For the past several nights I've been staying in a Super 8 in New Orleans 9th Ward. The 9th Ward is the area of New Orleans on the east side between the Industrial Canal, Lake Pontchartrain, and the Mississippi River. The part I'm staying in is called New Orleans East, and is just north of the Lower 9th Ward that was demolished during Hurricane Katrina. While people heard a lot about the Lower 9th, the truth is that the entire area was hit hard by the storm and still hasn't rebounded.
Driving down the road around here you can see whole shopping centers that have been closed for the past 5 years. On average it seems like every other building is abandoned. There are some parts of the Lower 9th I saw where entire neighborhoods are simply gone. Five years later and they're still gone. When you drive by and look around you can see roads that parallel each other, and driveways that lead to nowhere--except maybe to a pile of concrete and rubble.
All of this brings to mind two important points--first, that this region has just now started to come back from another epic catastrophe, only to now be hit by the largest unintentional marine oil spill in history. The second point is that Katrina demonstrated how restoring the wetlands isn't just an issue that affects wildlife and fishermen. An oft-cited rule of thumb is that 2.7 miles of wetlands reduce storm surges by one foot. According to the Sea Grant program at LSU, the answer is often more complicated than that, and depends on all sorts of things like the speed of the storm.
What is obvious is that the loss of 1,900 square miles of wetlands over the last century, due to a combination of regulating the Mississippi River and dredging canals for oil pipelines, has left places like New Orleans 9th Ward more vulnerable than ever when hurricanes do come. Living along the southeastern coast of the US has and will always come with a risk of flood and wind damage by hurricanes, but a concerted effort to restore the wetlands that have been lost over the past century could go a long way to making those risks a little less great, and making the lives of those living near the coast a little more bearable.