Hurricane Isaac Tests Upgraded Levee System in New Orleans Area

August 29th, 2012 by CHHS RAs

By Megan Ix, CHHS Research Associate

Hurricane Isaac hit New Orleans almost seven years to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region. Although there are strong parallels between the storms, Hurricane Isaac is making landfall on a city that has focused on becoming better prepared and more resilient. In advance of Hurricane Isaac’s landfall, President Obama signed an emergency declaration for the State of Mississippi and the State of Louisiana. Long before the emergency declaration though, work has been ongoing to prepare New Orleans for the impact of hurricane season.

Spearheading a $14.5-billion effort, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its partners have worked to repair and upgrade New Orleans’ system of levees, flood walls, and pump stations since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Virtually all of the levees, floodwalls, and surge barriers that form the Greater New Orleans Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS) perimeter have been raised and strengthened. Some levees that stood only 4 feet high during Katrina have been raised to 16 feet, with some flood walls as high as 30 feet. Levee foundations, which failed during Katrina, have been strengthened and armored. Surge barriers pushed the line of defense outside of the city, and removed about 68 miles of interior levees and floodwalls from exposure to storm surges. Since Katrina, 78 water pumps in New Orleans have been upgraded, and include what may be the largest drainage pump in the world – with the capability of emptying an Olympic-size swimming pool in four seconds.

Although New Orleans is already experiencing some flooding over the levees, the Army Corps claims the system is performing as designed and holding up against floodwaters in the city. If the levees hold, New Orleans will still have to cope with flooding, but may avoid the more widespread damage caused by the storm surge that followed Katrina in 2005.

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