American RadioWorksDocumentariesNature's Revenge
Sinking into the Sea  |  An Unlikely Activist  |  The Plan to Save the Coast  |  Hurricane Risk for New Orleans

Hurricane Risk for New Orleans    Page  1  2  3  4  5  6


We've tried to find scientists who'd say that the predictions you've heard in this story will probably never come true. We haven't been able to find them.

The main debate seems to be: Should the government spend billions of dollars to try to protect a city from a disaster that might not happen?

Remember, scientists say the odds are something like one in six that a hurricane will hit New Orleans over the next 50 years.

A French Quarter scene. Photo: William Brangham/NOW with Bill Moyers

Walter Maestri says, maybe the city will be lucky. He says on the other hand, if a killer hurricane does strike New Orleans, then you and the rest of the nation's taxpayers will have to pay the mind-boggling costs of dealing with the carnage and destruction.

"One of the things that's frustrating now for all of us in my business," explains Maestri, "is that if that Category Five Hurricane comes to New Orleans, 50,000 people could lose their lives. Now that is significantly larger than any estimates that we would have of individuals who might lose their lives from a terrorist attack. When you start to do that kind of calculus - and it's horrendous that you have to do that kind of calculus - it appears to those of us in emergency management, that the risk is much more real and much more significant, when you talk about hurricanes. I don't know that anybody, though, psychologically, has come to grip with that: that the French Quarter of New Orleans could be gone."

As you stroll through New Orleans, it seems like people who live here have come to grips, in a way. Their TV stations and newspapers run big stories about how their world might disappear. Most say they wouldn't live anyplace else.

Residents of New Orleans, Louisiana:

"My name is Patricia. I came here from Texas, set one foot in the French Quarter, and said, Oh yes, this is where I want to be."

"If you like drive through New Orleans, you have like this really great smell. Instantly you're hungry - it's like good barbecue, good gumbo, good Cajun food."

"It's like living in another country."

"Bourbon Street is wild. It's wild."

"If you walk in the night or during a fog, it's 17th century."

"That's my jazz band."

"Of course, if we ever get a hurricane—that's it."

"If there were a hurricane here, a real one, the city would be underwater in a moment."

"But I wouldn't evacuate the city!"

"Seems like every time you look at a hurricane coming, you think, it's going to hit you, then it don't."

"They'd never be able to get this place evacuated. I'd stay right here. The worst I could do is die."

"When God says something's going to happen to you, it's going to happen anyway."

"I was here when they thought Georges was coming through. I thought—well, I'll live and die in New Orleans. It's better than living and dying in Dallas."

©2018 American Public Media