60 MINS: NATURAL DISASTER EXPERT TO NEW ORLEANS RESIDENTS: PULL OUT BEFORE THE COASTLINE PASSES
November 21, 2005
A natural disaster expert says it’s time New Orleans residents faced the fact that their city will be below sea level in 90 years. Prof. Tim Kusky advocates a gradual pull-out from the city, whose slow, steady slide into the sea was sped up enormously by Hurricane Katrina. Kusky speaks to Scott Pelley for a 60 MINUTES report to be broadcast Sunday, Nov. 20 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
“New Orleans is going to be 15 to 18 feet below sea level, sitting off the coast of North America surrounded by a 50 to 100-foot-tall levee system to protect the city,” says Kusky, a professor in the Earth Sciences Department at St. Louis University. He estimates this will happen in 90 years. “That’s the projection, because we are losing land on the Mississippi Delta at a rate of 25 to 30 square miles per year. That’s two acres per hour that are sinking below sea level,” he tells Pelley.
As the city assesses damage and plans to rebuild, Kusky believes there’s a better plan. “We should be thinking about a gradual pullout of New Orleans and starting to rebuild people’s homes, businesses and industry in places that can last more than 80 years,” he says. Instead, the law will allow residents to rebuild if their homes lie at the 100-year flood level, much of which was inundated by Katrina’s waters and would be put underwater again should levees fail.
Many residents and business owners are reluctant to rebuild until the levees are repaired, a task that should be completed by next summer. But the repaired levees will only be able to withstand a category three hurricane; Katrina was a category four when it made landfall. Authorities estimate it would take many billions of dollars and between five and 10 years to create a new levee system able to withstand a category-five storm, which Katrina reached while at sea.
With only half the former population expected to come back to the city, is it too much of a commitment for taxpayers? Is it practical? One resident thinks it’s a matter of pride. “The country has to decide whether it really is what we tell the world what we are,” says New Orleans city employee Greg Meffert, whose job is to assess damage there. “Because if we are that powerful…that focused…that committed to all of our citizens, then there is no decision to make. Of course you rebuild it,” says Meffert.
For older people, the rebuilding makes some sense, admits Kusky, but for the succeeding generations, it does not. “They have to deal with the sinking land. This catastrophe that we’ve seen with Katrina is going to be repeated over and over and over again,” he tells Pelley.
NOTE: Emphasis added