2.05 LOUISIANA & FLORIDA: Sacrifice zones
Until recently the USA was the world’s greatest historic emitter, having left the Paris agreement in 2017 the nation is significantly increasing its own vulnerability to climate change by failing to prepare for an uncertain future. Learn how parts of Louisiana and Florida are becoming sacrifice zones where the onslaught of climate intensified hurricanes and the extraction of fossil fuels are displacing communities.
The Forster Canal, Grand Isle Road, Port Sulphur (2018)
The petro-chemical corridor, which spans 85 miles of the Mississippi from Baton Rouge to New Orleans is blighted by more than 150 chemical plants and oil refineries. The sites which are operated by international corporations such as Dow Chemical, Dupont, Shell, Occidental Chemical, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil produce fuels, plastics, domestic and industrial chemicals, and fertilisers.
Dow petrochemical complex, From the Bonne Carré Spillway,  Norco, (2018)
Dubbed “Cancer Alley” due to the clusters of cancer cases that have been recorded in the area as a result of exposure to contaminants such as dioxin, benzene and formaldehyde, the majority of the region’s communities are made up of poor and minority residents, many of whom lack the resources needed to move out of the area to avoid health impacts. Living in close proximity to the plants some residents homes come close to abutting the perimeter fences of industrial facilities, while others have been displaced by industrial accidents or when companies have brought up homes to create buffer zones around plants like the Exxon Mobil refinery in Baton Rouge.
Exxon Mobil refinery complex, Baton Rouge, Google imagery, (2018)
With Louisiana’s 17 oil refineries processing approximately 3.3 million barrels of crude oil per day, close to 50,000 miles of pipeline have been laid throughout the state to transport oil, gas and refined products to and from refineries. With so many pipelines in place, pipeline failure routinely causes large numbers of spills, gas releases, fires and injuries. The most recent fatal accident occurred on the 9th of February 2017, when the Phillips 66 pipeline in St. Charles Parish exploded killing one and injuring several other workers leading to the evacuation of 60 houses in the surrounding area.
Buried petrol pipeline, Bonnet Carré Boat Launch, Norco (2018)
Bayou, Bonnet Carré Boat Launch, Norco (2018)
As well as toxins, Cancer Alleys' intense industrial activity also creates significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions which further compound the regions vulnerability to coastal erosion and hurricanes. New Orleans, a large proportion of which sits below sea level, is extremely vulnerable to flooding and relies on pumps, levees and walls to keep water out. When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005 it caused over 1,800 deaths and $125 billion in damage within the city and surrounding areas. Although Katrina made landfall as a category 3 it had weekended to a category 1 or 2 when it flooded approximately 80% of the city.
Downtown, New Orleans, (2018)
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans had a population of 455 thousand, two-thirds of whom were African American. In the months and years following the disaster the cities African American population has declined. With those who were living in poverty at the time of the storm leaving shortly after and those who did return facing rising house prices, reduced household incomes and increasing disparity which made it even harder for them to remain in the city.  
While the death toll from the disaster roughly reflected the City’s racial demographic with 53% of those who died being African American.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina many more African Americans suffered from PTSD than the cities Caucasian residents, having experienced more trauma, violence, police brutality, racial discrimination poverty and bereavement before, during and after the city-wide disaster.
FEMA search marker, Treme, New Orleans (2018)
John, Walking to work under the I-10, Ursulines Avenue, Treme, New Orleans (2018)
The Lower Ninth Ward, a predominately African American neighbourhood in East New Orleans, was inundated when the Inner Harbour Navigation Canal (or Industrial Canal) was breached in two places. The levee breach caused flood waters to rush in which pushed homes off their foundations and carried an unmoored industrial barge into the neighbourhood which levelled homes beneath it. With flood waters standing at up to 15ft deep many residents were stranded on their roofs awaiting rescue. Structural damage to homes in the neighbourhood was widespread and hundreds of homes were demolished rather than rebuilt. Thirteen years later many lots remain vacant and overgrown as those who had lost their homes lacked the financial resources to rebuild or had moved out of the neighbourhood to avoid being flooded again.  
