September 02, 2005

National Geographic on the N.O. Levees

I found this article in National Geographic to be very interesting. Here are a couple of selections:

"On Thursday afternoon, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials briefed reporters on the status of that levee system, even as much of the city remained flooded and crews worked to repair breeches along city canals.

The bowl-like shape of New Orleans prevents water from draining away, as broken levees continue to allow water to flow into city streets. No one is sure how long it will take to pump out floodwaters once the levees are repaired.

Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, chief of engineers for the Corps, dismissed suggestions that recent federal funding decreases or delayed contracts had any impact on levee performance in the face of Katrina's overwhelming force.

Instead he pointed to a danger that many public officials had warned about for years: The system was never designed to withstand a storm of Katrina's strength.

"It was fully recognized by officials that we had Category Three [hurricane] level of protection," Strock said. "As projections of Category Four and Five were made, [officials] began plans to evacuate the city.

"We were just caught by a storm whose intensity exceeded the protection that we had in place."

and

The current system in New Orleans was designed decades ago and has been shaped over time by past storms.

An unnamed hurricane on September 1947 flooded Jefferson Parish, which includes metropolitan New Orleans, to depths of about three feet (one meter). The storm caused 100 million dollars (U.S.) worth of damage.

After the storm, hurricane protection levees were built along Lake Pontchartrain's south shore.

Hurricane Camille made landfall some 50 miles east of New Orleans on September 10, 1965. Winds in the city reached 125 miles per hour (200 kilometers an hour) and the storm surge neared 10 feet (3 meters). After extensive flooding, the Orleans Levee Board raised existing levees to a height of 12 feet (4 meters).

In 1998 Hurricane Georges triggered a mandatory evacuation of the Crescent City. The storm devastated much of the Caribbean but largely spared New Orleans.

Still, traffic snarls illustrated the difficulty and danger that would accompany evacuation in the face of a more direct hit—like the one delivered by Hurricane Katrina.

Levee Upgrade

Until the day before Katrina's arrival, New Orleans's 350 miles (560 kilometers) of levees were undergoing a feasibility study to examine the possibility of upgrading them to withstand a Category Four or Five storm.

Corps officials say the study, which began in 2000, will take several years to complete.

Upgrading the system would take as long as 20 to 25 years, according to Al Naomi, the Corps' senior project manager for the New Orleans District.

Martin McCann, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Stanford University in California, warns that long-term planning may not account for changes to the risk equation.

"As further development goes on behind levees, over decades you need to revisit the question and say, Are those levees providing us the protection that we wanted?" he said.

"The answer is probably no, because the exposure is probably greater. The number of people and the [amount of] valuable property [behind the levees] is greater."

3 comments:

Zeruel said...

Seeing the footage of those locked in the New Orleans bathtub, you can't fail to notice that almost all victims left are black or hispanic. 'Melting pot' my ass. The US is as divided as ever.

Anonymous said...

wait let me get this straight- so an official stated that the lack of funding for repair or rebuilding of the levee was not a problem...funny I thought prevention would have been a good idea
read this:http://www.salon.com/opinion/blumenthal/2005/08/31/disaster_preparation/index_np.html

A year ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to study how New Orleans could be protected from a catastrophic hurricane, but the Bush administration ordered that the research not be undertaken. After a flood killed six people in 1995, Congress created the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, in which the Corps of Engineers strengthened and renovated levees and pumping stations. In early 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a report stating that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in U.S., including a terrorist attack on New York City. But by 2003 the federal funding for the flood control project essentially dried up as it was drained into the Iraq war. In 2004, the Bush administration cut the Corps of Engineers' request for holding back the waters of New Orleans' Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80 percent. Additional cuts at the beginning of this year (for a total reduction in funding of 44.2 percent since 2001) forced the Corps to impose a hiring freeze. The Senate had debated adding funds for fixing New Orleans levees, but it was too late.

Jack's Shack said...

Anonymous,

So you are going to take the word of a civilian hack over an engineer.

Why not read more and you will see that this is a problem that preceded Bush by years and years.

Not to mention the significance of this quote Until the day before Katrina's arrival, New Orleans's 350 miles (560 kilometers) of levees were undergoing a feasibility study to examine the possibility of upgrading them to withstand a Category Four or Five storm.

Corps officials say the study, which began in 2000, will take several years to complete.

Upgrading the system would take as long as 20 to 25 years, according to Al Naomi, the Corps' senior project manager for the New Orleans District.


The bottom line is that it would not have mattered if the funding had been cut, it would have been too little too late.