When the levee breaks - New Orleans flooded

See a diagram of New Orleans' levee system
Levee break from the Sky

As the weather cleared in New Orleans officials were able to move in and begin rescue operations. However, a hole in the levee holding back the salty waters of Lake pontchartrain has been widening throughout the day. This hole is causing flood waters to steadily rise, flooding areas that had originally escaped inundation.

New Orleans's Ray Nagin said, "We're not even dealing with dead bodies...They're just pushing them on the side." This is a very gruesome situation. Although the bacteria that start the decay process when a human body dies is not dangerous to other humans, many other toxic substances pollute that waters flooding New Orleans.

A large portion of the city of New Orleans is devoted to industrial chemical production. This area of the city is known as the "Industrial Canal". If factories in this area have been damaged by the storm the flood waters could be filled with petroleum (gasoline), benzene (a poison), hydrochloric acid, and chlorine. This mix may make the people who are able to survive very sick.

Civil engineers are quickly struggling to patch up the holes in the levees that hold back Lake pontchartrain. One idea involves filling a ship full of sand or some other heavy substance and literally jamming it into the hole in the levee.

How would you go about mending the hole in a levee that is supposed to hold back a lake?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Alice's picture
Alice says:

Has there been a diagram anywhere that shows a CLOSE UP side view of a levee? Would veddy mooch like to see one

posted on Tue, 09/20/2005 - 9:52pm
rfaulkner's picture
rfaulkner says:

This is a good use of current science program. You guys are on top of things. The diagram of levee system is a little confusing, though. I think the large diagram is a side view, it should indicate that. The overhead shots and articles are great. Keep up the good work.

posted on Wed, 08/31/2005 - 3:13pm
bryan kennedy's picture

Very good point about the side view. I have just altered the image to reflect your suggestion.\r\n-----------------------------\r\nbryan kennedy\r\nScience Buzz Site Admin

posted on Wed, 08/31/2005 - 3:26pm
Miriah's picture
Miriah says:

It is amazing to me that they have predicted this disaster for quite some time and did not take more preventative measures.\r\n\r\nThe photo shown doesn't depict the actual flooding from what I can tell. Is there any way you could add a picture that shows the scale of the flooding from an aerial view.\r\n\r\nThanks for having info on such an important current event.\r\n-Miriah

posted on Wed, 08/31/2005 - 5:56pm
bryan kennedy's picture

Hey Miriah,
I have replaced the image in that link with another showing the levee break as it currently looks.

posted on Thu, 09/01/2005 - 5:58pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

From the PHXnews. How Bush's policies doomed New Orleans.

posted on Thu, 09/01/2005 - 12:56am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

There's plenty of "blame" to go around, if we want to play that game. Here's a blog post listing cut-backs and cancelled projects for New Orleans flood control during the Clinton years.

I'm sure we could compile a similar list for every President going back to Jefferson.

As the post points out, it makes little sense to blame Bush, blame Clinton, or blame anybody:

1) Yes, there is always something more that could have been done. Hindsight will always be 20/20. But in a world with vast needs and finite resources, priorities have to be set and choices made.

2) All the planning and preparation in the world ain't gonna do much good in the face of a Category 5 hurricane. (Though I understand it had dropped to 4 by the time it hit land. Still, that's bad. Real bad.)

3) Politics is boring. Let's talk science!

posted on Fri, 09/02/2005 - 7:40am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

just think about all the history that was lost in one day! Its sad to think that so much was lost.......

posted on Thu, 09/01/2005 - 6:18pm
BK's picture
BK says:

any idea how big the breech is (how wide)? Also, is the water flowing still? or has some equillibrium been reached?

