Remembering Rita: Ten Years Later
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 Parish 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.
In The Eye of the Storm: A Personal Account of Rita by Windell Curole
September 20, 2005 – In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a congressional hearing was held concerning improving the way we warn and prepare for hurricanes. One of the panel members with me is Dr. Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center. We testify to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Disaster Prevention and Prediction Subcommittee. We both discuss and are concerned about Hurricane Rita and the probability of it following in Hurricane Katrina’s footstep.
After the hearing, we wish each other good luck as he hurries out of Washington to get to the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, and I hurry back to South Lafourche. In the next two days, Rita becomes what everyone fears; another monster hurricane heading for the northern Gulf of Mexico coast. Like Katrina, it becomes a Category 5 hurricane, and like Katrina, it drops in wind intensity to a Category 3 by landfall on the 23rd of September.
In South Lafourche the tide is already rising on the morning of September 22nd when we have to close the Leon Theriot floodgate, two miles south of Golden Meadow. The storm is many miles to the south in the middle of the gulf, but pushes a large tide because of its size and power. We close the Ted Gisclair floodgate in Larose. We are managing both floodgates trying to allow boats to enter the system while keeping as much water out of Bayou Lafourche as possible.
Hurricane Rita makes landfall on Friday morning on the LA-Texas border and pushes a 17 ft. storm surge near the eye of the storm. The storm was so big that water kept rising for a day and a half after landfall in southeast Louisiana. And then it kept rising in the northern part of the South Lafourche levee system. It came within a foot of the Clovelly levee in Cut Off, but by noon Sunday on Sept. 25th, the 45 mph wind finally fell to a breeze and the water levels began to decrease. If the storm had made landfall closer to Lafayette, or any place east of Lafayette, we may have had serious flooding in the South Lafourche system.
Aggressively building and raising the levee through the years allowed our area to work successfully with the 8 to 9 ft. of water against the levee. In fact, the protected area of South Lafourche was one of the only areas to avoid flooding in 2005. Good levees and good luck, South Lafourche needed both to survive 2005.
Windell A. Curole, General Manager, South Lafourche Levee District
Join us tomorrow September 23 in Houma for an expert panel discussion with state and local leaders on restoration and recovery 10 years after Rita. Details here.
You can also show your support for coastal restoration by taking the pledge to urge leaders to be a powerful voice for coastal restoration. Take the pledge at RestoretheCoast.org!