Colton, Craig. Perilous Place, Powerful Storms: Hurricane Protection in Coastal Louisiana. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2009. 195 pages. Cloth, $40.00.
Perilous Place, Powerful Storms provides a chronological study of hurricane protection in southeast Louisiana. Generally when one hears of hurricane protection in reference to Louisiana, it immediately calls to mind New Orleans. However, this book covers more than the failed system in the Crescent City; it encompasses all hurricane protection projects in southeast Louisiana. Cotten presents the history of hurricane protection projects and the events, people, and politics that affected their construction. In so doing, he attempts to demonstrate the complexity of the projects' backgrounds and show the sequence of events that contributed to the 2005 disaster in New Orleans.
Perilous Place, Powerful Storms begins with the history of New Orleans' chronic flood problem, which was accentuated as the city expanded into low-lying areas, that is, away from the natural levee. Starting with the continuous efforts to stave off the annual floods of the Mississippi River, Colten relates how the need for hurricane protection levees developed. He gives an account of the storms that fueled the projects' initiation; the design process; the politics, environmental issues, and local interests that impeded or modified the projects; and, the funding issues on federal and local levels. He summarizes the state of the projects as of 2005, which ultimately led to their failures. He shows that the levees were incomplete and thus not able to cope very well with Katrina's surge because they actually had a maximum protection capability for a less powerful storm.
This reviewer is glad that someone has finally presented comprehensive background information on southeast Louisiana's hurricane protection projects that is easily accessible to the general public. Since Katrina, many people have discussed the levee failures, but most do not understand why the levees failed and that they could not have protected New Orleans. Many people are seeking someone to blame for the disaster; however, Colten shows no interest in participating in the blame game. Instead, he demonstrates very well that the cause of the levee failures is complex and that to blame any one agency or individual for the disaster is not only unfair, but misinformed.
Much of the literature about New Orleans' hurricane protection focuses on what...