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Environment Magazine September/October 2008

 

July-August 2011

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Losing Resilience on the Gulf Coast: Hurricanes and Social Memory

Evacuee post Hurricane Katrina

Decades before Hurricane Katrina made its awesome landfall in August 2005, two transformative hurricanes struck the U.S. Gulf Coast. Hurricane Betsy sped inland following the Mississippi River in September 1965 with devastating effects on New Orleans and surrounding areas. A few years later, in August 1969, Hurricane Camille, one of the most powerful storms on record obliterated communities positioned on the Mississippi shore. These storms elicited major policy adjustments as the stricken states and communities sought to make themselves less susceptible to similar storms in the future—such as a Katrina. While short-term adaptations may have offered residents a degree of hurricane resistance, the long-term erosion of social memory of these traumatic events contributed to the loss of community resilience. Well-intentioned policy, initiated in response to these two storms, gradually succumbed to development pressures and the exclusion of lessons learned, or the social memory of effective means to prepare and respond, to the point that both areas were ill-prepared in 2005. Social memory is a fundamental and essential ingredient that is often neglected in forward-thinking hazards management.

Our purpose here is to consider the role of one aspect of social memory during the interval between hurricanes and how the erosion of the urgency and immediacy in preparedness contributed to loss of resiliency over the course of several decades. While there are many repositories of social memory—such as public accounts, lore and myths, and professional practices—we consider post-hurricane policies and practices as attempts by public leaders and hazards professionals to formalize their memory and use that memory to shape future preparations. Through rules and regulations, society demonstrated how it would adapt to the threat of a subsequent disruption. We trace not only the establishment of policies, but the gradual dismantling of them as a way to illustrate the erosion of resilience.

Resilience and Social Memory

Resilience is a concept with a lengthy history in the fields of engineering, mental health, and ecology. Social sciences have recently embraced the term and its associated concepts, and it is moving into the realm of government planning.1 Resilience, as used in ecology, means being able to rebound to a previous condition or to a functional state after a disruptive event.2 One important distinction between human communities and biological communities is the ability of humans to adapt in such ways that subsequent and comparable events will be less disruptive.3 In terms of communities, Wilbanks asserts that resilience is the ability to anticipate a hazard event and its impacts, reduce vulnerabilities in advance, respond effectively, and recover rapidly, safely, and fairly.4 Within this context, community institutions, such as planning bodies and emergency response agencies, can promote and sustain resilience. These expert organizations have responsibilities to anticipate hazard events such as hurricanes, to guide efforts to reduce vulnerabilities, and to organize and oversee response and recovery efforts. It is not uncommon for institutions to mandate extensive adaptations in the wake of an extreme event, which they did in New Orleans and on the Mississippi coast after the storms of the 1960s. Sustaining both the adaptations and the social memory of the event that prompted them is another matter.

The point of intersection between the knowledge gained from past experiences and the deployment of that knowledge in plans for the future is where the concept of social memory meets resilience. Adger writes that after a disruptive event, memory becomes “the growth points for renewal and reorganization of the social ecological system.”5 Institutions draw on recollections of recent events to shape strategies to enhance their communities' resilience. Beyond its influence on the immediate steps to protect a community following a catastrophe, social memory is the long-term reservoir of knowledge about what tactics and procedures worked best to anticipate, reduce, respond to, and recover from a hazard event.6 Hazard mitigation efforts that do not protect and sustain social memory effectively allow for the erosion of preparedness—a chronic issue—which can lead to the loss of resilience. Ultimately, the loss of social memory can contribute to the escalation of a simple disruptive event into a disaster.

Hurricane-preparation documents along with city plans and development policies for both New Orleans and the Mississippi shore prior to the transformative storms of the 1960s and following those events reveal a serious neglect of social memory. As designated community experts, planners, and emergency managers allowed lessons learned from a 1947 hurricane and from hurricanes Betsy and Camille to fade, they purposefully set aside critical knowledge of the past and allowed land-use development and related practices to increase the susceptibility of their respective communities. We examine plans and public policies as evidence of social memory—formalized adaptations to a recent event. As communities encountered competing land-use pressures over time, they prioritized certain facets of urban life that simultaneously minimized hurricane preparations. These actions reflect the highly selective deployment of social memory, the diminishment of highly relevant aspects of past events, and the consequent loss of future resilience. Sustaining resilience requires a vigilance that looks both forward and rearward.

Living With Hurricanes in New Orleans

New Orleans Before Hurricane Betsy

New Orleans endured a spate of hurricanes in the early twentieth century, and following the particularly destructive 1915 storm, it anticipated future storms by embarking on an explicitly structural approach to reduce damage in the coming years. The city commenced a slow-moving project to armor the Lake Pontchartrain lakefront, its most surge-susceptible territory, with a 9.5-foot concrete seawall that was not completed until 1934. The next major storm occurred in 1947 and tested the seawall. While the barrier reduced damage in New Orleans proper, there was considerable flooding near the lake's shore, and the city's emerging postwar suburbs in adjacent Jefferson Parish suffered substantial damage. Community leaders sought federal assistance with a hurricane protection levee to protect this developing area.7 Much of eastern New Orleans, the area beyond the lakefront seawall, also experienced serious flooding.8 Several lessons learned emerged in the discussions following the 1947 storm. The seawall, like the long-successful river levees, reduced damages and enabled the city to grow into territory that was highly susceptible to flooding. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, with congressional authorization, designed and built a more extensive levee system to protect Jefferson Parish, guided explicitly by the social memory of the city's hurricane history.9 The absence of residential and commercial development in the highly exposed eastern New Orleans area was a principal reason the area suffered little damage, and traditional building technologies, which placed houses on piers two to three feet above the ground and in some cases much higher, also reduced damage in flooded areas.10 Those with the most responsibility were attentive only to the first element of social memory. The shift away from safe architecture reflects a step back from resilient practices and a concession to popular and inexpensive building practices.

