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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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The Bush administration’s proposed fiscal year 2004 budget includes $297 million for civil works projects in the US Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans district. (Congress will later allocate an additional $40 million.) [New Orleans CityBusiness, 2/16/2004] Only $3 million of this amount is slated for New Orleans’ East Bank Hurricane Levee project. According to Al Naomi, the US Army Corps of Engineers’ project manager, $11 million is needed. (Congress ultimately approves $5.5 million.) [Times-Picayune, 6/8/2004] As a result of the project’s reduced budget, work on the levee system wil halt for the first time in 37 years in June 2004 (see (June 2004)).

Entity Tags: Al Naomi, Bush administration (43), US Army Corps of Engineers

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

For the first time in 37 years, the US Army Corps of Engineers must halt its work on the New Orleans’ east bank hurricane levee system, due to lack of funds. Several sections of the levee system have sunk 2 to 4 feet and need to be raised. [Times-Picayune, 6/8/2004; Knight Ridder, 9/1/2005]

Entity Tags: Walter Maestri, US Army Corps of Engineers

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

A Popular Science article predicts that New Orleans could be completely submerged if hit by a Category 5 hurricane. Scott Kiser, a tropical-cyclone program manager for the National Weather Service, calls New Orleans the one city in the US and possibly the world that would sustain the most catastrophic damage from such a hurricane. He points out that the levees need not fail; a storm surge caused by high winds creating huge waves would quickly drown the city. John Hall of the US Army Corps of Engineers similarly calls the city “the most vulnerable major city to hurricanes.” The article notes that “New Orleans has nearly completed its Hurricane Protection Project, a $740-million plan led by [Al] Naomi [Corps project manager for the New Orleans District] to ring the city with levees that could shield residents from up to Category 3 storm surges.” The Army Corps is considering a new levee system capable of holding back a surge from a Category 5 hurricane, but it “is still in the early planning stages; it may be decades before the new barriers are completed.” [Popular Science, 4/2005]

Entity Tags: Scott Kiser, John Hall, Al Naomi

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The New Orleans district of the US Army Corps of Engineers formally notifies Washington that if a major hurricane scores a direct hit on the city, two of New Orleans’ biggest pumping stations could be disabled. These pumping stations are needed—even under normal conditions—to keep the city dry. In the event of an overtopped or breached levee and heavy rains, the city would be submerged. [Los Angeles Times, 9/4/2005]

Entity Tags: US Army Corps of Engineers

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, appearing on NBC, Today Show, reports that “I believe the water has breached the levee system, and is—is coming in. I mean, we’ve got water in so many areas there that, you know, none of that’s a big surprise. It’s just a big worry.” (Blanco is likely referring to the Industrial Canal floodwall.) Officials are “hearing of flooding of six-to-eight-foot waters in eastern New Orleans near the parish line of Orleans and St. Bernard. Obviously, our low-lying areas are experiencing a lot of flooding as well.” According to Blanco, the water is rising at about one foot per hour: “And yes, that gives us great concern. The area that we’re talking about is a heavily populated area. We’re hoping that it—that it was 100 percent evacuated. Eight-foot waters are—are very serious.” Blanco warns that, “We have not seen the last of—of the damage. I expect that it will worsen throughout the day.” [MSNBC, 8/29/2005]

Entity Tags: Kathleen Babineaux Blanco

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Water is spilling over the floodwall (part of the levee system) in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, especially in the Florida Avenue area, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin reports, in an early morning interview with a local radio station. According to Nagin, the Florida Avenue pumping station is not working, and there are unconfirmed reports of people standing on their roofs. “There is a significant amount of water in the 9th Ward.” Other residents have reported flooding in the 9th Ward. According to one resident, houses near the Claiborne Avenue Bridge are taking on water. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/26/2005]

Entity Tags: Hurricane Katrina, Ray Nagin

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

The National Weather Service (NWS) issues a flash flood warning for Orleans Parish, reporting that a breach has occurred along the Industrial Canal at Tennessee Street. It expects three to eight feet of flooding due to the breach. The warning includes New Orleans, including the 9th Ward, St. Bernard Parish, Chalmette, and Arabi. The NWS urges residents to “[m]ove to higher ground. A flash flood warning means that flooding is imminent or occurring. If you are in the warning area move to higher ground immediately.” [Wall Street Journal, 9/12/2005]

