New Orleans under threat from hurricanes, rising sea levels

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Ahead of the November 8 midterms, FRANCE 24 takes you on a tour down the Mississippi River with a series of reports by Fanny Allard. For the 5th and final episode, we head to New Orleans, Louisiana, where the Mississippi river reaches the Gulf of Mexico.

Founded by French settlers more than 300 years ago, New Orleans is under threat from extreme weather events. To protect itself from hurricanes, the city invested $14.5 billion dollars in a new levee system.

“It’s not a hundred percent perfect system, it is a risk reduction system. Climate change makes every place in south Louisiana more vulnerable,” says Dr. Alex Kolker, a professor at Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. 

The city is now surrounded by a 560-kilometre-long and 8-metre-high wall. The system survived its first big test in 2021 with Hurricane Ida, but it remains fragile.

Hurricanes aren’t the only threat. The whole Louisiana coast is also facing rising sea levels and experts warn it could rise by 60 centimetres by 2050. 

“If you were to look out into that water over there, you’ll see there are a bunch of dead trees. This was once a cypress forest and that would have provided a natural buffer for New Orleans from storms and hurricanes and water,” says Dr. Kolker. 

To face the growing threat, local businesses are trying to find solutions. One company recycles glass from the city to turn it into sand, hoping to slow the erosion of the coastline.

“The state of Louisiana loses a football field of land about every 100 minutes. We can’t replace that, but we can strategically deploy our material to slow down erosion,” says Alex Ward, Operations Manager for ‘Glass Half Full’. 

On November 8, voters in Louisiana and across the country will cast their ballots. While about half of them say climate change is important, it comes far behind other issues like the economy, abortion or crime.

Click on the player to watch the report by Fanny Allard and Kethevane Gorjestani

Click on the image above to access all the episodes. © France 24 infographics

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