Caption: Lake Pontchartrain seawall built in response to 1915 hurricane.

Despite repeated strikes by hurricanes, the city, with limited real estate for viable expansion, promoted development near the lakefront and in wetlands to the east of the city by the early 1950s. Its compulsion to expand in the direction of greatest hurricane threat suggests that developers and those responsible for approving new subdivisions succumbed to social amnesia and disregarded the geography of recent inundations. For example, the post-1947 city master plan failed to acknowledge hurricane risk.11 A 1949 report noted that tropical rains caused local flooding, but emphasized that the federal levee system provided adequate protection from high river stages.12 In the immediate wake of the 1947 hurricane, planners promptly ignored its impact and approved subdivisions in the early 1950s that pushed the city toward eastern New Orleans and lakefront areas most exposed to storm surge. Subdivisions approved in 1953–1954 were scattered throughout the city, but the largest tracts were in the lakefront neighborhoods, plus several in the Ninth Ward in eastern New Orleans.13

On the eve of Hurricane Betsy, urban development had expanded across Jefferson Parish behind the 1950s lakefront levee. Modest levees stood along the easternmost borders of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish. Only the lakefront levees drew on the knowledge of past hurricanes to establish design heights.14 A private-sector plan for eastern New Orleans touted the recent completion of levees around a portion of its proposed development as “tidewater” protection. It acknowledged that a sizable portion of its property was beyond the existing levee system, but suggested levees would be added in the future—build first, protect later. The developer's publications explicitly excluded the mention of hurricanes, although in its discussion of the area to be surrounded by levees, it noted that “the storm drainage system must be designed with flexibility, first to insure its operation under adverse conditions.” This oblique reference to hurricanes avoids using the term and specifies that design standards should “accommodate a two-year storm”—a standard far below what eventually would be used to guide levee construction. This private-sector planning effort blatantly minimized the risk associated with hurricane-induced flooding and exposes some of the conflicting social memories of development interests and public safety officials.15

Post-Betsy Planning and Development

Hurricane Betsy made landfall on September 9, 1965, with winds of at least 120 miles per hour. The combination of storm surge, wind-driven waves, modest levee systems, and open drainage channels resulted in extensive flooding particularly in eastern New Orleans—including areas on the lower Ninth Ward and areas north of the Mississippi River–Gulf Outlet and also in St. Bernard Parish. According to the Corps of Engineers, about 43 percent of the city was under water after the storm. The flood seriously damaged approximately 27,000 houses, and resulted in 81 fatalities.16 There was a striking correspondence between areas flooded in 1947 and 1965.

Caption: View of flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Betsy (showing Lower 9th Ward area, Mississippi River at top left), as seen from the air aboard Air Force One.

Caption: Flooding in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans after Hurricane Betsy.

In the wake of Betsy, Louisiana Governor John McKeithen told congressional investigators that his administration would “establish procedures that will someday in the near future make a repeat of this disaster impossible.”17 The governor highlighted the fundamental importance of preserving the memory of Hurricane Betsy and using the state's experiences to guide future preparations and responses to hazards. Yet, how long did Betsy remain a part of the planning process? At least temporarily McKeithen was good to his word. The state's first post-Betsy Civil Defense plan, personally signed by the governor, assigned to the state archives the responsibility for preserving documents “for effective emergency operations.”18 Storing the documents and putting them to use are two different things, however, and the plan did not advocate drawing on prior successes or lessons learned.

Within weeks of the 1965 storm, the Corps of Engineers received swift approval from Congress to begin work on massive hurricane protection levees to surround New Orleans and nearby communities and reduce future impacts. Its engineering designs for the “standard project hurricane” relied on information from past hurricanes—their wind speeds, barometric pressure, storm surge, and other meteorological and hydrological records. Ironically, the Corps had submitted this very plan to Congress before Betsy, and due in part to the swift Congressional approval, Army engineers were unable to incorporate Betsy's meteorological measurements into their initial designs. Although they actively preserved and explicitly drew on past records, the engineers did not integrate the most significant storm in New Orleans history into their calculations for almost twenty years. Furthermore, in 1965, much of the area to be protected by the planned levee system was undeveloped wetlands. The Corps' cost-benefit analysis produced net benefits for the project only by estimating the projected value of real estate within the planned levee system. Thus, benefits were speculative and not tied to the value of property at the time of the analysis.19 To make the analysis true, development had to follow levee construction. The development-dependent plan cemented long-standing conflicts between safe practices and growth-oriented policies and perpetuated contradictory social memories.

