The nation has learned a great deal since Hurricane Katrina set her sights on the City of New Orleans. A second monster, Hurricane Gustav, put the Gulf Coast on alert just three short years later. With the lessons learned still lingering, a mass exodus taken place. This time, there would be no Super Dome or lackluster response.
While the people, government, and disaster relief agencies have become better prepared for dealing with massive hurricanes, there's no controlling Mother Nature. Whether it's Hurricane Gustav or a future, yet-to-be-named hurricane, the Gulf Coast will continue to suffer the onslaught. High winds, huge storm surges, and torrential rains will flood coastal communities. Levees and sandbags may minimize flooding – if they are in place and do not fail – but flooding is inevitable.
When hurricanes churn over the warm Gulf Coast waters, a huge bulge of water forms. This massive bulge absolutely makes the "surge" that swamps the low lying coastal communities. In an attempt to hold back the surge, systems of levees have been built (and rebuilt) over the years. Sometimes these man-made structures do their job admirably; other times, they are not strong enough or high enough to provide adequate protection. Whether the water laps over the top or comes bursting through in a massive wave, hurricane flooding poses a significant risk to life and property.
Hurricane Gustav bore down on the Gulf Coast, making landfall in Cocodrie, Louisiana on Monday, September 01, 2008. The Category 2, which at one point had been rated at a Category 4, storm drifted the masses out of its path with nearly 2 million residents fleeing the coast days in advance. While Gustav swamped numerous communities, toppled a few levees, and is blamed for several deaths in the Gulf states (plus dozens more in the Caribbean), this so-called "Mother of all Storms" paled in comparison to Hurricane Katrina.
Though not nearly as devastating, Gustav left a trail of death and destruction in its wake. When residents return to their residences in the coming days, more than a few will return to flooded homes. According to CNN.com, data from FEMA and the National Institute of Building Sciences indicate probable property damage losses of $ 29.4 billion. To make matters worse, another Hurricane, Hanna, is on Gustav's heels with Tropical Storm Ike quickly developing in the Atlantic. While time will tell which direction Hanna and Ike take, another Gulf Coast hit could do further damage.
The Gulf of Mexico offers deep, warm waters that have become proven breeding grounds for major hurricanes. As storm systems move over the waters, they feed off of these warm waters intensifying their fury. In Hurricane Gustav's case, the conditions were ripe: water temperatures of 85 degrees, high humidity, and calm high-level winds. A high pressure system funneled Gustav's waste air upwards and pushed the hurricane toward Louisiana, all the while building strength and pulling the sea into the intense mound that would later become the hurricane's surge. With several months of hurricane season remaining, it's not a stretch of the imagination to see a second or third hurricane set its sights on the Gulf Coast.
Whether residents return to a home wiped out from a levee that burst its capacity or a house with a ripped-off roof or broken windows, widespread flooding can be expected. Property owners have a huge job ahead: securing their homes, diverting the water, mopping up, decontamination, drying everything out, household and structural repair, replacing damaged goods, and preventing mold. Since Hurricane Katrina, not only have emergency responders and government agencies learned a few key emergency management techniques, so too have contractors, cleanup crews, and water extractors. Time is of the essence and prompt action is a must. With more storms on the way, securing structures and drying is essential for preventing further water damage.
Residents of the city of New Orleans sent a collective breath of relief as their worst fears surrounding Hurricane Gustav failed to come true. However, damage and destruction are evident and the cleanup is just beginning.