Hurricanes will lower Gulf and East Coast carrying capacity

Preface. There are 2 articles here. The first is about the tremendous environmental damage that occurs after a hurricane.

The second are excerpts from a National Academy of Sciences report discussing how New Orleans and much of the gulf and east coast remain vulnerable to severe weather, and require help from the federal government to recover.  Clearly as climate change worsens this will only become more of a problem in the future, and harm more and more people, since now 50% of Americans live within 50 miles of a coast.  Declining energy means that rescues will not be as large, and more and more infrastructure remain unrepaired, forcing migrations inland.  Awareness of limits to growth and finite fossil fuels may be painful to contemplate, but if it inspires you to move to a more sustainable region, perhaps a longer and happier life.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts:  KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity]

Cleaning up hurricane destruction will become much harder as the energy to do so declines

What follows is research from several articles about cleanup after hurricans strike.

650 energy and industrial facilities in Texas flooded by Harvey, where toxic runoff could pose a risk to local residents according to the Union of concerned scientists.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma left a hell of a mess—millions of tons of debris, much of it toxic. Houston officials said this week it will cost at least $200 million to dispose of 8 million cubic yards of storm debris.

More than 100,000 homes in Houston are damaged.

Wood, plaster, drywall, metal, oil, electronics—all of it waterlogged. Put it into unlined landfills and it can contaminate groundwater. The gypsum in drywall decomposes into hydrogen sulfide gas.

Two weeks after Hurricane Harvey ravished the Houston area, mountains of drywall, carpeting, furniture, electronics, appliances, clothing, and other water-destroyed personal effects were stacked in front of homes that had been flooded. Crews were still working around the clock to get debris out of homes and off streets.

After any disaster that causes water damage, cleaning up-as swiftly as possible-is critically important to reduce the spread of disease. As flood waters rise, sewer systems back up and overflow, causing contaminated water to enter homes. Disease-causing bacteria bloom quickly in water-soaked material. Damp surfaces are also ideal environments for mold colonies to flourish. Everything that has been soaked by flood waters must be removed and disposed of. Houses must be thoroughly dried out, aired out, and meticulously cleaned.

Reuters reported that cleanup after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 took about a year. Hugh Kaufman, a retired EPA solid waste and emergency response analyst said the overall bill for Katrina was $2 billion, the largest to date. That cleanup spanned several states and the demolition of the more than 23,000 homes in the New Orleans area alone. He believes the combined cleanup tab for Harvey and Irma will top Katrina‘s.

These wastes should be separated out and disposed of, but that rarely happens after a disaster.

The city of Houston estimates the cost to clean up the debris will be about $200 million to clean up the mess from Hurricane Harvey.

there isn’t a pile specifically for recycling. There are a few reasons for this. First, recycling materials that have been soaked in water, and in most cases contaminated water, is quite difficult. Water has a tendency to ruin materials that could have been recycled.

When you have mounds of damp material in front of thousands of homes, mold is a major concern. It’s estimated that there are more than 100,000 piles of debris across Houston alone. Every home we entered had at least some mold already appearing inside. This damp and contaminated material needs to be removed as quickly as possible.

Even when cities try to get residents to make separate piles for regular garbage, building materials, large appliances, yard waste, and electronics, most tend to put everything in one giant pile.

Nearly 100 crews are moving through the city to pick up these huge piles. Using backhoes, the debris is picked up and dumped into the backs of open-top semis and other trucks, which are then hauling this waste off to one of several different landfills. The sad truth with most hurricane cleanup is that the waste nearly all ends up in landfills instead of being sorted and disposed of in a more environmentally conscious way.

NRC. 2011. Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters: The Perspective from the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi: Summary of a Workshop.  The National Academies Press.  Excerpts below.


Natural disasters are having an increasing effect on the lives of people in the United States and throughout the world. Every decade, property damage caused by natural disasters and hazards doubles or triples in the United States. More than half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coast, and all Americans are at risk from such hazards as fires, earthquakes, floods, and wind. The year 2010 saw 950 natural catastrophes around the world—the second highest annual total ever—with overall losses estimated at $130 billion.

A consequence of the widespread construction of levees was subsidence of the land. When the areas behind levees were drained, the land compacted and lowered, increasing the susceptibility of housing to extreme damage if the levees failed or were overtopped.