The city planning commission was more than willing to support and authorize development in areas that had been flooded in 1947 and 1965. It approved a spate of new subdivisions in eastern New Orleans between 1967 and 1972.20 The eastern New Orleans area underwent one of the most rapid suburban expansions between 1965 and 1984, during which time developers erected more than 22,000 residences there.21 The New Orleans East developers, who had downplayed hurricanes in their 1950s report, acknowledged the risks of tropical cyclones in 1970.22 Nonetheless, municipal authorities and private developers opted to draw on only one dimension of the community's social memory: Levees can prevent or minimize damages. They collectively neglected the lesson that undeveloped areas suffered no significant damages during previous storms. The Orleans Levee Board noted this fundamental contradiction in a 1972 appeal for hurricane preparations. Calling for completion of the hurricane protection levees, it reported that much of the area in eastern New Orleans that was inundated in 1947 and 1965 was now at risk because of development that had occurred since the latest flood.23 Competing visions of the future drew on different social memories.

In addition, different social groups enjoyed different levels of protection. A prominent group of rural Hispanic trapping and fishing families, devastated by intentional breaches in the river levees in 1927, were to receive far less protection than urban dwellers. Within the city itself, the hurricane protection levees offered comparable protection regardless of class or race, although shelter and evacuation options were not equal.24

Social memory was not erased, but the experts guiding emergency preparations and urban growth were neglecting it. Critics of development began to point out the failure to consider the impacts of Hurricane Betsy. A noted coastal geographer and consultant to local governments, Sherwood Gagliano, argued that the hurricanes in 1965 and 1969 provided fundamental proof of the undesirability of developing wetlands for urban land uses.25 Public hearings concerning the Corps' hurricane protection plans resonated with the public's vivid social memory of recent hurricanes. By the mid 1970s, environmental groups argued that the wetlands that had been flooded in the past provided a vital social function by providing a buffer against storm surge. In addition, by building levees and draining these wetlands, the hurricane protection system would provide a false sense of security (or allow an erosion of social memory) and allow more people to move into harm's way.26 Within a decade of Hurricane Betsy, revisiting past calamities became a common appeal to revive lagging hurricane protection projects, rather than a concrete tool for guiding local hazards preparation.

Contrasting objectives, based on specific memories, within professional organizations delayed the most ambitious storm mitigation project—the hurricane protection levee project. Northshore developers opposed the initial protection plan, fearing it would simply deflect surge from the doorsteps of New Orleans and into the streets of Slidell. Jefferson Parish authorities effectively derailed the project on the west bank for several years while trying to enlarge the footprint of the levee system and secure an expanded protected area which defined its effective tax base. The Orleans Levee Board opposed gates at the mouths of the drainage canals for fear of rain-induced flooding rather than surge driven inundation. Each conflict delayed the project, inflated the costs, and undermined community resilience.27

For several decades after Betsy, the New Orleans region endured moderate-intensity storms that only grazed the urban area, and consequently it suffered minimal damages as the Corps of Engineers continued its protracted levee-building projects.28 Hurricane response plans by the 1990s provide few references to previous storms.29 In a major hurricane preparedness study, the Corps of Engineers reviewed past storms and noted that levees had failed in the past. Nonetheless, when running computer models of various hurricane scenarios, it assumed that levees would hold, even if overtopped, despite its experiences in 1947 and 1965.30 Thus, it rejected the memory of past levee failures. In the same period, the city planning commission developed a new land-use category for wetlands: Environmentally Sensitive Planned Development. Presumably this might have incorporated susceptibility to flood risks, but it applied largely to wetlands in eastern New Orleans that it sought to protect as open space or that posed costly challenges due the absence of roads and other urban infrastructure.31 The memory of hurricane history largely remained outside the realm of city planning.

The state's 2004 draft emergency operations plan contained only marginal reference to past events. It noted that “based on historical precedents, approximately 10% of the affected population will be self-sustaining [after a major hurricane].”32 For the most part, it outlined a response plan based on the 2004 drill, which included a hypothetical scenario known as Hurricane Pam. While drills are a highly effective means to prepare for an extreme event, substituting hypothetical lessons for real-life ones may overlook important local knowledge. Between 1965 and 2000, much of the urban area's population growth took place in the areas flooded repeatedly in the past: eastern New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish, plus the levee-encircled and below-sea-level sections of Jefferson Parish. Although there were repeated notices that the New Orleans metropolitan area was in a high-risk situation, the memory of past hurricanes never seemed to penetrate the institutions with the responsibilities to manage urban growth or develop emergency operations plans.33

Resilience and Memory Along Mississippi's Gulf Coast

Likewise in coastal Mississippi, a disregard for social memory allowed Hurricane Camille's (1969) lessons to fade over the decades, decreasing community resilience and heightening vulnerability to disaster. Opportunities to redress prevalent socioeconomic and racial disparities and incorporate them into the social memory of the storm also fell by the wayside. Post-Camille commentary laments the lessons lost from the disaster and predicts the inevitability of another storm of its magnitude.34 One author cautioned, “For many, Camille is a distant memory, a historical footnote from a time long gone. But Camille is also a harbinger of disasters to come. Another storm of Camille's intensity will strike the United States, the only question is when.”35 Experts had been sounding a clarion call for years, seemingly on deaf ears. But were Gulf Coast officials and residents willfully disregarding Camille's legacy, or are the reasons for these unheeded lessons more complex than at first blush?

