Research Proposal: New Orleans

Pages: 16 (4990 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Weather  ·  Buy This Paper

New Orleans is a city still ill-Equipped to face future storms.

From the federal, state, and local government to the geography of New Orleans and its unstable levees, Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005 was a disaster in more ways than just the physical damage. It is possible that if another category 3+ storm strikes that city, the damage and loss could be just as great as it was four years ago.

Katrina

In order to understand the magnitude of what might happen in the future, it is imperative that we understand the level of disaster Hurricane Katrina wrought on New Orleans, southeast Louisiana, and the state of Mississippi.

On Wednesday, August 24, 2005, a tropical storm rising in the Caribbean was named Katrina. On Thursday, August 25, a day later, the tropical storm grew to the size of a hurricane. Later that day, Katrina made the shore of the east coast of Florida killing four people and leaving about 1,000,000 Floridians without power.

On Saturday, August 27, Katrina grew to a category 3 hurricane in the middle of the night. The path of the hurricane switched and was projected to hit New Orleans. On Sunday, August 28, Katrina was upgraded to a category 4 hurricane during the night, with winds that exceeded 145 mph. That morning Katrina grew to a category 5, which is the most catastrophic of all hurricanes. On Monday, August 29, 2005 Katrina made landfall in Mississippi and Louisiana where levees were breached and the city began to flood.

The city of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast had been warned two days earlier that the deadly storm had them in its crosshairs.

Despite the warning, 1,500 people died and more than 500 people are still missing. Four thousand people had to be rescued by the Coast Guard and others immediately after the storm. Twenty-six thousand people were sheltered in the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center.

Thousands of others found their own way to high ground and safety. About 1000 people per hour were evacuated from the city as soon as the airport became operational.

Within two days of the storm 80% of the city flooded with water up to 15-20 feet deep. Several levees broke, including the Industrial Canal, the London Avenue Canal floodwall, and the 17th Street Canal.

It took three days for Federal Emergency Management Director Michael Brown to realize that people had been evacuated to the Convention Center. He was forced to resign his position two weeks later. And, it was three days after the storm hit that the first "real" federal government response was felt or heard.

The best estimates of property damage ring in at about $75 billion. As of late 2008, 327,000 of 500,000 residents had returned to the city. A recent poll taken in New Orleans indicates that almost 33% of current residents are planning on leaving the city by late 2010.

The Levees -- Before Katrina

Often blamed, and rightfully so, for the flooding of over 80% of the city, the levee system failed. New Orleans is surrounded by three bodies of water: The Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River, and huge Lake Pontchartrain. The city has thrived about six feet below the level of the Gulf, ever since Jean Baptiste La Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, founded it in 1718 as the capital of Louisiana and as a fortress to control the wealth of the North American interior.

Little known is that fact that the Mississippi actually flows perched on a ridge above most of the city and 10-15 feet above sea level. Much of modern New Orleans is built on muck, with no solid bedrock until a depth of seventy feet is reached below the surface. Finally, New Orleans is built on land that is gradually, in some cases even rapidly, sinking.

The levee system that protects New Orleans is essential during normal times, and critical during tropical storms or hurricanes of 3+ magnitude. 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 was sure how long it would take to pump out floodwaters once the levees were repaired. "It was fully recognized by officials [before Katrina] that we had Category Three [hurricane] level of protection," said Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, chief of engineers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been building levees along the Mississippi River

since the late 1800s. The artificial, re-enforced soil embankments are designed to curb periodic and destructive floods. But determining the level of protection needed vs. what Congress and the public are willing to pay for isn't often easy. Acceptable risks must be weighed, including the statistical likelihood of catastrophic events and the possible consequences if they do occur, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials.

All of the public priorities having to do with safety have to be assessed against the price of protecting against a natural disaster. All of the environmental factors are argued, and every involved and interested party from both government and private sectors weighs in. After all is said and done, congress and their funding levels for that particular budget are the determining factor in how high the embankments in New Orleans, or anywhere else, will reach and what amount of risk is acceptable.

However, other sources state that it indeed was the fault of the Corps of Engineers who bungled the job at the levees, and that the Corps managed to wreak havoc on the wetlands that act as a natural defense for the city.

According to a report by Michael Grunwald of Time-CNN, "Before Katrina, the Corps was spending more in Louisiana than in any other state, but much of it was going to wasteful and destructive pork instead of protection for New Orleans.

Grunwald goes on to say that a series of investigations after Katrina attacked the Corps and Lt. Gen. Strock for slapdash and careless engineering including building flimsy floodwalls in water-soaked soil based on badly flawed analysis. "By the time Strock resigned and admitted the Corps' 'catastrophic failure' eight months after the storm," says Grunwald, "the U.S. had moved on." Grunwald concludes that, "The most important thing to remember about the drowning of New Orleans is that it wasn't a natural disaster. It was a man-made disaster, created by lousy engineering, misplaced priorities and pork-barrel politics."

If we compare Grunwald's report to others, including the official Report of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, we find many similarities.

The Senate Committee report states that "the building of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet and the combined Gulf Intercoastal Waterway channel [by the Corps] resulted in substantial environmental damage including significant loss of wetlands which had once formed a natural barrier against hurricanes threatening New Orleans from the east."

It also dinged the Army Corps of Engineers for "creating a connection between Lake Borgne and Lake Pontchartrain that allowed much greater surge from Borgne to flow into both the city and Lake Pontchartrain. These channels also increased the speed and flow of the Katrina surge into the East and Ninth Ward/St. Bernard Parish, increasing the destructive force against adjacent levees and contributing to their failure."

A close look at the Senate Committee's report shows at least eight different findings of mismanagement concerning the levees alone. Many of these problems center around confusion of who was in charge of the levee and floodwall system. The New Orleans Levee District, The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,

plus additional local, state and national groups were all held responsible for the failure of the system during Katrina.

But the Senate Committee report was much more specific than mismanagement concerning the levee system. It is worthy of quoting the report as to why, specifically, the levees failed:

"In designing constructing and maintaining the hurricane-protection system,

the Corps did not adequately address: (a) the effects of local and regional subsidence of land upon with the protection system was built; and (b) then-

current information about the threat posed by storm surges and hurricanes in the region."

"For several years, the Corps has inaccurately represented to state and local officials and to the public the level of protection that the hurricane system provided. The Corps claimed the system protected against a fast-moving

Category 3 storm even though: (a) there was no adequate study or documentation to support this claim; and (b) information known to or provided to the Corps demonstrated that the claim was not accurate."

And the Levees Now

So, what does all that matter regarding the city's preparedness for the next big storm? Certainly, it's all been remedied.

CBS News, on April 24, 2009 reported that, "Levees under construction by the Army Corps of Engineers [around New Orleans] aren't being built to a high-enough flood protection standard, according to a report by the National Academy of Engineering and the National… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"New Orleans."  Essaytown.com.  May 6, 2009.  Accessed May 26, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/new-orleans/543185.