The Eclipse of Risk Memory in the Amite River Basin, (USA)

Authors: Craig Colten*, Louisiana State University
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Historical Geography
Keywords: Flood, Risk, Memory
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Wilson A, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Floods washed across the Amite River basin in southeastern Louisiana in 1983. Despite a tradition of avoiding floodplains, residential sprawl had propelled development across former open land since the 1960s. Following the 1983 catastrophe, public actions to mitigate future floods became a short-term priority. Proposals for reservoirs, a diversion canal, and a river basin authority gained public support. The clear memory of the devastation was short lived however. Public policies promoted suburban development, new roads and infrastructure, and mitigation failed to gain lasting support. The sense of urgency and the specter of future floods faded from the public imaginary. Expanding the parish tax bases received priority in policy, not public safety. An more dramatic flood in 2016 caused even more widespread devastation and exposed three decades of expanding urbanization that had eclipsed flood memories. A series of focus groups and scenario building workshops with local officials and residents conducted in 2018 and 2019 reveal the deterioration of public memory of the 1983 flood and its lack of consequence in providing safety from the next record-setting inundation in 2016. Few local officials were mindful of the impacts of the 1983 event and basin-wide considerations have given way to parish-level concerns. Although disaster risk reduction has become a prominent part of hazards management, over the thirty-three year interval between tragic floods, local experts reveal that officials failed to perpetuate risk memory and prepared for development rather than disaster.

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