Jed Horne, a former New Orleans Times-Picayune metro editor who helped the paper win the Pulitzer for coverage of Hurricane Katrina, has a nice piece over at The Daily Beast that explains why the Mississippi flood probably won’t drown New Orleans. The piece ably explains why the flood will likely stay six whole inches below the top of the riverside levees that protect the city — basically, the Corps of Engineers will open two giant spillways to divert floodwaters south to the Atchafalaya basin and, in the second case, into Lake Ponchartrain and out to the gulf. But I call it “nice” because Horne has both an encyclopedic knowledge of place and a real way with words. To wit:
Except for the city’s habitual nonchalance—subtropical torpor?—this is nothing like Katrina. As tributaries to the north backed up into farmland, and residential neighborhoods sandbagged furiously against rising water, New Orleans danced and drank through the second of two JazzFest weekends, then rose a bit groggily on Monday to begin opening the bays on the Bonnet Carre Spillway, a giant escape valve 30 miles upstream.
It’s a relatively short piece, but it does a better job of taking you “there” — to the river itself, which “was only that much more amazing to habitues of the Moonwalk, a populace that includes homeless and hippies as well as the well-heeled, given how startlingly low the river was just a few months back” — than other flood coverage I’ve seen, even coverage full of flooded-out Arkansas farmers losing their entire crops. That sense of reality ‘s the difference a real writer with an eye for detail brings to anything he describes, and the reason real writers will always be worth a lot of money, whether their visions are conveyed in ink or pixels or videography.