How tall is the be levee? and is the entire secion gone now? or is there some part of it still viable underwater?

posted on Fri, 09/02/2005 - 3:14pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Comments on the breech images
I have seen this image many times on most new channels/sites, Aug. 30: Two breaches in the Florida Street levee, looking toward the Mississippi River, are seen in New Orleans.

but this image shows water flowing into the canal/mississippi river from the left side of the image??? Did the breech happen first in one direction and then reverse after the river level dropped??? I'm curious for comments or explanations.

posted on Fri, 09/02/2005 - 5:29pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I have been hearing stories of how the leevees were intentionally broken in the 19th ward to avoid more severe flooding in the french quarter and other more prosperous areas,which seems a bit valid givin the fact that the hurricane was on sunday and the leevee break was on tuesday. Does anyone have information to support these allegations?

posted on Mon, 10/10/2005 - 1:18pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

They called it a " Controlled Breach", it was ordered by ACOE by sub-contractors on their orders. It was always done at night so it couldn't be seen by satallite. The nineth street breaches were two seperate types. One portion of the levee was pulled up and twisted by the currents, the other was sheared off by a barge. Another one across MRGO at pump station # 15 was done by heavy equipment at approx. mic-night on and or around the 25th Sept., this flooded the nineth ward, Misheuex (spell?) and Six Flags. All were controlled, but, they all got out of hand.

posted on Thu, 01/11/2007 - 10:15pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

You're giving voice to a conspiracy theory held by many people. And, in fact, during the great flood of 1927, the levees were intentionally breached to spare wealthy (read: white) areas of the city. (For a well-documented and gripping account of this, try John M. Barry's Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America.

"An American epic of science, politics, race, honor, high society, and the Mississippi River, Rising Tide tells the riveting and nearly forgotten story of the greatest natural disaster this country has ever known--the Mississippi flood of 1927. The river inundated the homes of nearly one million people, helped elect Huey Long governor and made Herbert Hoover president, drove hundreds of thousands of blacks north, and transformed American society and politics forever."

Because it happened so shamefully at least once before, it's easy to believe that it could have happened again.

And, in fact, the same sorts of rumors swirled after Hurricane Betsy in 1965.

But all the credible scientific evidence (see the discussion near the end of this Wikipedia article) suggests that the levees failed not because of any intentional breach, but because of shoddy construction and poor maintenance.

You might argue that poor construction and poorer maintenance wouldn't have been overlooked where the levees protect wealthy areas of the city, and you might even say that such neglect is no better than a deliberate breach. But the truth is that the greater New Orleans area flooded when some 26 levees and canal floodwalls were breached: about 20 in the Mississippi Rover Gulf Outlet, three in the Industrial Canal, two in the London Avenue Canal, and one in the 17th Street Canal. Rich and poor areas of the city flooded, and the real shame is that people with resources evacuated and everyone else was left to fend for themselves. And, as we all saw on TV, New Orleans is/was a city with many, many people who had no resources at all.

You mention that one levee was destroyed by a barge. One of the two breaches in the Lower 9th Ward side of the Industrial Canal did dump a barge, the ING 4727, in the neighborhood. (You can see a photo on Wikipedia, contradicting the rumors that evidence about the barge was suppressed.) The barge broke free of its moorings during the storm.

When I used Google to search for "controlled breach" and "New Orleans," I found a lot of sites with posts claiming that the Lower 9th Ward was allowed to flood in order to save the French Quarter. Remember, though, that the French Quarter is one of the highest points in the city and would be last to flood in any scenario. Further, since the 17th Street Canal breach flooded the West End and Lakeview neighborhoods--some of the most valuable real estate in the city--it seems unlikely that the breaches can be attributed to some misguided ACOE effort to save those areas.

The aftermath of the storm revealed what lots of New Orleans residents already knew: poverty had forced many people into lower and less desirable areas of the city--areas that are hard to defend from flooding. After all, all those folks who had axes in their attics knew from experience that an ax is a good thing to have in your attic! They'd experienced catastrophic flooding before.

And the real question is, "What will we do now?" How we can rebuild safer and better, so that no one ever experiences this again?

posted on Wed, 01/17/2007 - 12:10pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:


posted on Sun, 09/04/2005 - 4:20pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:


posted on Sun, 09/04/2005 - 4:36pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How would you go about mending the hole in a levee that is supposed to hold back a lake? Ummm let not building a city surrounded by levees in the first place would of been advisable.As to plugging up the hole, how about using a really large piece of chewing gum?(Somehow I think President Bush has already come up with this notion)

posted on Sun, 09/04/2005 - 7:50pm
Keith B's picture
Keith B says:

Here is an amazing community driven web site that also uses Google Maps as a way to let folks affected by Katrina post news and information about their neighborhood, their home.

