I saw a man pursuing the horizon
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
"It is futile," I said,
"You can never -- "
"You lie," he cried,
And ran on.
~~Stephen Crane 
It's been a crazy couple of weeks here at our cubie quarters. My Darling Wife, our Precious Daughter and I have been taking turns being ill and have missed a combined 8 days of work and school.
It's a different experience being home during a weekday in this flood-ravaged part of New Orleans. It turns out there is a lot of activity here during the work day that I had not known about. Although I spent most of my time in bed, I would say no less than four large trucks per hour rumble up and down our residential street.
I know this because each truck announced its passing with shudder and a shake of our little FEMA travel trailer. I wondered, is this what it's like to live in a fault zone in California?
But although they shook and bounced me while I was trying to rest, I did not mind. All that activity was, to my mind, good news. Every truck means that another heavily damaged house is getting demolished or another new house was getting a load of supplies.
A lot of people in this neighborhood have been wringing their hands over the fate of the nearby church and school property. They worry that preservationists might succeed in declaring the church "architecturally significant." That would likely chase away the folks who want to demolish all the buildings there and construct on an open site. And they have declared with all the melodrama they can muster, "The fate of our neighborhood depends on the full redevelopment of that property!"
Well, I tend to disagree. Not that the new property owner wouldn't be good for the neighborhood--it certainly will be good. Any new construction in this part of town (unless of course it's a urea processing plant) is going to be good for the neighborhood. But I think if the deal falls through that this part of the city will do just fine anyway.
I could feel the march of progress and the bustle of reconstruction moving briskly along as I lay in bed those sick days.
Unfortunately, the news is not all good. I regret to report that several of my neighbors continue to rebuild their homes right back where they were. In the same location. At the same elevation.
And I can say with some certainty, these houses will flood again.
I say this without contempt, and without wishing ill upon any of my neighbors. I say it because it quite simply is true.
It could happen this spring, when a heavy rainstorm parks itself over the city and the already damaged drainage system is unable to keep up. This past summer, we had a rainfall of only moderate intensity that filled the street next to our trailer with about 10 inches of standing water.
It might happen this fall, when a tropical cyclone moves across the city and the power fails at the pump stations as it did during Hurricane Katrina, leaving the rainfall to accumulate in the lowest parts of the city.
Or, it may happen sometime in the next few years, when a hurricane brings a storm surge that exceeds the 100-year level of protection that the levees and floodwalls are designed to hold back. Any number of scenarios could see water topping the levees at the lake and ponding right here.
Elevating is no guarantee, but certainly, every foot higher puts a house farther and farther from harm. Without elevating, these houses will flood again.
I have warned a number of people about this, but the responses are either flat denial or some sort of rationalization. "It won't matter because I'll be dead before it floods again." Or, "It won't matter because I still have flood insurance."
When I suggest they could improve their lot by elevating their homes, I am brushed off with, "It's too expensive," or, "Raised houses are ugly," or, "What good will it do to have a house that survives if all the other houses are flooded and people move away?"
That last excuse is a prophesy that gains momentum each day. The more houses that are rebuilt right back in the same place and in the same way, the more it emboldens others to do the same with their homes. I would guess at this point that homeowners building raised homes are outnumbered 5 to 1 by those who refuse to elevate.
What do you say to them? How can they be convinced?
"Your house will flood again," I say.
"You lie!" they cry, and run on.