For better or worse, Louisiana’s fate is tied to the Mississippi River.
The Mississippi River has been both a blessing and a curse for Louisiana over the years. It’s not called the Big Muddy for nothing, as its brown water dumps soil from the Midwest into the Gulf of Mexico. Much of that soil has been deposited in Louisiana to form the rich Delta farmlands that provide food and economic vitality to the state. Occasionally, the Mississippi is inundated by the runoff from a previous winter of heavy snowfall, along with heavy spring rains that flow into it from the Missouri, Ohio, and Arkansas rivers. All of this water eventually ends up in Louisiana on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. Ironically, it is this flooding that is so vital to the formation and maintenance of the state’s rich farmland as alluvial deposits are spread over the Delta. It is said that if you want to visit the Midwest, wait by the Mississippi and it’ll come floating past.
2011 was going to be a banner year for Louisiana farmers as crop prices and demand are both high. Now most will be lucky to break even as their crop insurance is barely enough to cover their losses. On top of that, not only will they lose their crop, most will also lose their homes to this year’s flooding. Louisiana is no stranger to flooding from the Mississippi River. The Great Flood of 1927 has been celebrated in movies and songs, and led to the election of Herbert Hoover as President of the United States in 1928 due to his tireless relief efforts on behalf of flood victims.
Louisiana has suffered a great deal in the past few years. There were the twin hurricane disasters of Katrina and Rita in 2005, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, and now the Great Flood of 2011. Katrina was the costliest natural disaster and the fifth most deadly hurricane in American history. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill resulted in a politically motivated federal moratorium on oil exploration in the Gulf which has devastated Louisiana’s largest industry and thrown thousands out of work. Just about the time we start to get over one disaster, along comes another. It’s no wonder we know how to party in Louisiana because if you thought about it, you’d have to cry. We persevere through the bad times and focus on the good times while saying “Laissez les bon temps rouler,” translated “Let the good times roll.”
The Mississippi River is responsible for much of our prosperity and a good deal of our misfortune. It has shaped us into the unique people that we are; able to withstand great hardship and celebrate good fortune. Outsiders just shake their heads and wonder how we can stand to live here, but they’d know if they grew up here. Louisiana is a state you have to love to live in. We have Parishes instead of Counties; our law is based on the Napoleonic Code instead of English Common Law; and we don’t even try to fit in with the rest of the country as we glorify in our uniqueness. We have the best food, the prettiest women, the most colorful politicians, and the hottest weather in the country. Anyone who has a problem with Louisiana can stay the hell where they’re at.
The Army Corps of Engineers, the same bunch who built the levees in New Orleans that failed so spectacularly after Katrina, will open the Morganza Spillway for the first time in 38 years to alleviate pressure on those same levees in an attempt to avoid a repeat of 2005 in New Orleans. Flooding in New Orleans would make the news and force Obama to dither on a course of action that might lead to sinking poll numbers. Flooding in Cajun Country is not nearly so newsworthy or politically important. After all, Louisiana was the only state in 2008 that got more conservative as it swung away from Obama in a major way. We didn’t vote for him, so why should we expect any help from him? Well, we don’t. Did I mention the Gulf oil moratorium?
Louisiana can expect its highest-in-the-nation home insurance rates to jump even higher in the wake of this disaster. The legislature will probably pass more costly regulation in a misguided attempt to avoid a similar disaster in the future. They rushed to pass a statewide building code in the wake of Katrina that now forces anyone looking to build a house into purchasing a $1200 building permit and submit to onerous state inspections. When faced with a Category 5 hurricane like Katrina, even the most rigorously built and inspected structure will suffer damage and be lucky to survive the devastation. These regulations are useless in the face of such destruction and only add to the cost of living in Louisiana.
One other thing that this flooding is teaching us is the fact that nature is far more destructive than any terrorist ever hoped to be. Water, the source of life, is in this case proving to be the source of destruction on a scale far larger than even nuclear weapons. A nuclear weapon is good for maybe 50 miles, while the Mississippi flooding has left devastation across hundreds of miles. Terrorists we can kill, but we’re ultimately helpless against the forces of nature.
So, America will marvel at the pictures of flooding emanating from Louisiana only to quickly forget us once the next big news story breaks. We’ll be left to clean up the destruction and put our lives back in order outside the nation’s all-too-short attention span just like always. If we’re lucky, we won’t have to suffer through the humiliation of a useless presidential photo-op designed to make him look good at our expense, but we probably won’t be. The temptation to look as though he’s doing something has proven too great to resist for this president. Bobby’s already got his propaganda machine up and running, crisscrossing the disaster area searching for prime photo-op locations that maximize the destructive power of the flooding so he can juxtapose his beneficent leadership as a counterpoint. In reality, I don’t think Bobby’s propaganda machine is ever not running. It just idles while waiting for the next crisis.
Did I mention that you have to love Louisiana to live here?