Katrina Information Map - This map is intended for the use of people affected by Hurricane Katrina who have or are trying to find information about the status of specific locations affected by the storm and its aftermath. If you have information about the status of an area that is not yet on the map, please contribute by following the instructions below so that others may get that much needed information.

posted on Mon, 09/05/2005 - 8:38am
mpumas's picture
mpumas says:

I am still trying to understand the mentality of the 17th St canal. I cannot understand why they did not have flood gates at the point where the canal enters the lake. It would seem to me that they could be kept open until there is a need to close them to keep a flood surge going up the canal or if there was a break in the canal levee. In the ariel photo it looks like there is something near where it enters the lake, but I can not really tell.

posted on Tue, 09/06/2005 - 2:37am
DMB's picture
DMB says:

Be careful of standing on an extreme answer or point of view, it's usually not large enough to hold many people.

If L.A. or San Francsco were taken out by an earthquake tomorrow, would they rebuild these great cities?

I first thought "they shouldn't rebuild New Orleans below sea level!"; but can the country absorb so many people into it's fabric at one time?

I believe the size of the problem, the complexity, will make it impossible to be solved from a plan orginating at one point in time....I think we may need to smartly rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region and give people back their lives.

Then the good fight must be fought to do the right thing, equitably, ...then we'll need to invest in the future and long term gulf coast solutions...

posted on Fri, 09/09/2005 - 8:46pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

A huge percentage of America's commerce floats up and down the Mississippi. It is virtually impossible for the country to function without a major city at the mouth of the river. Rebuild we must. The task is to take the lessons learned from this tragedy and rebuild smarter.

posted on Fri, 09/16/2005 - 2:41pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

An alternative to the chaos and dysfunction of the current administration that has left all reconstruction at a standstill, why not offer to each able bodied person willing to commit to a year of hard work and effort a $30,000 home on their lot. They help clear the lot, and neighborhood, help build the houses. They not only help their city, but their community. A family with 3 able-bodied adults can work for elderly parents, themselves and/or disabled relative.
A minimal food/lodging/living voucher can be used for expenses during the work commitment period and until the house is livable.
At the end of the commitment time, a community is rebuilt and those participating have a new home to live in with families.

posted on Thu, 09/07/2006 - 2:08pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Zipblocks could aid in levee reconstruction. Zipblocks are are cheap to manufacture (can be made in a garage), can be manufactured out of virtually any solid material(s), fully interlock on placement, can be made virtually any length, are easy use, weaving of blocks provides fibrous strength, etc....etc...

see for yourself....

posted on Wed, 03/07/2007 - 12:14pm
Nerds are awesome!'s picture
Nerds are awesome! says:

Yes, I agree with you, but not 100%. Can't this stuff cause some pollution to the water? Anyways, that is just my opinion. Rock on!

posted on Fri, 04/10/2009 - 1:19pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

new orleans is a sitting duck for hurricanes

posted on Fri, 04/10/2009 - 10:35am
Nerds are awesome!'s picture
Nerds are awesome! says:

I agree with you because New Orleans is just waitting to get destroyed by some Hurricane that is worse than Katrina. Rock On!

posted on Fri, 04/10/2009 - 1:16pm
regg's picture
regg says:

I believe that New Orleans is by far the place with the highest rates for life insurance and homeowners insurance, that's one thing we know for sure about place. Maybe New Orleans is a sitting duck for hurricanes but some people don't have a choice but to live there.

posted on Thu, 07/22/2010 - 3:50pm
Fran's picture
Fran says:

It boggles my mind that people in general don't have average intellagence regarding New Orleans and levees. My choice: take all the people out, let the water fill up the land until it's at it's finished level with all the water-ways in the areas where the levees were built. Nature will be consistent...people seem to be illogical. I understand if people lived a long time in New Orleans, but "reality" about the truth. Accept the truth, and help the people move to a safer, enjoyable place. Lets not waste lives, time, and money...let's work together to profide a better, safer place to live, enjoy and safely raise their families.

posted on Mon, 08/27/2012 - 11:24am

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