The horrible flooding in my hometown of Baton Rouge and adjoining areas is reminiscent of Hurricane Katrinia's devastation of New Orleans and the even more widespread 1927 Mississippi River flood. But while the photos of people fleeing flooded homes and streets look familiar, this year's event is entirely different from the past.
This year's flooding, the result of thunderstorms rapidly dumping more than two feet of water on the area late last week, puzzled me. The Mississippi River, mostly tamed by the Corps of Engineers after the 1927 flood, played no role in this disaster. The Baton Rouge flooding appears unprecedented. I couldn't remember a similar event from my childhood even when the city was struck by Hurricane Betsy and other storms.
The heavy rain led to record high water on four other rivers north of Baton Rouge: the Amite, Comite, Tickfaw and Tangipahoa. Those rivers had been swollen by rainfall in the past, but nothing of this magnitude had ever occurred. High water on the Amite and Comite was a frequent news flash of my youth, but I don't recall such widespread devastation; generally their flooding was localized.
I was shocked at photos from my boyhood neighborhood showing flooding from Dawson Creek, the placid, muddy, used-tire-strewn waterway where I used to shoot my b-b gun from the old creosote-soaked wooden bridge.
Areas that had never before been threatened by flooding found themselves inundated. Some said their homes were not even on land considered part of the flood plain. Because this had never happened previously, no flood control system was in place. If such a structure did exist, it was overwhelmed by the heavy volume of water.
Such floods have become a common occurrence In recent years, Houston, South Carolina and other areas have been devastated by historic floods. The country's infrastructure increasingly looks inadequate to handle the new reality of flooding events.
The New York Times, negligently slow on covering this disaster, as the newspaper's public editor, Liz Spayd concluded, devoted a good bit of its Wednesday story to speculation that climate change is causing the floods, as well as other extreme weather situations. Such reporting on the beliefs of scientific experts is the Times' forte, not talking to common people who've lost their homes.
Another curious part of the recent flooding; New Orleans, eternally threatened by high water, has escaped this time. I raised my eyebrows at Spayd's statement that reporter Cambpell Robertson had been "covering the floods from dry ground in New Orleans." That's the reverse of the usual pattern.
After its tardy coverage, The Times displayed its trademark arrogance with the headline, "As Louisiana Floodwaters Recede, the Scope of Disaster Comes Into View." At least the headline's truthful: The Times waited until the floodwaters receded to begin the bulk of its coverage. For others, the scope of the disaster had been in view for days.