Teaching your child

Threat of disaster compromises river's beauty

Threat of disaster compromises river's beauty

September 23, 2005|BY LISA PREJEAN

My husband and I started dating when we were both students at Louisiana State University.

Like most college students, we didn't have much money.

We found many creative, inexpensive ways to spend time together, most of which in some way involved the Mississippi River.

On our second or third date, he took me to Catfish Town, a little row of shops that used to be along the Mississippi in Baton Rouge, La. We walked along the specialty stores and the surrounding fountains that sparkled in the moonlight, talking and enjoying the Mississippi's cool breeze.

Sunday afternoons were spent on the river bank. We fully intended to crack the books we brought along, but rarely got in any serious studying time.

I'll never forget the first time he asked if I'd like to take a ride out to the levee. Being a native of Washington County, I had no idea what a levee was.


I was curious, plus the company was compelling, so I told him that sounded like fun.

After about a half an hour of driving along a winding road, I asked him when we would reach the levee.

He looked at me and laughed. "It's right there. We've been driving beside it for a good 30 minutes now."

"Oh." I couldn't contain my disappointment.

A levee is simply an earthen embankment designed to divert or control water. It looks like a little hump in the ground that rises above the road.

"So which direction is the Mississippi?" I asked, not knowing how far we were from the river.

He gave me one of those "Is she kidding?" looks but then realized that this northern girl truly needed an education.

"The river is just over on the other side of the levee," he explained patiently.

I was truly amazed that the only thing between the mighty Mississippi and the road on which we were driving was this mound of grass-covered dirt.

At first, I thought he was teasing me. "The river can't be just over that little hill," I said, thinking of all the beautiful, majestic mountains we have in Western Maryland and how flat the horizon appears in South Louisiana.

He pulled over and parked the car so we could walk up the levee and I could see first-hand that he was telling the truth.

The view when we reached the top was breathtaking. Barges and ferry boats were making their way down the seemingly calm, immense river. In comparison, the Potomac seemed like a stream.

With the beauty of the river comes the constant threat it can present to those in its path. There were times when the river would raise its mighty head and we'd be forced to listen. Quite often, the student parking lots at LSU would flood. There were drains in place, but when an area is so close to sea level, there's nowhere for the water to go.

Having lived there and experienced the culture of the area, seeing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is especially disheartening. I've thought of and prayed for the people who have lost loved ones, pets and their homes.

Thankfully, my husband's family members who live west of New Orleans came through the hurricane safely and with little property damage.

We were relieved to hear that they are OK, but we can't help feeling anger at politicians who misused funds designated for levee repairs.

Why weren't the levees repaired? How can people be so irresponsible with something that is so important?

Those are questions many people are asking, and they are important ones to discuss with our children.

People should do what they're supposed to do when they're supposed to do it.

When politicians don't, we should ask why - before tragedy strikes.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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