Pre-Camille Context

In the 100 years prior to Camille the Mississippi coastal region experienced mostly uncontrolled growth, which manifested itself in unregulated development and building practices.36 Experiences with previous storms such as the 1915 hurricane and Hurricane Betsy (1965) had resulted in some modifications to building codes and land-use specifications, including the early creation of a 26-mile, 10-foot-high seawall built southward of the highway designed to act as a storm barrier.37 Congress had enabled the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in 1968 (partly in response to Betsy), but it was only in its infant stages and no Mississippi communities were yet participants. As a result, many homeowners were unable to obtain flood protection policies, and, in turn, insurance payments only covered 20 percent of the total damages incurred by Camille.38

Planning and hazards management had established only a “modest” foothold in Harrison County, one that neither designated or regulated floodplains nor included any comprehensive zoning ordinances.39 In 1969, the coastal counties' Coast Code Administration noted that previous disasters had spawned an initial post-disaster surge in interest in flood-resistant construction standards and building codes, but that this momentum was not maintained.40 Significantly, although each of the region's three largest municipalities (Long Beach, Biloxi, and Gulfport) had contracted with consulting firms to prepare long-range comprehensive plans, none explicitly addressed storm-hazard mitigation. Harrison County's Civil Defense Council had prepared a brief Hurricane Plan for the community, one that they later acknowledged did not delve deep enough into the “restoration” phase.41 For a region so vulnerable to the catastrophic effects of hurricanes, precious few storm-ready regulations or disaster management plans were in existence.

Caption: Richelieu Apartments before Hurricane Camille.

Social Memory and Development in the Wake of Camille

On August 17, 1969, Hurricane Camille made landfall along the Mississippi Gulf Coast with unprecedented fury. Camille came ashore shortly before midnight, a small but intensely violent storm that crossed almost directly over Waveland.42 What devastating winds of 190 miles an hour did not destroy, surge and waves of 15 to 30 feet almost certainly did.43 This catastrophic combination wreaked havoc along the densely populated 27-mile coastline, crowded with not only motels and resorts but antebellum residences, apartment complexes, gas stations, retail stores, and the like. A near 23-foot storm surge assured almost complete devastation within three to four blocks of the coastline, magnified by up to 80 hurricane-generated tornadoes.44 Camille washed small boats and barges ashore, leaving substantial structural damage in their wake. Two hundred businesses were destroyed in Harrison County alone.45 Ultimately 144 deaths along the Mississippi shore were the result, most by drowning.46

Caption: The aftermath of Hurricane Camille. Large ships were no match for Camille.

With 3,000 homes completely destroyed and 27,500 suffering major damage, the community's short-term focus was on rebuilding, and mitigation of future disasters was not a significant priority.47 In the weeks and months immediately following the storm, coastal municipalities boasted an uncharacteristically cooperative spirit as well as a determined optimism to rebuild “bigger and better” than before. Large hotels and restaurants took the places where more modest ones stood before Camille; entrepreneurs expanded tourist facilities; and local officials approved the rezoning of many residential areas for commercial use (ostensibly to increase the tax base). Soon, however, counties allowed the spirit of cooperation to dissipate and reasserted their local autonomy. To worsen matters, confusion resulted in unregulated repairs and rebuilding, and for a short period Harrison County waived the building permit requirement. Short-term post-storm development allowed intensive land uses in the most exposed locations.

Caption: Richeliu Apartments after Hurricane Camille. 20 to 25 feet of storm surge devastated the area.

In the eyes of the coastal communities' African-American citizens, the disaster was an opportunity to rectify entrenched employment and housing discrimination patterns. A well-publicized American Friends Service Committee report outlined rampant discrimination against the poor in Camille's aftermath, particularly regarding the approval of loans (95 percent of which went to white citizens) and the distribution of Red Cross aid. In particular, the Red Cross manual for assistance to disaster victims stated that the aid received should be proportional to the recipients' previous standard of living, inspiring one New York Times writer to ask, “What is the value of returning a family to their pre-hurricane status when that condition is already one of wretchedness?”48

The American Friends Service Committee report noted that business and infrastructure concerns took priority over assuaging human suffering, particularly that of the poor. Indeed, while the report viewed Camille as an “opportunity to build freshly, abandoning the old patterns of exclusion which have so hampered the development of the area,” this progressive approach clashed deeply with the “official” vision of a prosperous coastline.49 The exclusion of any members of color from the Mississippi Emergency Council rebuilding committee also assured that the collective memory of the politically and economically marginalized did not influence the redevelopment agenda. The state's governor, a steadfast segregationist, adamantly denied that discrimination occurred during the recovery phases of the storm despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.50

Hazard scholars lament the lost opportunities for comprehensive redevelopment following Camille, as well as the lack of emphasis on hazard mitigation policies.51 Harrison County planners and officials later admitted that much of the planning done in the aftermath of Camille was to qualify for the National Flood Insurance Program, without which the region might not have been able to rebuild.52 The Governor's Emergency Council had commissioned an extensive study on long-range development in the three coastal communities, which explicitly stated that “the lessons of Camille and Betsy should not be forgotten” and called for new forms of settlement with an eye to long-range development potential.53 It proposed moving new residential communities, industry, and transportation infrastructure northward, actively controlling development through zoning and flood-resistant building codes, and establishing a comprehensive regional land-use plan with coordinated county schedules. Its report notes that good-quality buildable land was becoming scarce, and that “building is spreading into the vulnerable marginal low land which could prove costly and tragic. Hurricanes Camille and Betsy have made their empathic point that new settlement must be planned to be sympathetic with natural patterns and forces.”54 As this and the following examples show, governing bodies mandated extensive changes initially, but rarely maintained these policies over the long term.

