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Context of 'Evening August 29, 2005: Newspapers Report at Least Two Breaches in New Orleans’ Levee System'

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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. (O'Brien and Bender 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).

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. (O'Brien and Bender 9/11/2005) The Chicago Tribune will report that the breach does not occur until August 30. (Martin, Simpson, and James 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.

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. (Nossiter 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.

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)

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)

Multiple Knight Ridder Newspapers report that floodwaters from Katrina have breached at least two of New Orleans’ floodwalls, and three pumps have failed. Approximately 200 people in New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward await rescue from their rooftops. (Caput et al. 8/29/2005)


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