Epic: Severe weather leads to record water levels and dangerous flooding conditions

On Saturday, 14 May 2011, the US Army Corps of Engineers opened the first bay of the Morganza spillway as part of an ongoing effort to alleviate the swollen Mississippi river and avoid uncontrolled flooding further downriver. Via CNN:

The plan to open the spillway will still impact human populations - including the town of Butte La Rose, Louisiana:

Opening the spillway will redirect floodwaters from the Mississippi River through the Atchafalaya River Basin, which runs between Baton Rouge and Lafayette south toward Morgan City.

There are more than 800 homes in the Butte La Rose area of St. Martins Parish, which sits right in the flood path.

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What's worse, the impact of the plan will be felt long after the waters recede:

Roy Dakka, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Center for Geoinformatics at Louisiana State University, predicted it will take weeks to months for the farmland to dry.

"Any existing crops are going to be toast," he said, citing the fields of corn, sugar cane and soybeans that will be covered with sediment. "Plus, God knows what's in the water and what gets deposited."

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On the somewhat brighter side, officials are pretty sure that there won't be any failure in the untested system of levees, which could lead to unmitigated disaster.

That's not much comfort to the people impacted by the waters released into the spillway and redirected toward their homes and property, but it is - unfortunately - the best chance that experts have to reduce and mitigate the potential for a far more catastrophic flood in larger population areas.

It's for situations and events like this that our national infrastructure needs to be shorn up, bolstered instead of cannibalized as some sort of political bargaining chip.

This year, in particular, has seen quite a bit of severe weather already, and climate change theories imply that such severity is likely to increase.


A Flood of Controversial Semantics Over Fire-Related Losses

Last Friday, we posted an Open Thread with some videos that helped teach American Sign Language. Did anyone give it 'em a shot? They're reposted, below the fold. Today, this morning's Open Thread about Net Neutrality -- check it out.

Thiis piece, meanwhile, is nothing so educational or informative -- we're going to make note of a wonderful new way an insurance company is attempting to avoid paying out on a policy.

You might want to sit down for this.

From The Houston Chronicle (hat-tip DWoods12), insurance provider Great American Insurance Company is attempting to argue in a federal court that the smoke that killed three people in a 2007 fire in Houston was "pollution" and that surviving families shouldn't be compensated for their losses since the deaths were not directly caused by the actual flames:

Great American Insurance Company is arguing in a Houston federal court that the section of the insurance policy that excludes payments for pollution — like discharges or seepage that require cleanup — would also exclude payouts for damages, including deaths, caused by smoke, or pollution, that results from a fire.


Great American has asked U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal to find that the deaths caused by the smoke, fumes and soot from the March 2007 fire set by a nurse working in the building will not be covered by the policy because there is a specific exclusion for pollution and it mentions smoke, fumes and soot.

The insurance company that carries the primary $1 million policy hasn't made this argument.

Aside from the story itself, it is curious to note the last name of the reporter who wrote this story for the Chronicle -- "Flood." A woman named Mary Flood (mary.flood@chron.com) wrote a story about an insurance company trying to get out of paying a claim on a fire insurance policy. Talk about ironic.