Schleifstein can share plenty of examples of how the Times-Picayune’s coverage has helped the community move forward and held authorities accountable for improving hurricane preparedness and response, however—from articles that led to changes in the Road Home program to others that highlighted delay and mismanagement at the Army Corps of Engineers, which is charged with managing and maintaining the levee system around New Orleans.
The Times-Picayune has also devoted considerable resources to covering the coastal restoration efforts all along Louisiana’s Gulf coast. In 2007, it won Columbia University’s Oakes Award for environmental reporting for its multimedia series, “Last Chance: The fight to save a disappearing coast.” A year and half later, the paper followed up with a similar multimedia series, “Losing Louisiana,” about ongoing efforts to address erosion, subsidence, and other issues.
Tough, public-service reporting about progress and lapses in coastal restoration, hurricane recovery, and levee reconstruction efforts continues at the Times-Picayune. The Army Corps of Engineers has promised to meet a June 1, 2011 deadline for constructing a levee system capable of protecting the New Orleans metropolitan area against storms that have a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year, often referred to as a “100-year storm.” Such a storm would be a Category 2 or small Category 3 hurricane, Schleifstein said, and the Corps eventually wants to provide Category 5—the highest category of tropical storm— protection (Katrina made its Louisiana landfall as a strong Category 3).
“There’s literally not a week now that goes by without a story about some piece of the levee system because it’s, you know, $15 billion being spent over the next four years – it’s a helluva lot of different projects to say the least, and three of these are in the context of the largest-ever kind of projects,” Schleifstein said.
Nonetheless, despite the approval of some flood control projects, Schleifstein reported last week that delays in others have caused some concern that the Corps will not be able to meet next year’s deadline. In the meantime, the paper is planning a “big package of stories” for the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in August.
“I think our coverage has certainly made a difference,” says Schleifstein. “In terms of hurricanes, I think that we’ve been helpful in continuing to emphasize the reality of living in an area of risk—that we will actually be at more risk than we were prior to Katrina until perhaps next year, because the levee system is not yet reconstructed.”
The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and runs through November 30. The 2009 season was relatively mild, but 2010 is expected to be “somewhat more active” than average, according to early predictions from a team of meteorologists at Colorado State University.
The Environment News Service reported last week that, “According to two new studies by an Louisiana State University team, 80 percent of Louisiana coastal families have a well-developed hurricane response plan of their own but have little faith in the preparation developed at higher government levels.”
Hopefully, they have some faith in the Times-Picayune, which provides a plethora of well-organized resources, including a dedicated Hurricane News and Storm Tracking page on its Web site. (According to an article in the Houston Chroicle, forecasters have improved their ability to predict the tracks of hurricanes—setting accuracy records last season for the one-, two-, and three-day forecasts of a storm’s location—but not changes in their intensity.) There are also helpful topic pages that aggregate the paper’s coverage of hurricane recovery, hurricane protection, the Army Corps of Engineers, levees, and coastal restoration.
Finally, historians will smile on the fact that the paper collected its award winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and 2006 into a single archive. Spend half an hour there and you will see why NYU called it some of the best journalism of the decade.