Protecting homes, people far outweighs cost of levees

Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
Have you noticed how often terms like 100-year or 500-year storms have been applied to overwhelming rain events in some areas of the United States? The water experts known as hydrologists dislike that terminology. Rather, one should say that the probability of water reaching a given height is once every 100 years.
Some floods really feel like the 500-1000-year variety. One arresting example is the North Sea storm/flood of Jan. 31, 1953, that killed 1,836 Dutchmen when it overpowered the Netherlands where 20 percent of the land is below sea level. The Dutch immediately formed The Delta Works Commission that laid plans to build a dike ring system around North and South Holland.
The Delta Works (Deltawerken) is a series of dams, sluices, locks, dikes, levees and storm surge barriers that shorten the Dutch coastline, thus reducing the number of dikes that had to be raised. The Zuiderzee Works and the Delta Works have been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
After Katrina, the Army Corps of Engineers built a homespun version of the Dutch marvel around New Orleans. Costing $1.1 billion, the West Closure Complex is one of the engineering marvels of the new system. During a flood event, a floodgate nearly as long as a football field slowly shuts and 11 humongous diesel engines of the world’s largest pump station kick on to pump water out of Jefferson Parish at such a rapid rate that it would fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in three seconds.
The West Closure Complex is part of the $14.5 billion the Corps has spent on fortifications to protect some 900,000 people living in the toe of Louisiana’s boot.
The largest flood control structure is nicknamed the Great Wall of St. Bernard Parish. It’s a 1.8-mile-long barrier designed to protect the city’s eastern flank from a rising Lake Borgne. Some of the steel support piles extend 200 feet into the ground.
Thus far, it has worked well. Now, awakened to the same problem on their own property, the rain-soaked, flooded folks of East Baton Rouge Parish and its environs have been muttering to themselves and aloud about the possibilities of building a similar protective levee system.
After the recent historical rain event swamped 20 civil Louisiana parishes, with more than 120 of his families affected, Father Rick Andrus, SVD, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Baton Rouge, wrote, “I have been knee-deep in water, assisting families evacuate, remove a small amount of belongings, assisted in organizing shelters, getting medical attention to patients suffering from diabetes, heart-disease, seizure disorders and kidney problems. I have also been working with the Red Cross and right now, I am preparing our parish hall as a distribution center for the Red Cross.
“A great team of parishioners, many retired, has been working nonstop since a week ago Saturday providing dry and clean clothes, food and cleaning supplies for those evacuees and the victims of the flood to begin the arduous, seemingly endless task of dragging out carpets, flooring, drywall, furniture, appliances, beds, toys and precious, priceless treasures that have been destroyed by the water. Along with this, I have also been working with a diverse and dynamic group of pastors, men and women of various faiths, to provide spiritual counseling and Sunday worship services in the three Red Cross Evacuation Centers.
“The destruction is unfathomable, the mountains of destroyed possessions and debris is endless along city streets, the stories of rescue and survival are heroic, heartwarming and heartbreaking.
“The Red Cross is doing all that it is able with the staff it has.  There has been a tremendous response by those not affected. What a powerful testament to the goodness, the faith and the compassion in the hearts of so many people across Baton Rouge and far beyond! Total strangers have crossed social, economic, geographic, religious and racial lines and just show up, pitch in to help remove the debris, while others drive through neighborhoods bringing food, ice and water.
“People came from out of state, some of whom have been through similar situations and others who have not, but all felt a ‘need to give back’ to people whose needs are so great.  Some of those who have volunteered are gifted and skilled craftsmen, while others are willing laborers with big hearts and a desire to help out wherever they are needed … and they have.
“However, the harsh reality is that right now, 60,000 homes have been affected. Nearly 3,000 people are still in shelters and thousands of residents are also seeking temporary housing with relatives and friends. It is estimated that it will take longer than a year for everyone to be either back in their homes or to find new housing. Any check donations may be made out to St. Paul the Apostle Flood Relief Fund, 3912 Gus Young Ave. Baton Rouge LA 70802, Attention: Fr. Rick Andrus, SVD. So, folks, considering the staggering total cost of this massive disaster and its raw humiliation and inconvenience to so many thousands of people, the price tag for a Louisiana version of the Netherlands Delta Works pales by comparison. The big plus is that such a one-time remedy can prevent any repeat of the dreaded flooding.
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.”   (1 John 4:16)
(Father Jerome LeDoux has been writing Reflections on Life since 1968.)