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Katrina: Cat 5 Hurricane plan for New Orleans was 25 years away
Posted by: McQ on Thursday, September 01, 2005

Reader and commenter JWG sends the following link to an article in "Riverside" which is a bi-monthly magazine published by the Corps of Engineers New Orleans District. The publication date of the following article is Sept/Oct, 2004, or about a year ago.

I've put the whole thing up because its short but amazing. And prophetic. But it also points to two things. That there were plans afoot to prepare New Orleans for a Cat 5 hurricane, and, even given those plans, the author wasn't particularly sure it would work.

I've also highlighted some of the things of interest which caught my eye.
Old plans revived for Category 5 hurricane protection north shore to the Mississippi River, by Eric Lincoln.

Engineering and Project Management are determining costs for a hurricane protection feasibility study that could lead to a project to protect southeast Louisiana from Category 5 hurricane storm surges.

One of four alternatives to be investigated will include blocking tidal surges at the Rigolets and Chef Menteur Pass. The concept was part of the original Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection project.

In 1977, plans for hurricane protection structures at the Rigolets and Chef Menteur Pass were sunk when environmental groups sued the district. They believed that the environmental impact statement did not adequately address several potential problems, including impacts on Lake Pontchartrain’s ecosystem and damage to wetlands.

Ultimately, an agreement between the parties resulted in a consent decree to forego the structures at the Rigolets and Chef Menteur Pass. Instead, a “high-level plan” resulted, amounting to construction of a levee system around St. Bernard, Orleans, East Jefferson and St. Charles parishes.

The new initial feasibility study will look at protecting the area between the Pearl River and Mississippi River from a Category 5 storm. Subsequent studies will look at the area between the Mississippi River and Morgan City.

Four alternatives that would be studied in the initial feasibility report are:

- Construction of floodgate structures, with environmental modifications, at Rigolets and Chef Pass, along with levees extending from high ground on the north shore to the Mississippi River.

- Raising existing levees for greater protection.

- Construction of a gated structure and new parallel span to the existing I-10 twin spans to Slidell. The additional lanes could be used for evacuations and, during normal days, alternating traffic-flow during the morning and evening to aid Slidell commuters. This structure would include higher levees extending to high ground on the north shore and to the Mississippi River.

- Raising all existing levees except those in the Inner Harbor area. A structure at Seabrook and a navigation gate at the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO) / Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) would close off the Inner Harbor area when storms threaten.

The impacts of coastal restoration projects will also be included as part the studies.

“Simply restoring the coastal wetlands and barrier islands will probably not be sufficient to protect the city from a Category 5 event,” said Al Naomi, senior project manager, “but it could reduce the surge elevations and result in cost savings to the Category 5 project.

“I hope that one of these alternatives will prove feasible and will be constructed.

We would then have the only Category 5 protection system in the country.” With that system in place, says Naomi, it would make sense to build shelters and other buildings to withstand Category 5 winds. Right now, few if any buildings in the city are capable of surviving a strong storm, and if they did, the water from the storm surge might finish them off.

“The new convention center or Saints stadium could be constructed to these standards, with electrical generators and other emergency equipment built in at a relatively small initial cost. Including the upgraded levees, we’re talking maybe $2 billion for a system that would protect the city.

“Compare that to damages from the storm, which could be as much as $100 billion, and 100,000 lives lost.

“A Category 5 hurricane hitting the city may be a once-in-a-500-year event …A Category 3 like Hurricane Betsy in 1965, or less, is more likely, and the existing levee system should be able to handle a storm like that.

“But there are no guarantees. One failure or overtopping of a levee could be catastrophic.

“The point is to eliminate that storm surge threat with one of these plans. Then we can build stronger buildings and stay in local shelters with the Red Cross, instead of spending eight hours in traffic trying to leave.

“The philosophy of what we do during a hurricane would change. We could spend more time protecting our homes and less time trying to get out of the city in these desperate evacuations.”

The cost estimate for the study will be discussed with the state Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), the local sponsor, before being submitted to headquarters for funding. Right now, there is no money for the study in FY05, even though it is one of the most vital for a city threatened more every hurricane season by a potential Category 5 storm.

