One hundred and five years after Galveston, another Gulf Coast community was ravaged by a hurricane. This time the city was New Orleans and the hurricane had a name: Katrina. New Orleans sits at the mouth of the Mississippi River at sea level, protected by a series of levees. The levees are supposed to hold back the ocean when a storm emerges. When Katrina barreled its way onshore on Sept. 29, 2005, the city had seemingly escaped the worst of the disaster. Then, the storm surge piled up offshore, eventually overwhelming the levees that protected the city.
The weak levees weren't the only things that allowed Katrina to drown the Big Easy. Over the decades, natural safeguards against rising water had eroded away. Coastal wetlands and the barrier islands that once protected New Orleans could no longer stop the flood of ocean water. Since the 1930s, Louisiana had lost more than 1.2 million acres (485,622 hectares) of wetlands. These wetlands had disappeared because the dams and the levees that protected the region against flooding trapped the sediment that Mother Nature uses to build wetland areas [source: Wade]. When Katrina struck, there was nothing to trip her up.
The same scenario is being played out across the world, as populations expand and search for new areas to inhabit. After the Great Midwest Flood of 1993 receded, experts determined that the restoration of 13 million acres (5.2 million hectares) of wetlands along the upper Mississippi-Missouri River watershed would have absorbed enough floodwater to reduce damage, which totaled some $16 billion. It would have cost $2 to $3 billion to repair the watershed [source: Wade].
Restoring ecosystems would do much to mitigate the impact of coastal storm surges. But is there anything homeowners can do to protect their property?