Remembering Rita: 10 Years Later
Today, September 24, marks 10 years since Hurricane Rita – the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico – slammed ashore sending a storm surge up to 18 feet in some locations, killing 120 people, damaging areas stretching from Plaquemines to Cameron Parishes and into Texas and causing over $10 billion in damages.
Rita demonstrated that the best offense against future storms is strong “Multiple Lines of Defense” that begins with restoring and preserving the wetlands that buffer wind and waves working in conjunction will structural risk reduction measures and non-structural measures, such as levees and home elevation.
This week, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition welcomes guest authors to our “Delta Dispatches” blog to share their perspectives of Rita and where things stand ten years later.
Hurricane Rita – A palpable shift in the evolution of sustainable housing in Coastal Louisiana.
by: Peg Case, Director of TRAC (Terrebonne Readiness & Assistance Coalition), Houma, LA
Terrebonne Parish is over 85% wetland and open water. Barataria-Terrebonne Basins continue to suffer the highest land loss rates in the state. There are five bayous stretching to the Gulf of Mexico like fingers of a hand. These bayou communities, most vulnerable to the effects of storm surge flooding, are where TRAC, a community-based, long-term disaster recovery organization, has focused its recovery efforts for the past 23 years.
The double sets of hurricanes that affected our parish in 2002, 2005 and 2008 delivered wind and water repeatedly to these bayou communities. Over 13,000 homes were impacted – homes flooded with five to seven feet of water and swamp mud, wind ravaged roofs and exterior – not once but six times in a period of six years!
The shift from awareness to sustainable action has been years in the making. However, last decades’ disasters brought unprecedented funding streams from both private and government avenues. Since 2005, 1,037 elevation permits have been issued in Terrebonne Parish. The average elevation height is 10-12 feet costing $80.00 per square foot. Sustainable replacement housing was developed and constructed, such as TRAC’s LA Lift House. (www.trac4la.com).
However these projects were random, need-based, program-eligibility-based, and funded by the destruction of six hurricanes. Looking to the future, we, the collective community involved in coastal restoration, need to address simultaneously sustainable housing activities with funding, planning and partnerships if we are to preserve the culture and communities that live along our coastlines.
Case is contributing author to Disasters by Design: A Reassessment of Natural Hazards in the United States. She also served as a panel member for the U.S. Senate’s 103rd Congress Appropriations Sub-Committee hearing on hurricane preparedness and evacuation. She currently serves on LAVOAD Board of Directors.
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