Sunday, August 31, 2008

Meet the town that may meet Gustav

Posted By on Sun, Aug 31, 2008 at 11:23 PM

click to enlarge Houma

Credit Google Maps

"The city of Houma is a ghost town right now." -- Houma city official on WWL radio

People are focused on New Orleans, but New Orleans is inland from the Gulf of Mexico. Latest projections for Gustav's landfall is Lafourche or Terrebonne Parish (a parish, in Louisiana, is like a county elsewhere), and the largest city in the area is Houma, Louisiana, in Terrebonne Parish.

Houma has a population of roughly 32,000; it's fairly rural and surrounded by the vanishing wetlands you may be hearing about lately. Its newspaper is Houma Today (Web site may be overwhelmed at the moment). This afternoon, staff writer Ben Lundin analyzed the impact that Gustav may have on Houma and environs:

The levee, widely hailed for protecting vulnerable communities like Golden Meadow and Galliano during past storms, is not capable of handling Gustav's expected 18-foot storm surge, said Windell Curole, levee director for both parishes.

The levee, which rings the parish's southern reaches, is about 13 feet at its highest point just north of Leeville. But officials have long said that the levee, like much of coastal Louisiana, has been sinking for years, and some spots once built to 13 feet are now at 10 feet. At its lowest points, the levee is anywhere from 8 to 10 feet high....

If south Lafourche’s levee overtops, there is a high likelihood the south Lafourche flooding could push massive flodding as far north as central Lafourche that likely would take four or five days to subside, Curole said.

If Gustav is reduced to a Category 2 storm, but it moves slowly and churns water throughout south Lafourche, the same level of flooding could occur, he added.

Curole predicts the levee will not fail unless it’s overtopped.

The expected storm surge, while still posing massive flooding for much of Terrebonne and Lafourche, is less than predicted late Saturday night.

Then, based Gustav’s strength and projected track at the time, meteorologists said both parishes could expect 20- to 25-foot wall of water to slam their coasts.

But even 16 to 18 feet now predicted would likely flood much of Houma, as Terrebonne Parish lacks any hurricane-protection levees to blunt the surge’s thrust north from the Gulf.

Experts say parts of both parishes unaccustomed to flooding could see homes and businesses inundated under the the latest projections.

People elsewhere in Louisiana and Mississippi often (rightly, in my opinion) feel that New Orleans gets all the attention when a hurricane approaches south Louisiana; Plaquemines Parish was inundated during Katrina, and got nary a mention in national media.

Let's hope Houma doesn't become a national name any time soon.

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