With federal funding, a cost sharing agreement could be arranged with DOTD, and the feasibility study could proceed, taking about five years to complete, with another 10 to 20 years for construction.
Interesting and telling. They were actually, according to this article, at least 15 to 25 years away from any workable Cat 5 hurricane system. But they were looking at it. I'm going to stay away from the politics of this but you can draw your own conclusions. I simply thought it was some vital background info that needed to be aired about this particular event.

UPDATE: More interesting info here. The article was written in 2002:
After decades of division over who and what are most responsible for Louisiana's dissolving coastline, state officials, environmentalists, business leaders and scientists have found common ground on what they think it will take to fix the problem.

The often-combative factions are rallying around something called Coast 2050, a $14 billion, 30-year wish list of flood-control, water-diversion and coastal-restoration programs that would be the largest construction project ever undertaken. The plan is aimed at re-creating a historic mix of swamp, marshland and barrier islands by unleashing some of the natural forces that had been bottled up by levees and other flood-control projects in the past century.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

[i]In 1977, plans for hurricane protection structures at the Rigolets and Chef Menteur Pass were sunk when environmental groups sued the district. They believed that the environmental impact statement did not adequately address several potential problems, including impacts on Lake Pontchartrain’s ecosystem and damage to wetlands[/i]

Wonder how they like the impact on the environment NOW?
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Note as well that for this project to have been in place before Katrina hit, it would have had to have been started in the presidency of Jimmy Carter.
Written By: McQ
But did Bush support this when he ran for Congress in Texas in 1978? If not, it’s still all his fault!
Written By: Crank
The next time some asshat blames Bush/Global Warming/any Republican for the devastation in NO, I’m going to show them this. IT WAS THE ENVIRONMENTALISTS FAULT!! That ought to shut ’em up for at least a little while... Thanks for the ammo!
Written By: JABBER
URL: http://
Al Naomi,the senior project engineerin the article was interviewed on NPR this afternoon (approx 4:30 PM). When asked to estimate how muc of the city was under water, he replied, "45 to 50 percent. That’s a wildass guess".

My kind of engineer.

Written By: John Johns
URL: http://
i think that Bush should focus on what’s going on here and not that stupid war. we have our own worries to deal with.
Written By: concern
URL: http://
I agree with the previous post by concern. We, as the most powerful country in the world should ignore the rest and only do what is best for ourselves. That Damn Bush just keeps putting his nose into the rest of the world’s business, trying to force freedom onto people who have no desire or right to/for such an abstract concept.

If we took the billions in aid we send around the world, or the billions we spend on countless other projects that are not in our interest, and spent it at home, I’m pretty sure that we would truly be the utopia that millions and millions of immigrants around the world flee thier homelands to reach.
Written By: Chris
Actually he’s keeping them out of our country.

But as far as the storm goes, it’s a big unorginized mess... and the people shooting the people that are trying to help... is stupid.

Right now, what’s needed to get done is being done, but with safety measures taken. I’d be pretty iffy about driving a truck full of supplies in there too if there’s been hi-jackings...

but here you go with this
"Convoys bring relief to New Orleans
Refugees cheer convoys; Bush signs $10.5 billion aid package"


"And after returning to Washington, Bush signed a $10.5 billion disaster relief bill. The amount includes $10 billion in supplemental funds for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $500,000 for the Pentagon for its hurricane relief work. (Full story)

Earlier in the day, Bush termed the money a "down payment" and said it was just the beginning."

Bush is takeing care of it, now if you have a problem with how he’s handling it, what would you do?

Written By: Mikey
URL: http://

There was a good article in yesterday’s (9/6/05) Wall Street Journal by Bob Williams entitled "Blame Amid the Tragedy." This article deals with the discussion that many in the country and on hundreds of blogs online are now having regarding the "slow response by our government."

The writer, Bob Williams, like all Americans empathizes with the people and public officials over the loss of life and property. However his article gives us a quick 101 overview on how government is set up to work in times of disasters.

