Transcript for Hurricane Force - A Coastal Perspective, segment 05 of 12

The common problem that we have is that there's no baseline information in the area - the current baseline information in the area that the storm impacted. Hence, the situation in Louisiana is just very positive from a research point of view in that we spent five years conducting extremely intensive investigation of coastal erosion, and right after that study it was impacted by Hurricane Andrew.

Hurricane Andrew's terrible rampage began in the Bahamas, peaked in south Florida, and concluded in coastal Louisiana. All told, forty billion dollars worth of property was lost, establishing Andrew as the single costliest natural disaster in United States history. While destruction by wind was the rule in Florida, storm surge was especially destructive in Louisiana. Coastal barrier islands, the focus of the long-term erosion study by the U. S. G. S. and the State of Louisiana, were hit by Andrew's eye wall and destructive right half. These barrier islands play the important role of protecting vast economically vital wetlands from Gulf Coast waves. The unique wetlands habitat is home to the tiny organisms that are the base of the food chain, feeding water fowl, oysters, shrimp, fish, and ultimately people. Maintaining the health of this ecosystem depends on the protection from waves provided by the barrier islands.

One section of the barrier islands looked like this just before Hurricane Andrew made landfall, whereas here, one hundred and forty years ago, they were much wider and continuous. Results from the pre-Andrew study revealed that, in places, Louisiana's barrier islands are eroding at the staggering rate of up to sixty feet each year. After Hurricane Andrew things looked even worse.

One of the outstanding characteristics of the impact of Hurricane Andrew on Louisiana was that these areas of beach that were once sandy beaches and spits and whatnot, after the hurricane, they weren't there anymore. They were completely gone and, from, from the aerial photography and whatnot, it looks like these large areas of sandy beach were basically moved inland by the storm surge, so, so, you know, vast quantities, millions of cubic yards of sand, were blasted by the storm surge and deposited in these very shallow deposits in the bays behind the barrier islands.

The dramatic before and after aerial photography and video surveys give a clear-cut testimonial to the power of Andrew's storm surge. All that remains of several barrier islands is a muddy core of old marsh and oyster shells that offers little resistance to the relentless pounding by waves.

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