An abandoned home in the Lower Ninth Ward, The Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans (2018)
Although New Orleans’ poor and affluent white neighbourhoods were also significantly impacted, greater economic security within the cities white population has seen it recover quicker and, in many cases, prosper. In the years since Katrina an influx of educated white arrivals to the city has seen the formation of new businesses and significant change to the political landscape of the city due to there being 118 thousand fewer African American residents in the city.  In 2010 a white majority took control of the city’s council and the city elected its first white mayor in 32 years, as a white police chief and district attorney were also elected. As a result, the majority African American population consider themselves to be living as a politically defeated group in their own city having never fully recovered from Hurricane Katrina.  
Home with two trucks, The corner of Benjamin St and Evangeline Ave, Chalmette, New Orleans  (2018)
In addition to the faulty design and substandard construction that has been cited in the failure of levees built by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Army Corps of Engineers is also responsible for the dredging of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet in the late 1950s, the construction of which destroyed tens of thousands of acres of protective coastal wetlands that acted as a storm surge buffer for the community, which further compounded the Lower Ninth Ward's vulnerability to flooding. However, the corps has since been granted immunity from litigation under The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and the Flood Control Act of 1928 (FCA) following a federal trial in 2009.
Floodwall lake Borgne Surge Barrier, Intercostal Drive, New Orleans (2018)
The loss of marshland to coastal erosion and subsidence within the Mississippi river delta has also greatly reduced the natural buffer that previously absorbed much of the energy of an inbound hurricane. As a result, the vulnerability of New Orleans has increased as the loss of marshes has increase the likely hood that the city will one day suffer a direct hit from a category 5 storm. As the marshes continue to degrade saltwater intrusion is causing the delta’s live oak and cypress trees to die as the fresh water they depend on turns salty, often leaving the skeletons of dead trees standing in open water.
Dead live oak trees, Pointe Aux Chene Marina, Montegut (2018)
The loss of land in the delta is also impacting river delta communities such as the Isle de Jean Charles which is home to the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians. Having lost 98% of their land to saltwater intrusion and subsidence the island community is likely to become uninhabitable in the near future.
The road to The Isle De Jean Charles,  Island Road, Montegut (2018)
High tide, The Isle De Jean Charles,  Island Road, Montegut (2018)
The Isle De Jean Charles, then and now, USGS Imagery,  (1963-2008)
Although some members of the community are determined to stay on the island, the majority, led by Chief Albert Naquin are preparing to relocate to purpose-built homes on a plot of land further inland. Located near Houma, the site which has been named New Isle is intended to create a safe resilient, sovereign Tribal Community, that would enable the Tribe’s continued cultural survival.
“We’re going to have to go through another hurricane season, maybe two.That makes us very, very edgy.”
Chief Albert Naquin, 2019
Storm shelter, The Isle De Jean Charles, Montegut (2018)
Throughout the Mississippi River Delta Louisiana is losing the equivalent of a football pitch of land an hour to coastal erosion as the fragile marshland breaks up and disappears. Climate exacerbated extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina, sea level rise and environmental disasters such as British Petroleum's (BP) Deepwater Horizon Spill, dredging and canal building by the oil industry have all significantly contributed to the loss of the mashes.
Oil drilling barge, Bayou Lafourche, Leeville (2018)
Nick who had fished commercially on the bayou his whole life, explained how following Katrina in 2005 large areas of marsh had disappeared overnight and how in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill large clumps of oil had stuck to and subsequently killed the grasses that held the marsh land together, further increasing the rate at which land was being lost.
Nick, Fisherman, Island Road, Montegut (2018)
The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill began on April 20th 2010 and was the largest marine oil spill in history. An estimated 4.9 million barrels were discharged from the British Petroleum (BP) owned well before the blow out was sealed in on September 19th the same year. An attempt to clean up the spill using skimmer ships, floating booms, controlled burns and 1.84 million US gallons of the oil dispersant Corexit was made, but much of the oil would wash up on beaches along the gulf coast for several years after the spill. Nine years later, both the oil and the dispersant continues to significantly impact the marine, wetland and coastal ecosystems of the Gulf and the species and communities that depend on them.