The lessons that should have been learned from Betsy and other hurricanes were not heeded before Katrina, and many of these lessons still are not being heeded. Although the levees are under repair and new surge barriers are in place, the city’s footprint has not been fundamentally reduced, even though the corps no longer considers the levees around New Orleans to provide protection against a 100-year flood event. Today, many houses in New Orleans are below sea level, and even some of the houses built after Katrina are ill suited for high water. After a protracted public process, New Orleans adopted a plan that opens the entire city to redevelopment while targeting certain areas for rebuilding, renewal, and redevelopment. Building can occur in most of the areas that were flooded and remain susceptible to future floods.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita combined caused an estimated $150 billion in damages across the Gulf Coast. The federal government spent an estimated $126 billion on the recovery effort, but much of that money went to such short-term measures as emergency rescue operations and short-term housing. Only about $45 billion of that money went to rebuilding. Private insurance provided about $30 billion for reconstruction, and philanthropies provided about $6 billion—three times as much as for any other event in history. Even with expenditures of that magnitude, a gap of about $70 billion remains

Renters in the city and suburbs still pay too much of their earnings toward housing. In Orleans Parish, 58% of renters, and 45% of renters in the metropolitan area, pay more than 35% of their pretax household income toward housing, compared with 41% of renters nationally.

Meanwhile, coastal wetlands have continued to erode. More than 23 percent of the land around the New Orleans Metropolitan Area has been lost since measurements began in 1956; the impact of the oil disaster on the wetlands has not yet been measured

Before Hurricane Hugo hit South Carolina in 1989, the United States had not experienced a single disaster that cost the insurance industry more than $1 billion,

Since then, as more and more development has occurred in hazard-prone areas, the cost of natural disasters has gone up “exponentially,” with losses for 2000–2010 exceeding $800 billion

Given that the value of property vulnerable to hurricanes from Texas to Maine is an estimated $9 trillion, retrofitting is essential.

During the 1993 flood on the Mississippi River, the Des Moines Water Plant flooded and was out of operation for weeks. “It shut down the city,” said Gerald Galloway, Jr., the Glenn L. Martin Institute Professor of Engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park. “When a major part of the infrastructure that supports a community goes under, the community can go under at the same time.

The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans is responsible for providing drinking water, wastewater, and storm water services for the city of New Orleans. Following the storm, the wastewater treatment plant contained 18 feet of water, and the city cannot exist without viable wastewater treatment. The plant was dewatered within about 10 days of the closure of the federal levee system, and it was doing primary treatment 30 days after that.

The Sewerage and Water Board could not make these and other advances without partners. For example, protecting the city from an incoming storm surge is the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Sewerage and Water Board is working with the corps to rebuild infrastructures around the levee system. The agency is also responsible for the purification and distribution of drinking water, which requires electrical power. The agency has relied in part on a 1903 25-cycle power plant that is being rebuilt to be more sustainable and reliable.

A major challenge of Katrina was that 80 percent of the agency’s team had lost their homes. The people who were on duty the day of the storm were suddenly homeless.

The agency also had to spend more than $1 billion in restoration and recovery without being able to draw on the capital market, but disaster recovery through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) generally involves a reimbursement process. Thus, it was not just the physical and human infrastructure but the financial infrastructure that had to be rebuilt. Future climate change could pose severe challenges to the drinking water system, St. Martin said. If sea level or the volume of water coming down the Mississippi River changes, water quality, the ability to treat water, and the availability of water could all be compromised.

During Katrina, New Orleans lost 31 streetcars, which cost an average of $1.2 million per car to rebuild. It also lost 80% of its bus fleet. That’s not a capital cost you can replace very easily,

In addition, the streetcar network is powered by an electrical grid. In an emergency, the streetcar system needs additional substations that are singly powered for emergency purposes. Public transportation is part of the emergency evacuation system in New Orleans. When government officials tell populations to evacuate, some people will not react.

Operating the public transportation requires people. But drivers and other employees have wives and children who also need to evacuate, and procedures need to be in place to accommodate that process. People are also needed to rebuild the physical infrastructure.

Entergy Corporation is an integrated energy company headquartered in New Orleans that employs nearly 15,000 people. It has about 2.7 million electric customers and 180,000 gas customers in the states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas. It has 15,500 miles of transmission line, 100,000 miles of distribution line, 30 fossil fuel plants, and nine nuclear power plants.

The dependability of other infrastructure functions is critical to the energy industry. Reliable post-storm communications are essential. Transportation systems are needed to recover quickly. Particular components of the infrastructure also require special attention.

Preparing for disasters is a long-term process, which can conflict with the short-term perspectives that are common in government. How can preparations “outlast the 4-year terms of elected officials, the 2-year terms of elected officials, or the 30-second disasters that wreak havoc on our community?” asked Ellis Stanley, director of western emergency management services at Dewberry LLC, who moderated the third panel at the workshop. In addition, governance occurs at multiple levels, from the neighborhood to the federal level, requiring that the various elements of governance be integrated.

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