These three factors make New Orleans a vulnerable place to massive flooding:
- The city was built barely above sea level
The first part of the city, the French Quarter, was built in the 18th century. Since then, the city was fighting an uphill battle as it expanded: the luckiest settlers were able to build only about 10 feet above sea level.
- A historically failed drainage system
In 1900 a “sophisticated” drainage system was installed and allowed the city to spread onto former marshes. Nevertheless, this system also starved the land of replenishing sediment and removing water from the soil. Without sediments and water to stabilize the ground, the former marshes sunk as much as 8-12 feet. In just 30 years, one-third of the city was below sea level.
And by the time Katrina struck, that number was up to about 50%.
- Climate crisis
In 2003 scientists found that the ground in the area was sinking at a rate of 1 centimeter a year. That continual sinkage, combined with rising global sea levels due to the climate crisis, meant New Orleans would probably be between 8.2 to 13.12 feet below sea level by 2100.
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