Leonard Laynes, Fisherman, Pointe Aux Chenes, Boat Launch  (2018)
Pelican, Old Highway 1, Port Fourchon (2018)
As sea level rise, saltwater intrusion and subsidence takes its toll on the delta, cemeteries like the Cheniere Caminada Cemetery on Grand Isle are sinking causing graves to list, collapse and sink into the ground. The settlement of Cheniere Caminada was destroyed in 1893 when an unnamed Category 4 hurricane made landfall on the peninsular to the West of the island of Grand Isle.  According to records, 779 people died as a 16ft storm surge engulfed the island and winds destroyed homes. In the aftermath of the storm a mass grave is believed to have been dug within the grounds of Cheniere Caminada Cemetery to accommodate the bodies of those who were not washed out to sea.
Cheniere Caminada Cemetery, Grand Isle (2019)
Cheniere Caminada Hurricane, Grand Isle (1893)
Between 2004-08, five major hurricanes–Ivan, Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike—destroyed 181 structures and 1,673 oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico. A number of the wells and structures that were damaged and subsequently not removed or repaired make up part of the 4,295 orphaned oil and gas wells that have been abandoned by their operators in Louisiana. With responsibility now falling on the state to plug the wells it is expected to cost $128 million and take 20 years to complete the work.    
Gas station destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, Highway 23, Empire (2018)
Gas station destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, Highway 23, Empire (2018)
Louisiana was once one of America’s wealthiest areas, as the exploitation of slaves on plantations that raised cotton, indigo, sugar cane and corn lead to a high level of agricultural productivity. Yet in 2018 the state ranked 3rd poorest in the nation and suffered high rates of unemployment, incarceration and drug addiction. The intergenerational cultural trauma caused by 300 years of slavery, continuing poor economic circumstances and social prejudice has compounded the poor state of physical, psychological and social health among the states African American population, which in turn has exacerbated their vulnerability to the economic and physical impacts of climate change.   
Cane field, Bourg Larose Highway, Bourg (2018)
_____ looking for work in Houma, Bowl South, Houma (2018)
Although there is a comprehensive plan in place to restore the ecosystem and the economy of the Gulf Coast region, oil and gas extraction is set to continue until demand diminishes. With many of the people living within communities most impacted by the loss of marshland and the health impacts of industrial activity throughout the petrochemical corridor dependent upon the oil and gas industry for their livelihoods, Louisiana’s network of environmental organisations are working to foster cooperation and communication between individual citizens, communities and corporate and government organisations in an effort to assess and mend Louisiana's environmental problems. As Michael Orr from the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) explained, some degree of cooperation was necessary with the state's petrochemical corporations for environmental organisations like LEAN to be able to engage in dialogue with the corporations, only in this way were they be able to pressure the companies to uphold safety standards and hold them to account when accidents did happen.
The Forster Canal, Grand Isle Road, Port Sulphur (2018)
Hurricane Michael beginning to make landfall on the Florida Panhandle on October 10, near the time of its peak intensity as a Category 5 hurricane. Image NASA, (2018).
The thirteenth named storm, seventh hurricane, and second major hurricane of the busy 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, Hurricane Michael was the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane ever to make landfall in the contiguous United States in terms of pressure, and the fourth strongest landfalling hurricane in terms of wind speed. Making landfall at Tyndall Airforce base between Panama City and Mexico Beach on October the 10th, Hurricane Michael was the strongest storm on record to hit the Florida Panhandle.
Originating in the Southwestern Caribbean Sea, Hurricane Michael was exacerbated by warmer than average waters in the Gulf of Mexico. With sea water temperatures 4°C warmer than normal the hurricane was fuelled by the ocean’s warmth and evaporating sea water leading it to rapidly intensify.
The Reba Motel, destroyed by Hurricane Michael, South Tyndall Parkway, Parker (2018)
As Hurricane Michael neared landfall, approximately 375 thousand of Florida's residents were ordered to evacuate from coastal areas as the storm rapidly intensified from a tropical storm to a category 5 hurricane in just 73 hours. Initially classified as a category 4, Hurricane Michael was reclassified as a category 5 in post-season reanalysis by the National Hurricane Centre.