Two years after Hurricane Camille the coastal counties released the “Hurricane Critical Exposure Zone Maps” in order to satisfy the requirements of their Emergency Building Code. In the code, the “Critical Exposure Zone” pertains to all land within 1,000 feet of the shoreline and all land north of the area that is less than 12.5 feet above mean sea level. Construction in this area required a minimum first-floor elevation of 12.5 feet above sea level, as well as higher design wind requirements than found in the standard code.55 Amid an atmosphere of “grudging” acceptance, problems with enforcement and with the technical qualifications of the inspectors became grounds for concern. Numerous building code violations occurred, including the absence of breakaway walls and the habitable uses of the first floor of structures in the floodplain. It is revelatory in terms of social memory that much of this designated exposure zone later became home to dozens of seaside casinos and extensive waterfront commercial, recreational, and residential development. To say that there were no changes in development patterns whatsoever would be misleading. Indeed, post-storm development trended northward due to the stigma of rebuilding right along the coast and the lure of customers driving on a new interstate highway. Despite these adjustments, population turnover, combined with the lapse of many years without a severe storm, allowed the urgency caused by Camille to wane.

The explosion of the dockside casino industry perhaps best exemplifies the disregard for the impacts of Camille. What could not be predicted in a 1985 analysis was the incredible growth that would occur during the 1990s driven by the advent of legalized gambling, which placed Mississippi as the nation's third-leading gaming destination.56 Gulf Coast legislators, noting that Mississippi River counties received state authorization for floating casinos, sought similar privileges for their districts. In June 1990 a special legislative session redefined “navigable waters” and allowed moored waterborne casinos on the Gulf Coast.57 By the late 1990s large-scale casinos complete with adjoining hotels, restaurants, and other amenities dominated the coastal landscape.58 On the eve of Katrina, 12 state-regulated casinos were operating on the Mississippi shore and all were highly exposed to hurricanes.59

Federal and state environmental agencies and local environmental activist groups contested the industry's continued growth, mainly because the Mississippi legislature seemed unwilling to cap the number of casinos along the coastline. As a result, the area was rapidly reaching capacity and causing developers to eye more marginal locations, including ecologically fragile wetlands. This led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to consider ordering an Environmental Impact Statement of the casino industry in Mississippi. As the Bureau of Marine Resources cautioned in a recent report to the Mississippi State Environmental Protection, Conservation and Water Resources Committee, “It is important to realize that there is a threshold where many apparently insignificant environmental changes will reach a cumulative level that will result in irreversible degradation of the estuarine system.”60

In 1994, the Mississippi Gaming Commission released its “Emergency Hurricane Plan for Mississippi Gulf Coast Casinos,” drawing attention to Hurricanes Camille, Frederic, and Elena in terms of the severe property damage and costly repairs they wrought along the Mississippi shore. Ultimately, however, the state commission cast aside these lessons when it opted to disregard options that would have mandated some type of casino barge evacuation and selected the option that allowed them to “Remain at the Casino's Permanent Site.” The scale of casino operations rendered evacuation impractical. Indeed, the commission's report acknowledges that the chosen plan “creates the greatest risk both to the casinos and adjacent upland property.” It required vessel operators to construct moorings able to withstand a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 155 mph and tidal surges of 15 feet, considerably shy of the precedent set by Hurricane Camille.61 Although the social memory of the storm was not erased, the gaming commission's failure to incorporate even the base standards set by Camille allowed resilience to diminish.

Environmental groups had expressed serious concern both with the safety of casino construction in the area and the industry's cumulative environmental impacts, yet these viewpoints were shunted aside in the name of profit. Within the multifaceted social memory of Camille, divergent perspectives resulted in the privileging of business interests over ecological concerns. This led to a willingness to discount the devastation of decades prior, placing the beachfront casino industry in certain peril.

As years passed the urgency of the storm's message faded. The Gulf Coast communities chose structural storm protection (e. g., seawalls, elevated buildings, stronger and more robust structures) in lieu of development planning and growth management techniques. They adopted admittedly inadequate emergency response plans as well. The social memory of Camille did not run deep, and the longer the time that passed, the more its resonance faded from its effective use. Some link this to the prevailing belief held by residents and experts that a direct hit by a Category 5 hurricane is a “once-in-a-lifetime” event that cannot possibly be planned for or mitigated.62 Indeed, Biloxi's 1985 Waterfront Master Plan advocated a massive development complex in a highly risky seaside location in the name of public interest, complete with a commercial marina, an arboretum, and a water park.63

Caption: Ruins of the Church of the Redeemer in Biloxi after Hurricane Camille.

