Post-Rita Louisiana deals with another round of environmental problems

An already-battered Louisiana is beset with new environmental crises in the wake of Hurricane Rita, which sent a wall of water up to 15 feet high surging into the state’s coastal bayous and canals on Saturday. In New Orleans, officials are scrambling to assess whether the renewed flooding burst oil and chemical storage tanks and other infrastructure that might have been weakened by Katrina. They also worry the city’s existing layer of chemical-and-sewage-contaminated glop will be stirred up again. Some residents say damage from the hurricanes might have been mitigated if the federal government had funded restoration of eroded wetlands and barrier islands — natural barricades to storm surges — as well as improvements to the levee system. “If they had given us the $14 billion we were asking for before Katrina” to strengthen levees, said Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), “we wouldn’t need $200 or $300 billion to clean up now.”