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Context of '2:00 pm August 29, 2005: New Orleans Officials Confirm Breach of 17th Street Canal Floodwall'

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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

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

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 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

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

Governor Kathleen Blanco holds a press conference urging evacuated residents to stay put. Blanco reports that officials have received calls from 115 people in New Orleans who say they are stranded, as well as an Unknown number of people in St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes. When the winds subside, boats will be deployed from Jackson Barracks in the Lower 9th Ward to go look for people who are trapped. Blanco discusses the widespread flooding in St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes, reporting that the water as deep as 10-12 feet in some places. Local officials at the St. Bernard courthouse are trapped on the second floor, and water is rising to that level. State officials have received reports that as many as 20 buildings in New Orleans have collapsed or toppled from the winds. Water is leaking from the 17th Street Canal floodwall. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/29/2005] During the press conference, Blanco thanks FEMA Director Michael Brown and says, “I hope you will tell President Bush how much we appreciated—these are the times that really count—to know that our federal government will step in and give us the kind of assistance that we need.” Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) reiterates Blanco’s praise: “We are indeed fortunate to have an able and experienced director of FEMA who has been with us on the ground for some time.” Brown responds to their praise in kind: “What I’ve seen here today is a team that is very tight-knit, working closely together, being very professional doing it, and in my humble opinion, making the right calls.” [New York Times, 9/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Mary L. Landrieu, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael D. Brown, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, George W. Bush

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

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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