Quoting Williams:

"The primary responsibility for dealing with emergencies does not belong to the federal government. It belongs to local and state officials who are charged by law with the management of the crucial first response to disasters. First response should be carried out by local and state emergency personnel under the supervision of the state governor and his/her emergency operations center.

The actions and inactions of Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin are a national disgrace due to their failure to implement the previously established evacuation plans of the state and city. Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin cannot claim that they were surprised by the extent of the damage and the need to evacuate so many people. Detailed written plans were already in place to evacuate more than a million people. The plans projected that 300,000 people would need transportation in the event of a hurricane like Katrina. If the plans had been implemented, thousands of lives would likely have been saved.

In addition to the plans, local, state and federal officials held a simulated hurricane drill 13 months ago, in which widespread flooding supposedly trapped 300,000 people inside New Orleans. The exercise simulated the evacuation of more than a million residents. The problems identified in the simulation apparently were not solved."

Greeneye comments: This is hard to image for me. The city leaders had a plan but did not exercise it. This disaster will obviously cause many state legislatures to update their city evacuation plans.

William continues in his article:

"A year ago, as Hurricane Ivan approached, New Orleans ordered an evacuation but did not use city or school buses to help people evacuate. As a result many of the poorest citizens were unable to evacuate. Fortunately, the hurricane changed course and did not hit New Orleans, but both Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin acknowledged the need for a better evacuation plan. Again, they did not take corrective actions. In 1998, during a threat by Hurricane George, 14,000 people were sent to the Superdome and theft and vandalism were rampant due to inadequate security. Again, these problems were not corrected.

The New Orleans contingency plan is still, as of this writing, on the city’s Web site, and states: "The safe evacuation of threatened populations is one of the principle [sic] reasons for developing a Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan." But the plan was apparently ignored.

Mayor Nagin was responsible for giving the order for mandatory evacuation and supervising the actual evacuation: His office of Emergency Preparedness (not the federal government) must coordinate with the state on elements of evacuation and assist in directing the transportation of evacuees to staging areas. Mayor Nagin had to be encouraged by the governor to contact the National Hurricane Center before he finally, belatedly, issued the order for mandatory evacuation. And sadly, it apparently took a personal call from the president to urge the governor to order the mandatory evacuation."

Greeneye comments: I think once this matter has been investigated and everything is on the table, the failure of New Orleans to successfully put their evacuation plan into action will cause many cities in America to review their own plans for evacuation. This disaster should also make every state legislature look at their local governments and make sure their leaders are able to make the right decision in times of a crisis.

William continues:

"Instead of evacuating the people, the mayor ordered the refugees to the Superdome and Convention Center without adequate security and no provisions for food, water and sanitary conditions. As a result people died, and there was even rape committed, in these facilities. Mayor Nagin failed in his responsibility to provide public safety and to manage the orderly evacuation of the citizens of New Orleans. Now he wants to blame Gov. Blanco and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In an emergency the first requirement is for the city’s emergency center to be linked to the state emergency operations center. This was not done.

The federal government does not have the authority to intervene in a state emergency without the request of a governor. President Bush declared an emergency prior to Katrina hitting New Orleans, so the only action needed for federal assistance was for Gov. Blanco to request the specific type of assistance she needed. She failed to send a timely request for specific aid.

In addition, unlike the governors of New York, Oklahoma and California in past disasters, Gov. Blanco failed to take charge of the situation and ensure that the state emergency operation facility was in constant contact with Mayor Nagin and FEMA. It is likely that thousands of people died because of the failure of Gov. Blanco to implement the state plan, which mentions the possible need to evacuate up to one million people. The plan clearly gives the governor the authority for declaring an emergency, sending in state resources to the disaster area and requesting necessary federal assistance."

Greeneye comments: I personally believe there will be positive things that spring from this disaster. The loss of life, property and sadness that has overcome New Orleans, it’s citizens and their families is staggering. But as with 911 the Spirit of America and Americans is strong and I hope and pray that this city that was flooded and just about destoryed will be rebuilt on new white page with greater integrity, decency and honor.

Written By: Sharon
URL: http://

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