Daily archives "March 17, 2017"

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A look into the levee failures of Huriccane Katrina

Posted from Austin, Texas, United States.

Dr Nelson standing along a T-wall levee

Today we explored the 5 myths of levee failure in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and how the disasters unfolded. Dr. Steve Nelson a Professor at Tulane University guided us through three different levee sites in the lower 9th Ward and talked about how the levees failed during Katrina.

We started off by discussing 5 common myths most people have concerning levee failure in New Orleans.

  1. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 25th 2005, and left the city mostly unharmed because the extent of the damage occurred after the storm passed. The levees only breached once the storm was gone.
  2. The levees ONLY along the Mississippi River breached
  3. The “corrupt” Levee Board had built the failed levees
  4. Hurricane Katrina was so large that it overwhelmed the city
  5. New Orleans is well below sea level.

Dr. Nelson debunked these myths, clearly explaining how things actually went down. The reality of things goes like this:

  1. All levees failed during Hurricane Katrina, around 3 hours after it had passed through. ~ 9:00am
  2. Hundreds of other levees had breached, most being poorly constructed after the storm of Hurricane Betsy
  3. The U.S Army Corp of Engineers built all of the levees as a part of the Flood Protection Act of 1965
  4. Hurricane Katrina only really overwhelmed the Gulf Coast. It was a category 5 starting and had died down to a Category 3 once reaching the city. The most devastating part was the levee failures.
  5. Only half of New Orleans is below sea level due to how it was built (from draining the swamps and sinking the land).

To get a closer look of the history of the city’s levees, we need to explore the major events that happened pre-Katrina. We’ll begin with the construction of the Industrial Canal. This canal was built in the 1920’s to connect the Mississippi River to Lake Ponchatrain for port access. In the 1960’s, the Mississippi Gulf Outlet was constructed for ship traffic but the U.S Army Corp of Engineers. Both of these canals were major disaster channels during Hurricane Betsy in 1965. The Industrial Canal allowed for storm surge to pass into the city, thus flooding the canals. This in turn heavily flooded the lower 9th ward.

Shortly after Betsy, the 1965 Flood Protection Act was passed by congress in order to ensure protection from future storms and hydrological events. The U.S Army Corp of Engineers carried on the construction of the levees surrounding major canals and drainage channels in New Orleans. The first design of all major levees was the I-wall design. It looked something like this!

View of the industrial canal

Dr. Anderson talked about the “coastal squeeze” and how we need to find as far as the wetland can go and also how far the community can go. The water isn’t allowed to spread inland as it did evolutionary. In 2006 after Katrina hit they rebuilt the entire flood wall and replaced the section on Jourdan St. with a T-wall. There is a big difference in elevation between the Jourdan St. wall and the I-wall in that the I-wall it is 2.5 ft lower and the storm surge took it out because it was not reinforced like the T-wall. Also the flood wall is behind and hasn’t been rebuilt since Katrina. The only reason why they rebuilt the wall on Jourdan St. is because it failed but it seems silly to rebuild the wall to 15ft and leave all the other walls at their original elevation because it provides a pathway for the storm surge to come in.The Army Corps of Engineers admitted in 1985 that they’ve been using the wrong datum (2.5ft too low. 12ft instead of 15ft). The Army Corps of Engineers came up with a new plan to keep the water out of the Industrial Canal entirely because it is connected to Lake Pontchartrain. In the New Hurricane Protection system they built a flood gate on Lake Pontchartrain that keeps the water from entering in from the Lake. There are two gates on the wall. One to allow fruit boats to get out to the Gulf of Mexico through Bayou Bienvenue and another set of gates to allow boats to get to the inter coastal waterway. The wall is 25 ft. high, it’s supposed to keep storm surge out and protect NOLA from the 100 year storm which is a storm that has a 1% chance of occurring every year.

Image result for t-wall new orleans

Saving money, but also cutting corners isn’t worth it in the end especially when an entire state is in danger and people’s lives are at risk. Levee failure should not be happening in an ideal world, but hopefully the Army Corps of Engineers learned their lesson.

To learn more, check out these videos




Day 1

Today was a beautiful day in Louisiana! We had the opportunity to learn about the history of the levee’s and their role in the community and hurricane Katrina. We had time to explore and we tried beignets, walked around the French Quarter, saw some original art, and listened to some lively jazz music. 

Open-Air Levee Exhibition and Garden

There are several levees that failed when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans most of these caused severe damage to homes and all around the area. In this case it was London avenue levee failed which moved a house completely off its foundation by several yards. The women that owned the house didn’t want to rebuild it, she then sold her house to the state of Louisiana. With this new property LA decided to lease it out to a private company that decided to make it into an open air museum. Before all of this happened though there was A LOT of sand that covered the area. Steve Nelson who is a professor at Tulane talked to us for most of the day about levees talked about how and why the sand got there. About 4 thousand years ago the land that New Orleans sits on currently was new land that was mostly made up of sand and over time it became the bottom of the river. Once the levee failed it covered the surrounding area with 100 million cubic feet of sand! The private company has done a tremendous job with telling the story and they recently got a house right next to it which they will turn it back to what it looked like shortly after Katherine hit.

The one odd looking brick was from the original house

Over looking the posters

Building Flood Walls

Today we visited parts of the levee that broke in the lower ninth ward. We moved down through the drainage canals where they are currently building more of the flood walls and flood gates. This location is a compromise between locations closer and farther from Lake Pontchartrain. 


Posted from New Orleans, Louisiana, United States.

“It doesn’t look like it’s bumpin’ just yet,” Dr. Anderson mumbled to himself as we pulled in to park, in what looked like a regular residential neighborhood. On the corner stood a triangle building, a charming host, a security guard, and some friendly locals, mingling and waiting for the entertainment to begin.

We got comfortable for what couldn’t have been more than fifteen minuntes as exceedingly friendly waitresses greeted us and surrounding tables shared friendly smiles. Then, the all-female brass band took the stage. A woman tested the comfort of her sousaphone, another her alto sax, a trumpet, a keyboard, and drums took the stage to play local favorites. Right away, the CSUCI students sprinted to the front to start the dancing. They danced all the way through the set, befriending audience members as the crowded seemed to quadruple within a few performances.

It was a quick visit, but a great way to end the night, after a long day including a levee failure tour, and exploring the French Quarter and its rich history. Exhausted, we take to bed, and anticipate another early day tomorrow.

First glimpse of French Quarter!

French quarter was amazing, to say the least. I’ll never forget walking out of the New Orleans history museum and straight  into an audience. Everyone had circled around a band, playing jazz and some blues.