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Context of '(9:00 am) August 29, 2005: New Orleans’ 17th Street Canal Levee-Floodwall is Breached'

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Before dawn this morning, as Katrina approaches the coast of Southeastern Louisiana, the hurricane’s easterly winds from its northern quadrant shove a rising surge into the marshy Lake Borgne area east of St. Bernard. There, two hurricane levees come together into a large V-shape. Storm surge researchers later say that this point “acts as a giant funnel: Water pouring into the confined area rises up—perhaps as much as 20 feet in this case—and is funneled between the levees all the way into New Orleans.” The water probably tops the levees along the north side adjacent to eastern New Orleans, which average only 14 or 15 feet. The surge reaches the Industrial Canal before dawn and quickly overflows on both sides, the canal lockmaster reports to the Corps. At some point not long afterward, Corps officials believe a barge breaks loose and crashes through the floodwall, opening a breach that accelerated flooding into the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish. [McQuaid, 9/7/2005]
Note - Reports about when this breach occurs vary. For example, the Army Corps of Engineers will report this evening that this breach occurs later, “during the storm.” [US Army Corps of Engineers, 8/29/2005 pdf file] The Boston Globe will report that this breach occurs around 9:00 am. [Boston Globe, 9/11/2005] However, it appears more likely that at least one breach of occurred on this canal early this morning. Army Corps engineers will later indicate that this Industrial Canal breach occurs overnight as the storm is barreling towards New Orleans [McQuaid, 9/7/2005] ; while the 17th Street Canal levee-floodwall is not breached until sometime around 9:00 am during the height of the storm’s pass near New Orleans (see (9:00 am) August 29, 2005).

Entity Tags: US Army Corps of Engineers, Hurricane Katrina

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

New Orleans’ pumps have already failed, although the flooding is not yet widespread, according to Greg Allen, National Public Radio reporter. The Industrial Canal floodwall apparently has breached, flooding the Lower 9th Ward. People were trapped in their attics as the waters rose, and rescues are now taking place. Overall, however, the situation “is not nearly as bad as the catastrophe that people were predicting,” Allen reports. [National Public Radio, 8/29/2005] Millions of TV viewers watching the disaster unfold in New Orleans will repeatedly see a huge barge floating amongst houses in the flooded area. Whether that barge caused or contributed to the breach of the Industrial Canal floodwall remains unclear as of mid-September 2005. The Army Corps of Engineers will later state that one possible cause was that this barge smashed through the floodwall during the high winds. [Wall Street Journal, 9/9/2005; McQuaid, 9/13/2005] (Note: Reports incorrectly describe the Industrial Canal structure as a levee. It is, in fact, a floodwall.)

Entity Tags: Greg Allen

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Around 9:00 am this morning, the 17th Street Canal levee-floodwall system is breached. However, according to Al Naomi, Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans project manager, the breach occurs in mid- or late-morning after Katrina’s eye has passed east of New Orleans. By that time, north winds have pushed storm surge water in Lake Pontchartrain south against the hurricane levees and into the canals, and then the wind shifts to the west. “As I remember it the worst of the storm had passed when we got word the floodwall had collapsed,” Naomi later says. “It could have been when we were experiencing westerly winds in the aftermath of the storm, which would have been pushing water against it.” Naomi and other Corps officials will later say that they believe that the water in the canal topped the levee on the Orleans Parish side, weakening its structure on the interior side and causing its collapse. Ivor Van Heerden, LSU Hurricane Center expert, however, will say that he does not believe the water was high enough in the lake to top the 14-foot wall and that the pressure caused a “catastrophic structural failure.” [McQuaid, 9/7/2005 Sources: Al Naomi, Ivor Van Heerden]
Note - Reports about when this breach occurs vary. For example, Knight Ridder reports that the breach occurred at 3:00 am this morning, and that the breach was reported to the Army Corps of Engineers around 5:00 am. [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005] Later today, the Army Corps of Engineers will report that the breach occurred “overnight” and that the Industrial Canal breach occurs at this time. [US Army Corps of Engineers, 8/29/2005 pdf file Sources: US Army Corps of Engineers] The Boston Globe will report that the breach occurs later this afternoon. [Boston Globe, 9/11/2005] The Chicago Tribune will report that the breach does not occur until August 30. [Chicago Tribune, 9/11/2005] However, it appears more likely that the 17th Street Canal floodwall-levee is breached around this time, and that the early morning breach reported is the breach of the floodwall(s) in the Industrial Canal.

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Floodwalls in the London Avenue canal are breached today, probably around this time, according to Al Naomi, Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans project manager. [McQuaid, 9/7/2005 Sources: Al Naomi]
Note - Today’s Army Corps news release will not mention this breach. [US Army Corps of Engineers, 8/29/2005 pdf file] The Army Corps initially will indicate that this breach occurs on August 30. [US Army Corps of Engineers, 8/31/2005 pdf file]

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The Associated Press reports that, according to the National Weather Service, a floodwall has been breached on the Industrial Canal near the St. Bernard-Orleans parish line (see (9:00 am) August 29, 2005). Three to eight feed of flooding is possible. [Associated Press, 8/29/2005 Sources: National Weather Service] The Associated Press will report on breaches in New Orleans’ levee system at least 15 times before the end of the day, identifying both the Industrial Canal floodwall breach and the 17th Street Canal floodwall-levee breach.

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The Army Corp’s Al Naomi calls the state emergency headquarters in Baton Rouge to inform officials of a catastrophic situation in the city. Water from the increasingly large breach in the 17th Street Canal floodwall, which will grow to 200 feet wide, is pouring out, and flooding New Orleans. [McQuaid, 9/7/2005] According to Al Naomi, Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans project manager, the Corps reports the other breaches in the levee system as well: “It was disseminated. It went to our OEP in Baton Rouge, to the state, FEMA, the Corps,” Naomi will later recall. “The people in the field knew it. The people here (in Corps offices) in Louisiana and Mississippi knew it. I don’t know how communication worked in those agencies.” [McQuaid, 9/7/2005] Yet, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La) will later recall that the mood in the state’s headquarters is not one of panic this afternoon: “We were saying, ‘Thank you, God,’ because the experts were telling the governor it could have been even worse.” [Newsweek, 9/19/2005 Sources: Mary L. Landrieu]

Entity Tags: Al Naomi, Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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