Caption: Casino development had dominated the Gulfport – Biloxi shorefront since the 1990s.

Conclusions

New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast are neighbors but vastly different locations. New Orleans has long depended on its strategic situation near the mouth of the Mississippi River for its economic well-being and has relied on levees to fend off river and hurricane-driven floods. The Mississippi shore communities have thrived on tourists drawn to their beaches and have strived to maintain a viable beachfront economy with structural protection from hurricanes that did not impede oceanfront access. Repeated batterings by hurricanes notwithstanding, leaders in both areas assumed that the risks they faced would be outweighed by the benefits of their respective, vulnerable geographies.

Multiple hurricane strikes provided communities with abundant and traumatic experiences with disruptive events. With each encounter, citizens and leaders acquired knowledge of effective and ineffective adaptations that could help anticipate and reduce future impacts and also enhance future responses and recovery efforts. This body of knowledge was a portion of the respective communities' social memory. While the actual memories were not lost, the inability to integrate critical knowledge of hurricanes past into future plans and development rendered communities less resilient.

In New Orleans, aggressive development of repeatedly flooded wetlands, surrounded by newly built levees, pushed the city's footprint into highly vulnerable locations. Along the Mississippi shore, land-use controls temporarily discouraged waterfront development, but enforcement of these regulations faded with the prospect of gambling revenues. When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, the failure to incorporate social memory into hurricane preparations was all too apparent. The numbers of homes damaged and lives lost in New Orleans far exceeded the losses from Betsy, despite the construction of a massive levee system. Economic development on the Mississippi shore had exploded in the decade and a half since casino gambling arrived, and consequently the value of property in exposed oceanfront areas that was destroyed escalated between 1969 and 2005.

Caption: Pilings wiped clean by Katrina overlook a field filled with debris near Lake Pontchatrain in Slidell, Louisiana.

Caption: A truck is crushed under a house from the 20 foot storm surge of Hurricane Katrina.

As we approach the sixth anniversary of Katrina, are we already seeing a repeat performance? New Orleans has actively promoted rebuilding in all sections of the city regardless of vulnerability. Mississippi has permitted coastal casinos to return—albeit no longer on waterborne barges. While the memory of Katrina's calamitous impacts remains painfully vivid to many, are those responsible for sustaining public safety fully integrating the lesson learned into the emergency preparedness documents and the urban plans?

1. See the research reports and bibliography on community resilience at the Community and Regional Resilience Institute: http://www.resilientus.org/publications/reports.html


2. C. S. Hollings, “Resilience and Stability of Ecological Systems,” Annual Review of Ecological Systems 4 (1973): 1–23. Also, L. Gunderson, Comparing Ecological and Human Community Resilience (Oak Ridge, TN: Community and Regional Resilience Institute Research Report 5, 2009).


3. W. N. Adger, “Social and Ecological Resilience: Are They Related?” Progress in Human Geography 24, no. 3 (2000): 347–64; D. R. Godschalk, “Urban Hazard Mitigation: Creating Resilience in Cities,” Natural Hazards Review 4 (2003): 136–43; and B. L. Turner III et al., “A Framework for Vulnerability Analysis in Sustainability Science,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 100, no. 14 (2003): 8074–79.


4. T. Wilbanks, “Enhancing the Resilience of Communities to Natural and Other Hazards: What We Know and What We Can Do,” Natural Hazards Observer 32, no. 5 (2008): 10–11.


5. W. N. Adger et al., “Social-Ecological Resilience to Coastal Disasters,” Science 308 (August 12, 2005): 1036–39, quote on 1037.


6. C. E. Colten and A. R. Sumpter, “Social Memory and Resilience in New Orleans,” Natural Hazards 48 (2009): 355–64.


7. See C. E. Colten, Perilous Place, Powerful Storms: Hurricane Protection in Southeast Louisiana (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009), and U. S. Congress, House of Representatives, Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana: Letter from the Secretary of War, House Doc. 691, 79th Cong., 2nd sess., July 3, 1946, and U. S. Senate, Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana, Letter from the Secretary of the Army, Senate Doc. 139, 81st Cong., 2nd sess., February 22, 1950.


8. Orleans Levee Board, Nature Changes from Moment to Moment (New Orleans: 1972), 33.


9. U. S. House of Representatives, Lake Pontchartrain and U. S. Senate, Lake Pontchartrain.


10. Orleans Levee Board, Nature Changes, 21.


11. New Orleans City Planning and Zoning Commission, Master Plan for New Orleans, Scope of the Master Plan: Chapter 1: A Preliminary Report (New Orleans: City Planning and Zoning Commission, 1948) and New Orleans City Planning and Zoning Commission, Master Plan for New Orleans, Character of the City: Chapter 2: A Preliminary Report (New Orleans: City Planning and Zoning Commission, 1949).


12. New Orleans City Planning and Zoning Commission, Master Plan for New Orleans, Character of the City: Chapter 2: A Preliminary Report (New Orleans: City Planning and Zoning Commission, 1949), 11.