People carrier, destroyed by Hurricane Michael, Bay City Dental, East Beach Drive, Panama City  (2018)
Smashed traffic signal, Cherry Street, Panama City (2019)
Michael had been the first category 5 to make landfall in the contiguous United States since Hurricane Andrew had struck The Bahamas, Florida, and Louisiana in 1992. Until it was surpassed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Andrew had been the costliest hurricane to hit the United states causing $27.3 Billion of damage.
Andrew Aftermath, National Geographic, April, 1993, (2020)
Those that had not yet evacuated were told to stay inside their homes as a state of emergency was declared within the counties of Florida and Alabama that were expected to be most severely affected as the hurricane made landfall. While some in Panama City and Mexico Beach had insisted on staying for fear of looting and not being able to return to their properties after the hurricane, during which time they feared damp and mould could further damage their properties, others who lacked the means to leave had no choice but to stay.
218 Nannook Road, destroyed by Hurricane Michael, Mexico Beach (2018)
225 Nannook Road, destroyed by Hurricane Michael, Mexico Beach (2018)
Travis and his wife decided to stay and ride out the storm. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992 they had not been allowed to return home for twenty days, during which time they had agonised over what damage may have been done to their home, and if indeed, they had a home to come back to at all. Although they understood why police officers had tried to convince them to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Michaels landfall, Travis questioned the point in surviving if everything he had worked for was gone when he got back.
Travis, Mckenzie Park, destroyed by Hurricane Michael, Park Avenue, Panama City (2018)
Travis described how the storm had lasted for about three hours, during which time he had held their French windows shut to stop the wind coming in, even though the corner of their roof had ripped off and he and his wife had been rained on. Although it was dramatic, he said that at no point did he feel that their lives were at risk. Yet in the aftermath of the hurricane, Travis admitted to feeling a sense of longing for the town as it had been before the hurricane, which he supposed was a form of PTSD. The emotional or existential distress caused by environmental change, that Travis described, can also be referred to as Solastalgia, a neologism coined by philosopher Glenn Albrecht to describe the lived experience of negatively perceived environmental change.
“People just don’t understand what a wind of 150 mph can do to you on a personal level.”
Travis, Resident of  Panama City, (2018)
However, many of those who stayed were not so lucky, as of 2020, at least 74 deaths had been attributed to the storm, including 59 in the United States and 15 in Central America. In addition to the loss of life Hurricane Michael caused upwards of $25.1 billion (USD) in loss and damage, including the destruction of U.S. fighter jets at Tyndall Air Force Base, at least $3.3 billion in US insurance claims and losses to agriculture and timber that exceed $5.18 billion.
Mexico Beach and Panama City suffered worst at the hands of Michael, with widespread catastrophic damage to homes, businesses and forests due to the extreme winds and the Hurricane's storm surge. In Panama City 26 tornadoes destroyed numerous homes and businesses. ____, who was clearing out the last of what was salvageable from his computer business, which was adjacent to One Stop Flowers in Parker, explained how delays to insurance claims left business and home owners like him in limbo as they continued to pay for accommodation and storage, whilst waiting for their money to come in, or work paid for by the insurer to start.
One Stop Flowers, Callaway Village Square destroyed by Hurricane Michael, North Tyndall Parkway, Parker (2018)
Disco, who had no means to evacuate had slept through the storm in his small camper which he kept in his ex-mother-in-law’s yard. Miraculously, only one small tree had hit his van during the storm, causing only minor damage, whilst all the houses and trailers that surrounded the property had been completely destroyed.
