The impact of Hurricane Katrina on the people of the Gulf States is well known (if occasionally ignored), but the storm also brutalized the region’s forests. A new study published in Science reports that Katrina destroyed some 320 million trees in Mississippi and Louisiana, leading to a laundry list of problems. Federal funding for replanting has been slow in coming, and many prior tree farmers have sold their land to developers. The trees have not only lost the carbon-sucking ability they had while standing, but will release some 367 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as they decompose — equal to the emissions of an entire season of U.S. forest fires. Many trees are unlikely to grow back for decades, if ever; those that are growing back are being crowded out by invasive species and are vulnerable to forest fires, especially in the unseasonably dry South. It’s all around a bad situation — so thank goodness there’s no likelihood of any more big storms in the future.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.