13. New Orleans Planning and Zoning Commission, Report on Planning: 1951 (New Orleans: Planning and Zoning Commission, 1951), 24, and New Orleans Planning and Zoning Commission, Report on Planning: 1953–1954 (New Orleans: Planning and Zoning Commission, 1954), 21.


14. U. S. Congress, House of Representatives, Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana: Letter from the Secretary of War, House Doc. 691, 79th Cong., 2nd sess., July 3, 1946, and U. S. Congress, Senate, Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana, Letter from the Secretary of the Army, Senate Doc. 139, 81st Cong., 2nd sess., February 22, 1950.


15. New Orleans East, Inc., A General Plan of New Orleans East (New Orleans: New Orleans East, 1959), see 7 and quote at 12.


16. U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans District, Report on Hurricane Betsy: 8–11 September 1965 (New Orleans: U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans District, 1965).


17. John McKeithen, Congressional Testimony, in U. S. House of Representatives, Hurricane Betsy Disaster of September 1965, 89th Cong., 1st sess., September 25, 1965, 32.


18. Louisiana Civil Defense Agency, Preparedness Plan for Emergency Operations (Baton Rouge: Louisiana Civil Defense Agency, 1965), K-2-1. Currently, the Louisiana State Archives has no specific emergency operations files or collections reflecting this 1960s mandate.


19. For a discussion of the hurricane protection planning and construction see, Colten, Perilous Place, esp. chapter 4. Their initial plans and construction designs also neglected Hurricane Camille (1969).


20. New Orleans City Planning Commission, Land Use Needs and Resources (New Orleans: New Orleans City Planning Commission, 1967); and see the New Orleans City Planning Commission, Annual Reports (New Orleans: New Orleans City Planning Commission) for the years 1969–1970, 1970–1971, and 1971–1972.


21. R. J. Burby, “Hurricane Katrina and the Paradoxes of Government Disaster Policy: Bringing About Wise Government Decisions for Hazardous Areas,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 604 (2006): 171–91.


22. New Orleans East, Inc., A General Plan: New Orleans East, New Orleans, Louisiana (New Orleans: New Orleans East, 1970), no pagination, see Hurricanes section.


23. Orleans Levee Board, Nature Changes, 26.


24. Craig E. Colten, “Floods and Inequitable Responses: New Orleans Before Katrina,” in Environmental and Social Justice in the City: Historical Perspectives, editors Richard Roger and Genevieve Massard-Guilbaud (Cambridge, UK: White Horse Press, 2011), 113–29.


25. Sherwood Gagliano, Hydrologic and Geologic Studies of Coastal Louisiana (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, Center for Wetland Studies, 1973), 40.


26. U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana and Vicinity Hurricane Protection Project, Public Hearings, February 22, 1975 (New Orleans, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans District, 1975), 101–78.


27. See Colten, Perilous Place, chapters 5 and 6.


28. See Colten, Perilous Place, see chapter 6.


29. Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness, Southeast Louisiana Emergency Operation Plan (Baton Rouge: Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness, 1993), and Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness, Emergency Operations Plan: Supplement 1A, Southeast Louisiana Regional Hurricane Evacuation and Sheltering Plan (Baton Rouge: Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness, 1996).


30. U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Preparedness Study (New Orleans: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1994), 2–37.


31. New Orleans City Planning Commission, Strategic Land Use Plan for the City of New Orleans (New Orleans: New Orleans City Planning Commission, 1997), 20.


32. Innovative Emergency Management, Southeast Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane Functional Plan (Draft) (Baton Rouge: Prepared for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2004), 19.


33. See Colten, Perilous Place, chapter 6.


34. E. Zebrowski and J. A. Howard, Category 5: The Story of Camille, Lessons Unlearned from America's Most Violent Hurricane (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005); K. R. Leyden, Recovery and Reconstruction after Hurricane Camille: Post Storm Hazard Mitigation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (Chapel Hill, NC: Center for Urban and Regional Studies, 1985).


35. R. A. Pielke, C. Simonpietri, and J. Oxelson, Thirty Years After Hurricane Camille: Lessons Learned, Lessons Lost (Boulder: University of Colorado Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, 1999): 1.


36. K. R. Leyden, Recovery and Reconstruction after Hurricane Camille: Post Storm Hazard Mitigation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (Chapel Hill, NC: Center for Urban and Regional Studies, 1985).


37. D. R. Godschalk, D. J. Brower, and T. Beatley, Catastrophic Coastal Storms: Hazard Mitigation and Development Management (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1989): 55.


38. D. R. Godschalk, D. J. Brower, and T. Beatley, Catastrophic Coastal Storms: Hazard Mitigation and Development Management (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1989): 55.


39. K. R. Leyden, Recovery and Reconstruction after Hurricane Camille: Post Storm Hazard Mitigation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (Chapel Hill, NC: Center for Urban and Regional Studies, 1985).


40. Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson Counties Coast Code Administration, Regional Code Enforcement: Hancock, Harrison and Jackson Counties (Gulfport, MS: 1970).


41. United States Senate, Congress: Second Session, Federal Response to Hurricane Camille: Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on Disaster Relief of the Committee of Public Works, 91st Cong., 2nd sess., 1970, 307, 313–27


42. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, After Action Report: Hurricane Camille, 17–18 August 1969 (Mobile, AL: 1969): vii.


