Friday, May 13, 2011

Navigating flood regions

I live, work, shop for groceries, and spend the great majority of my free and social time within about one mile of the Mississippi River. The hospital where I was born sits about half a mile away from its bank and the campus where I spent my college years sits right up on it. And yet, like many New Orleanians, I only actually see the river occasionally.

I didn't grow up in deepest darkest Uptown, so I haven't spent much time at the Butterfly park behind the Zoo. Likewise I don't live near the bike trail that starts around the parish line either but NOLA.com's James O'Byrne does and his description of his 25 mile ride along the levee to the Bonnet Carre spillway is well worth your time.

Most of the New Orleans riverfront, however, has long been separated from the population by port facilities, railways, and of course levees and floodwalls. Which means that for many of the neighborhoods along the river, the view of this "strong brown god" (cribbing Eliot's phrase from O'Byrne's reference) is, well, limited.

Tchoupitoulas riverfront

So even those of us who live our lives in the shadow of this awesome natural force still have to seek it out if whenever we want to have a look. Here's a slideshow of everything I've ever tagged "Mississippi River" on Flickr. Most of these are taken at Woldenberg Park and the Moonwalk in the French Quarter. These areas have only been made public access points to the river within the most recent generation. A few pictures were taken from the top of the levee near the foot of Carrollton Avenue Uptown, and a couple are from the roof of the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel which I discovered last weekend no longer permits non-hotel guests to access the observation deck.

Yesterday, the Mayor, along with an assortment of Corps of Engineers spokesmen and emergency officials (some of whom appeared in camouflage fatigues for no discernible reason) held a press conference. Their message to the public:

1) Don't panic. We're completely safe. We frankly don't even know why we have to come out here and tell you this.

2) Everybody is urged to stay off of the levees this weekend because even though we're completely safe and everything is fine, you um... wouldn't want to upset the delicate situation we're all in by standing too close.

3) If you're on the levees this weekend you'll probably see some interesting things that we would like you to report.

The public was given a phone number to call when they see whatever it is they're not supposed to be out there panicking over. Natually, I'm planning to go out to the river today at some point. That is, I am if this rain stops which, of course, is something else I'm sure we shouldn't be worried about.

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