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Context of 'October 2004: Jefferson Parish Levee Authority Complains that Washington Won’t Fund Flood Control Project'

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The New Orleans Times Picayune publishes a five-part series, titled “Washing Away,” which examines what will happen when Southern Louisiana takes a direct hit from a major hurricane. Part two of the series, titled the “The Big One,” begins with a stark warning: “It’s a matter of when, not if. Eventually a major hurricane will hit New Orleans head on, instead of being just a close call. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again.” Such a storm, the article reports, “would turn the city and the east bank of Jefferson Parish into a lake as much as 30 feet deep, fouled with chemicals and waste from ruined septic systems, businesses and homes. Such a flood could trap hundreds of thousands of people in buildings and in vehicles. At the same time, high winds and tornadoes would tear at everything left standing.” John Clizbe, national vice president for disaster services with the American Red Cross, tells the newspaper that between 25,000 and 100,000 people would die in such a scenario. Another expert, Joseph Suhayda, a Louisiana State University engineer, predicts that that New Orleans’ levee system could fail in such a storm. “It’s not something that’s expected. But erosion occurs, and as levees [break], the break will get wider and wider. The water will flow through the city and stop only when it reaches the next higher thing. The most continuous barrier is the south levee, along the river. That’s 25 feet high, so you’ll see the water pile up on the river levee.” (Schleifstein and McQuaid 6/2002; Elsner 9/2/2005)

Al Naomi, the US Army Corps of Engineers’ project manager, “begs” the East Jefferson Levee Authority for $2 million to fund necessary levee repairs that Washington has refused to fund. “The system is in great shape, but the levees are sinking. Everything is sinking, and if we don’t get the money fast enough to raise them, then we can’t stay ahead of the settlement,” he says. “The problem that we have isn’t that the levee is low, but that the federal funds have dried up so that we can’t raise them.” The authority agrees to fund the repairs. (Bunch 8/31/2005; Vidal 9/1/2005)

The East Jefferson Levee Authority provides the US Army Corps of Engineers with another $250,000 after learning that portions of the levee in Metairie have sunk by four feet. The extra work is funded with increased property taxes in Jefferson Parish. (Bunch 8/31/2005)

The East Jefferson Levee Authority complains that the federal government refuses to fund a hoped-for $15 million project to better shore up the banks of Lake Pontchartrain. (Bunch 8/31/2005)

According to Kenner officials, Williams Boulevard is now flooded north of I-10 to just before the lake levee, although Lake Pontchartrain has not overtopped the levees. Officials report that throughout Williams and elsewhere, businesses, homes, and apartments flooded and have significant roof damage. (Times-Picayune Blog 8/29/2005) (Kenner is located in Jefferson Parish.)

Around this time, the basement at Lindy Boggs Medical Center begins taking on water, according to George Saucier, the Mid-City hospital’s CEO. According to Saucier, the mini-flood at North Jefferson Davis Parkway and Bienville Street, described as an annoyance, probably was a chain-reaction result of a break in the levee along the 17th Street Canal, which separates Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. Water flowed from the break down Robert E. Lee Boulevard and into the bayou, before surging toward Canal Street, overflowing its banks and heading down North Jefferson Davis Parkway—and into the Mid-City hospital’s basement. (Times-Picayune Blog 8/29/2005)


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