43. Environmental Science Services Administration, Hurricane Camille: A Report to the Administrator, (Washington, DC: 1969): vi.


44. D. R. Godschalk, D. J. Brower, and T. Beatley, Catastrophic Coastal Storms: Hazard Mitigation and Development Management (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1989): 53.


45. K. R. Leyden, Recovery and Reconstruction after Hurricane Camille: Post Storm Hazard Mitigation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (Chapel Hill, NC: Center for Urban and Regional Studies, 1985): 2.


46. D. R. Godschalk, D. J. Brower, and T. Beatley, Catastrophic Coastal Storms: Hazard Mitigation and Development Management (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1989): 53.


47. D. R. Godschalk, D. J. Brower, and T. Beatley, Catastrophic Coastal Storms: Hazard Mitigation and Development Management (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1989): 53.


48. “S.B.A. Insists Few Negro Areas Were Hit by Hurricane Camille,” New York Times, January 1, 1970.


49. The American Friends Service Committee and the Southern Regional Council. “In the Wake of Hurricane Camille: An Analysis of the Federal Response,” November 24, 1969.


50. Jon Nordheimer, “Governor Williams Denies Race Bias in Hurricane Aid,” New York Times, January 9, 1970. Racial segregation and inequities were also common in the evacuation planning for hurricanes. See Susan L. Cutter and Mark M. Smith, “Fleeing from Hurricane's Wrath: Evacuation and the Two Americas,” Environment 51, no. 2 (2009): 26–36.


51. D. R. Godschalk, D. J. Brower, and T. Beatley, Catastrophic Coastal Storms: Hazard Mitigation and Development Management (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1989); K. R. Leyden, Recovery and Reconstruction after Hurricane Camille: Post Storm Hazard Mitigation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (Chapel Hill, NC: Center for Urban and Regional Studies, 1985).


52. K.R. Leyden, Recovery and Reconstruction after Hurricane Camille: Post Storm Hazard Mitigation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (Chapel Hill, NC: Center for Urban and Regional Studies, 1985): 67.


53. Mississippi Governor's Emergency Council, The Mississippi-Gulf Coast Comprehensive Development After Camille (Cambridge, MA: Meta Systems, Inc., 1970): 16.


54. Mississippi Governor's Emergency Council, The Mississippi-Gulf Coast Comprehensive Development After Camille (Cambridge, MA: Meta Systems, Inc., 1970): 280.


55. Diversified Consultants, Hurricane Critical Exposure Zone Maps: Hancock, Harrison and Jackson Counties, State of Mississippi, (Jackson, MS: 1971).


56. K. R. Leyden, Recovery and Reconstruction after Hurricane Camille: Post Storm Hazard Mitigation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (Chapel Hill, NC: Center for Urban and Regional Studies, 1985), and P. D. Hearn, Hurricane Camille: Monster Storm of the Gulf Coast (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005): 189.


57. J. P. Reynolds and D. L. Singletary, “Environmental Concerns and the Impact of Wetlands Regulation on Mississippi's Gaming Industry,” Mississippi Law Journal 64, no. 517(1995): 517–54, see 533.


58. S. E. Moss, C. Ryan, and J. Moss, “The Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Mississippi 's Casino Industry,” Academy of Strategic Management Journal 7 (2008): 17.


59. P. Cope. “Katrina Ravages Gulf Coast Gaming,” Travel Agent 322, no. 8 (2005): 65.


60. J. P. Reynolds and D. L. Singletary, “Environmental Concerns and the Impact of Wetlands Regulation on Mississippi's Gaming Industry,” Mississippi Law Journal 64, no. 517(1995): 517–54, see 546.


61. Mississippi Gaming Commission, Emergency Hurricane Plan for Mississippi Gulf Coast Casinos (Jackson, MS: Mississippi Gaming Commission, 1994); see also K. J. Meyer-Arendt, “From the River to the Sea: Casino Gambling in Mississippi,” in K. J. Meyer-Arendt and R. Hartmann, ed., Casino Gambling in America: Origins, Trends, and Impacts (New York: Cognizant Communication Corporation, 1998): 151–67.


62. K. R. Leyden, Recovery and Reconstruction after Hurricane Camille: Post Storm Hazard Mitigation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (Chapel Hill, NC: Center for Urban and Regional Studies, 1985): 7.


63. Greater Biloxi Economic Development Foundation, Biloxi Waterfront: Master Plan, (Biloxi, MS: 1985): 23.


Craig E. Colten hold positions at Louisiana State University. Craig Colten is the Carl O. Sauer Professor of Geography at Louisiana State University and the author of Perilous Place, Powerful Storms (2009) and An Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature (2005). Alexandra Giancarlo recently completed her Master's degree in geography from Louisiana State University. Her thesis focuses on the recovery and return of New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Alexandra Giancarlo hold positions at Louisiana State University. Craig Colten is the Carl O. Sauer Professor of Geography at Louisiana State University and the author of Perilous Place, Powerful Storms (2009) and An Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature (2005). Alexandra Giancarlo recently completed her Master's degree in geography from Louisiana State University. Her thesis focuses on the recovery and return of New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

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