR: announces going to Chandeleurs]

[CJ: When people talk about a storm surge, it sounds like a tsunami¿]

HR: A tsunami is a wave. A surge is not a single wave, it's an elevation of the water surface that takes place over, sometimes over a relatively long per of time, and that wall of water of course has waves superimposed on top of it. So it's not just one event. It's many events that occur repeatedly over a longer period of time than a tsunami.

[CJ: Does a surge start in the Gulf and work it's way up? Or does a surge]

HR: No, it starts with the wave trains that are thrown or propagated from the center of the storm. So if we were sitting here at Southpass which I hope we'd never have to do during a storm like this, first we'd start to see the waves coming in. We'd start to see the short period waves, long period waves. And then we'd start to see the water level rise; the general water level. And then on top of that water level would still be these waves coming in. The water level would continue to rise until the storm passed and the wind direction changed. And started to blow down that water level. So this is an event that occurs over a long period of time. As the storm progresses in its path towards the land.

[CJ: So it's not one big surge that starts out in the Gulf and then works its way to New Orleans.]

HR: It's something that propagates as the storm moves and its not just no- it's not just a single wave, a storm surge is a general elevation of the water surface, and in this case, 20 to 30 feet. And you have to remember, that on top of that you've got waves, which may be 10 feet. So you've got all of these frequencies working together to create a really bad situation.

[CJ: Does any of that elevation have to do with the continental shelf and where it's located?]

HR: Certainly the depth of the wave and the kind of topography that the surge and the wave are flowing over makes a big difference. For example, I used to work on coral reefs and it always amazed me that these big ocean waves would come in to a reef that has all this very rough offshore topography and you'd see a 10 ft wave come in, it would break and then it would just trickle up to your feet. Well, that's sort of what happens in a case like this, in shallow water. The wave is attenuated, or the surge is attenuated. And that's why the barrier islands and the marsh in front of these cities these coastal cities - very, very important because the barrier islands are the first line of defense that attenuates that wave action and the surge as it propagates inland. And the marsh surface does exactly the same thing. So: shallow water, barrier islands, and marsh and levee systems, and trees and everything else help- and unfortunately buildings, and manmade infrastructure is part of that attenuation process. So yes, marshlands and barrier islands are extremely important as Louisiana's defense line against these kinds of events.

Now we're heading eastward now, toward the Chandeleur islands and you can see we're flying over what's called Cubit's Gap. It's a subdelta that developed from a break in the natural levee about a hundred fifty years ago it built a beautiful think delta out to the east of the modern birdfoot delta. You think of the channel systems as the skeleton of the delta system then these subdeltas are the meat, the marshlands that are put on that skeleton. And we're flying over one now, and the reason I bring this up is that I don't see any damage here. This is a sediment-rich environment an environment that's building.
And you see very little damage except for the rosocane being blown over.
In certain areas and you see the interior of these patches of roso that are flattened, the interior are flattened but the rosocane itself looks pretty healthy.

HR: Now we're flying toward open water this is called Breton [sp?] sound. And Breton sound is the open water area that was occupied at one time by that St Bernard delta that we've talked about a couple of time already, that really started with the channel system that came out of the region of New Orleans and built to the southeast so this was all delta at one time but that delta was abandoned by the Mississippi river the river took a course to the west left this without a source of sediment so that old delta now has compacted, subsided. And this open water area is the result. So we had marshland on top of that delta that has just systematically retreated to the north and what we'll see as we fly back toward New Orleans are the remnants of those old marshlands that are occupying the top of that once active St Bernard delta.

HR: And now we're heading out to open water. We're heading toward-

[CJ: Oil rigs.]

HR: Yeah a lot of this is a very active oil and gas area. And I have yet to hear about the damage to the infrastructure offshore. But I'm sure because of the track of the storm and the strength of the storm that there was plenty of damage to pipelines, to production and drilling platforms off on this eastern plank of the delta.

[CJ: Small platforms completely gone.]
[HR: Informal conversation about Automated Underwater Vehicle.]


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