Group Seeks Site for Hurricane Center in Southwest La.

July 13, 2007

Though unsure exactly where it would be built or when, backers of a proposed National Hurricane Museum and Science Center in southwest Louisiana say they’re confident the $100 million project will become reality.

The 50-year anniversary of Hurricane Audrey’s strike on Cameron Parish passed last month. That hurricane, along with familiar names such as Andrew, Katrina and Rita, looms large in the plans for the museum.

The memories of Audrey and Rita have particular resonance in southwest Louisiana. Cameron Parish bore the brunt of both storms. Audrey hit in June 1957, killing at least 390 people and possibly as many as 600.

Cameron, Calcasieu and Vermilion parishes are still recovering from Rita, which wiped out communities from Holly Beach and Cameron to Erath and Delcambre. Evacuations are credited with preventing any loss of life.

The hurricane center planners envision sections of the museum dedicated to high-profile storms, explanations of how hurricanes form and evolve, and interactive exhibits letting visitors test the physics behind wind action, water movement and erosion.

Among the planned show-stoppers is a sit-down wind tunnel in which people who haven’t felt it already – or those who have and for some reason want to feel it again – could experience hurricane-force wind.

Another idea is a “Moment Frozen in Time” exhibit, where debris would be suspended in the air to give visitors a sense of the power of hurricanes.

Planners also want the center to be home to scientists and meteorologists doing a mix of public education and scientific research, said Anne Klenke, a project manager with the Creole Nature Trail group.

The Creole Nature Trail Commission – which works in Calcasieu and Cameron parishes – and the Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau are pushing the project.

Klenke, who also works with Lafayette’s Graham Group advertising firm, said organizers hope to see emergency-response agencies and the news media use the center as a resource.

“When Jim Cantore comes down to report on the next hurricane, we’d like him to be there,” she said, referring to the Weather Channel meteorologist known for his on-the-scene reporting.

The Louisiana center is not intended to compete with the National Hurricane Center in Miami, though backers hope some collaboration between the two operations could evolve.

The estimated price tag for the full project is $100 million, and the Creole Nature Trail has so far received about $1.7 million in federal seed money.

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