‘Times-Pic’: Louisiana Coast Has 10 Years to Avoid Irreversible Destruction

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By: Joe Strupp

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, which published an in-depth series three years before Hurricane Katrina predicting the city’s levees would fail, is now claiming that the Louisiana coastline is just 10 years away from irreversible destruction.

In a three-part series titled, “Last Chance,” which began on Sunday, the paper lays out the argument that efforts must be made to restore the coastline within 10 years or devastation will follow. The series, at www.nola.com, also includes extensive online video and audio components, including a narrated history of the region dating back 7,000 years.

“Unless the state rapidly reverses the land loss, coastal scientists say, by the middle of the next decade the cost of repair likely will be too daunting for Congress to accept — and take far too long to implement under the current approval process,” Sunday’s initial story by reporter Bob Marshall stated. “Interviews with the leading coastal scientists, as well as state and federal officials, brought no disagreement with that stark new prognosis. And while the predictions stand at odds with nearly a decade of official optimism, scientists said the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina prompted them to voice private concerns that have been growing in recent years.”

The Times-Picayune also published an editorial Sunday that urged readers and officials to heed the call for improvements. “Louisianians need to understand this issue so that we can speak up — loudly — about the need to save our homes and communities and the assets that the entire nation relies on, from Gulf fisheries to energy networks,” the editorial said, in part. “It’s a message the rest of the country also needs to appreciate. Reading the stories and graphics that make up ‘Last Chance’ is a good way to begin.”

Assistant City Editor Brian Thevenot, who oversaw reporting for the project, said it involved three reporters who spent nearly four months on the series, in addition to regular beat work. He said the series evolved from follow-up reporting on Hurricane Katrina last summer.

“We found in our reporting that the impact was far more critical than people had thought in the past,” he told E&P. “We confirmed that with everyone we could think of who is credible in that realm.”

The series is eerily similar to the 2002 “Washing Away” package that all but predicted the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, reporting that the city’s levees were not strong enough to withstand a large hurricane. “It’s only a matter of time before south Louisiana takes a direct hit from a major hurricane,” the series noted at the time. “Billions have been spent to protect us, but we grow more vulnerable every day.”

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