In an new series in Mother Jones, John McQuaid reports on what we should have learned from Hurricane Katrina. McQuaid knows what he’s talking about — three years before the storm, he coauthored an award-winning series predicting all-too-accurately what would happen to New Orleans if it were hit by a big-time hurricane, and he’s since coauthored the book Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms.
His MoJo series includes an interesting look at what the Netherlands is doing to protect its low-lying lands:
Over the past 50 years, the Dutch have built the world’s most sophisticated system of flood defenses. I went to see them two months after Katrina. After weeks of looking at decidedly low-tech structures of mud, steel, and concrete, it was like materializing into a Star Trek episode. I was soon strolling under a giant canopy of tubular white girders in the Maeslant storm surge barrier, a gateway across a shipping channel into Rotterdam. Completed in 1997, it’s the last piece of a massive project to fortify the coast, begun after a 1953 flood that busted hundreds of dikes and inundated the country’s south, killing 1,835 people. The barrier is both functional and beautiful: From the air, it resembles a delicate butterfly. When a storm surge approaches on the North Sea, an electronic warning system activates the barrier automatically, and the two gates — the butterfly wings — swing out into the water on ball bearings 30 feet in diameter to close the channel and block the storm surge.
To see what this contraption looks like, check out this jazzy video.
And check out the rest of the series too, which finds lessons in a troublesome landfill in New Orleans, explores the messed-up politics that are keeping the U.S. from preventing another Katrina, and explains how the Army Corps of Engineers is broken.