Entity Tags: National Weather Service

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 National Weather Service’s local weather statement for Mobile Alabama repeats the 8:14 am Flash Flood Warning (see 8:14 am August 29, 2005), which reported that the Industrial Canal is breached at Tennessee Street. [Wall Street Journal, 9/12/2005]

Entity Tags: National Weather Service

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The St. Bernard Parish website reports on the breach to the Industrial Canal floodwall, near the St. Bernard-Orleans parish line (Tennessee St.), citing the National Weather Service advisory (see 8:14 am August 29, 2005). According to Larry Ingargiola, Director of St. Bernard’s OEP, both parish shelters, housing 300 residents, are suffering significant flooding damage. Chalmette High is losing its roof; many windows are broken at St. Bernard High. “We cannot see the tops of the levees!” [St. Bernard Parish, 8/29/2005]

Entity Tags: National Weather Service, Chalmette High School

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

An ABC News Special Report indicates that as Katrina pounded New Orleans this morning, a levee was breached in the downtown area, and that pumps (intended to pump water out of the city) failed when the power went out. (ABC News does not identify the location of the breach.) [ABC, 8/29/2005]

Entity Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The Times-Picayune reports that New Orleans city officials have confirmed a floodwall breach along the 17th Street Canal at Bellaire Drive, allowing water to spill into Lakeview. Additionally, emergency officials have received more than 100 calls from residents of the Lower 9th Ward and eastern New Orleans, who report, “they are waiting on roofs and clinging to trees.” [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/29/2005] Residents in the surrounding area have reported that the water is rising rapidly. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/29/2005]

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Reporters and Guests on National Public Radio’s afternoon repeatedly report the extensive flooding. Greg Allen reports: “The good news is that the extreme flooding feared from a storm surge didn’t materialize here.… At least one part of the levee [system] did give way in St. Bernard Parish, but authorities say in a critical area along Lake Pontchartrain the levees largely did their job. Even so, Hurricane Katrina was still the worst storm to hit New Orleans in memory, worse, many residents say, than Hurricane Betsy which devastated the city in 1965.” [National Public Radio, 8/29/2005] Mark Schleifstein of the Times-Picayune reports, “There is definitely some flooding in several areas that we’re still trying to get a handle on to see whether or not it’s as bad as Hurricane Betsy was in 1965. The worst areas are actually in a community called Chalmette that’s a little bit south of the city.… Now it has already overtopped some levees along the lake front rather early on in the process and it did—also the Chalmette flooding was also caused by a storm surge that went up what’s called the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.” [National Public Radio, 8/29/2005] However, John Burnett reports: “[T]he National Guard has just begun in those big deuce and a half trucks of theirs to go out and do some assessments, and what they’re finding is—one of the most distressing things that’s happened is the famous lower 9th Ward of New Orleans…really got hit hard. That’s where there was a big breach in the [floodwall of the Industrial Canal], that leads into the Mississippi River. And so we’ve heard reports of people on tops of houses, of a woman in an attic trying to, you know—concerned that the flood waters were gonna trap her in there. So that is an area of great concern. A lot of the city is not in near those dire circumstances. More like one, two feet of water on the ground. Nothing like, you know, up to the rooftops.” [MSNBC, 8/29/2005] Senator Landrieu (D-La) appears on the show to say, “We have reports that some of the levees have either been breached or the water has come over the levees. [T]here’s still a tremendous amount of water from the first images that we’re able to receive, which is just in the last hour, of levels of water in and around the city. Now Plaquemine Parish, St. Bernard Parish have been very hard hit. Areas of Lakeview and New Orleans East have substantial water in them that we know of; downtown has been hit. The levels of water don’t seem that high in the central business district and the French Quarter, but of course, our assessment teams haven’t gotten there yet.” [National Public Radio, 8/29/2005]

Entity Tags: Hurricane Katrina, Greg Allen, John Burnett, Hurricane Betsy, All Things Considered, National Public Radio, National Guard

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

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]

Entity Tags: Jefferson Parish, George Saucier, Lindy Boggs Medical Center

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Both ABC Nightly News and CBS Evening News report that the floodwalls along the Industrial Canal in New Orleans have been breached or overtopped, and that massive flooding has occurred in New Orleans. [ABC, 8/29/2005; CBS News, 8/29/2005]

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

A Baton Rouge TV station announces breaking news: “I’ve just been handed an announcement. There is a breach in the 17th Street Canal levee that’s going to cause flooding for the next 18 hours. The water level will rise nine feet and flood 80 percent of the city.” [National Public Radio, 9/9/2005]

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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