Disco, opposite Vertrans park, Cherry Street, Parker (2018)
Trailer, Destroyed by hurricane Michael, North Larry Drive, Parker (2018)
At Mexico Beach, the unprotected coastline was hit by a 17-19ft storm surge that washed away many of the town’s beachfront homes which sat on concrete slabs. ______, a resident of Mexico Beach who had stayed in his home instead of evacuating, described how his raised home that was approximately 500 meters from the beach had flooded to a depth of 1-2ft, even-though it was 18ft above ground. ______ then went on to describe, how after having been evacuated and upon return to his home with his son, he had got lost on what is a 2-3 minuet drive to the post office, because he no longer recognised the town.
109 South 40th Street, Destroyed by hurricane Micheal, Mexico Beach  (2018)
Owing to residents of Mexico Beach having to evacuate at short notice many were unable to empty their refrigerators. With the power infrastructure of the town destroyed and nobody able to return until 6 days after the hurricane even refrigerators in homes that did not get flooded or destroyed during the hurricane were damaged as food products decomposed inside.
Due to the health hazard posed by the decomposing food inside them the refrigerators are deemed hazardous waste and require trained disposal teams to remove them. Unlike the infamous Katrina refrigerators that sat outside homes for months after the hurricane struck New Orleans waiting for collection, which lead them to be adorned with graffiti that highlighted the failures of FEMA and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, the ruined refrigerators of Mexico Beach were compacted on site before they were removed, less than two months after the storm.
Compacted refrigerators, South 37th Street, Mexico Beach (2018)
Major wind damage to forests was seen all along the track of Hurricane Michael from Bay County in the Florida Panhandle across the extreme south-eastern tip of Alabama and into south-western and central Georgia. With the hurricane damaging approximately $1.2 billion worth of timber in north Florida alone, 14,000 timber-related jobs have been lost in small communities that depended on logging for employment. The devastated forests, now a tangle of rotting treetops, branches, trunks and other debris from destroyed homes, have since created other hazards by clogging streams, creeks and rivers, incubating pests and diseases and posing an increased fire threat.
Unidentified trailer from North Missler Drive destroyed by Hurricane Michael, Mexico Beach  (2018)
Forest destroyed by Hurricane Michael, North Missler Drive, Mexico Beach  (2018)
In Mexico Beach alone, 1,584 buildings out of 1,692 in the town were reported damaged, with 809 of those reported totally destroyed. Although hurricane-resilient property development is easily achievable many inadequate homes continue to be built in storm prone areas of Florida such as the Bay County, due to additional upfront cost and weak building codes that do little to assure that developers are building new homes that can withstand a hurricane.
109 South 35th Street, destroyed by hurricane Michael, Mexico Beach, (2018)
With climate change already increasing both the intensity and the speed at which hurricanes intensify, as waters in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico warm, the Florida Panhandle is increasingly likely to experience other category 4 or 5 hurricanes in the future.  As insurance companies around the world bear the brunt of the financial impact of hurricanes, wildfires, heat waves and tornadoes, premiums will become increasingly expensive, take longer to be paid out and in some cases will no longer be available to cover properties and business deemed to risky too cover.
Windsong Apartments, 114 S 35th Street, destroyed by Hurricane Michael, Mexico Beach (2018)
The Gulf of Mexico from Mexico Beach (2018)
Although lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina helped to improve the response of The Governor's Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (GOHSEP) and The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) who called in emergency crews from surrounding states, volunteer rescuers still played an important role in rescue efforts. Prior to Hurricane Michael’s landfall, 72 members of Louisiana’s Cajun Navy arrived in Panama City to prepare for potential support and rescue missions. Formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Cajun Navy is a volunteer group of private boat owners credited with rescuing 10,000 people in New Orleans and the surrounding area. They have since been active during the aftermaths of the 2016 Louisiana floods, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Florence and Tropical Storm Gordon, and are believed to have saved many thousands of lives. Following the destruction caused by Hurricane Michael the Cajun Navy rescued 45 people.
2.05 LOUISIANA & FLORIDA: Sacrifice zones
Until recently the USA was the world’s greatest historic emitter, having left the Paris agreement in 2017 the nation is significantly increasing its own vulnerability to climate change by failing to prepare for an uncertain future. Learn how parts of Louisiana and Florida are becoming sacrifice zones where the onslaught of climate intensified hurricanes and the extraction of fossil fuels are displacing communities.