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Context of 'Afternoon August 27, 2005: LSU Hurricane Center Warns that Levees Will Fail'

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The Louisiana Board of Regents approves a $3.7 million grant to fund a five-year study intended to learn more about New Orleans’ hurricane risk. The newly-formed LSU Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes will manage the project. Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center, will serve as the project’s head. The project will consider and evaluate possible hurricane scenarios in an attempt to predict the impact of a hurricane strike, the preparations that should be made to prepare for such a strike, and post-disaster recovery. It will also work with health experts to develop plans for dealing with the anticipated health crisis that would result if the city were to flood. The project will employ the use of the LSU Hurricane Center’s supercomputer, SuperMike, to generate computer-based hurricane path and impact prediction models. “Once complete, the model can be applied to other sites nationally and internationally and to other disasters such as tornadoes, chemical spills, or terrorist attacks,” LSU Research reports. [Advocate (Baton Rouge), 4/21/2002; LSU Research, 12/2004] The project’s progress, however, will be impeded by it limited funds (see April 2002-2005).

Entity Tags: Ivor Van Heerden, LSU Hurricane Center, LSU Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Ivor van Heerden, director of the LSU Center for the Study of the Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes, presents the preliminary findings of a five-year study (see (April 2002)) of the hurricane risk to New Orleans at a special meeting held in the district headquarters of the US Army Corps of Engineers. The preliminary findings indicate that a third of the city’s residents would not evacuate in the event of a major hurricane. Of those who do attempt evacuation, many would get stuck in traffic despite plans to use both sides of the highway. The draft findings also indicate that a major hurricane strike on New Orleans would submerge certain parts of the city under as much as 22 feet of water polluted by a mix of oil, gasoline, and other toxic substances released from myriad storage tanks, cars, trucks, flooded homes, stores, and industrial sites during the storm. Wind would cause damage to most buildings, possibly destroying half of them. To mitigate the risk of such a disaster, Van Heerden recommends that federal and state officials revisit two previously rejected proposals to restore the Louisiana coastal wetlands. One of these proposals, which would reroute the Mississippi River to the east of New Orleans, into Breton Sound, had been blocked by shipping interests. The other proposal that should be reconsidered contemplated construction of a barrier wall along the Interstate 10 twin span bridge between eastern New Orleans and the adjacent city of Slidell to reduce the amount of a hurricane storm surge entering the Lake Pontchartrain. [Times-Picayune, 11/22/2003]

Entity Tags: Ivor Van Heerden, LSU Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Ivan approaches the Southern Gulf Coast. Residents of New Orleans have been urged to leave the city, but its evacuation routes are “spectacularly clogged, and authorities [acknowledge] that hundreds of thousands of residents [will] not get out in time.” [Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2004; Washington Post, 9/15/2004] Terry Tullier, director of emergency preparedness for the city of New Orleans, explains to the Associated Press. “There is no plan that exists that will keep this logjam from occurring.” [Associated Press, 9/13/2004] Notwithstanding, approximately 600,000 residents will successfully flee the city, [Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/8/2004] though for some the trip takes as long as ten hours. [US News and World Report, 7/18/2005] Ivan will make landfall east of Louisiana near Gulf Shores, Alabama, sparing the city of New Orleans from a catastrophe. [Washington Post, 9/15/2004] Hurricane researchers will hope that the close call will convince the federal government of the need to fund flood control and wetland restoration projects in Southern Louisiana. “Ivan was a real wake-up call. We have to take Ivan’s near-miss to get the federal government to fast-track some of these restoration projects,” says Ivor van Heerden, the deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/8/2004]

Entity Tags: Ivor Van Heerden, Hurricane Ivan

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The Washington Post publishes a front page story examining what might happen if Hurricane Ivan, or any other major hurricane, hits New Orleans. The article cites numerous experts who agree that such an event is inevitable and will be a disaster. Walter Maestri, emergency management director in Jefferson Parish, warns that as many as 50,000 people could drown if a Category 4 hurricane makes a landing on Southern Louisiana’s shores. Windell Curole, director of the South Lafourche Levee District, tells the newspaper: “I’m terrified. I’m telling you, we’ve got no elevation. This isn’t hyperbole. The only place I can compare us to is Bangladesh.” Gregory W. Stone, director of the Coastal Studies Institute at Louisiana State University, says, “I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but the doomsday scenario is going to happen eventually. I’ll stake my professional reputation on it.” [Washington Post, 9/15/2004] Other articles at the same time also point out the danger. For instance, on September 14, the Associated Press publishes the story,“Direct Hit by Ivan Could Sink New Orleans” which discusses a worst-case scenario where a direct strike could leave the city “deep in a stew of sewage, industrial chemicals and fire ants, and the inundation could last for weeks…” Ivor van Heerden, director of Louisiana State University’s Hurricane Public Health Center, states, “My fear is, if this storm passes (without a major disaster), everybody forgets about it until next year, when it could be even worse because we’ll have even less wetlands.” [Associated Press, 9/14/2004] The Dallas Morning News publishes an article giving similar warnings. [Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Windell Curole, Gregory W. Stone, Hurricane Ivan, Walter Maestri

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Ivor Van Heerden, a scientist at the LSU Hurricane Center tells the Time-Picayune that the storm surge from Hurricane Katrina will weaken the Lake Pontchartrain levees and cause additional overtopping: “The bottom line is this is a worst-case scenario and everybody needs to recognize it,” he said. “You can always rebuild your house, but you can never regain a life. And there’s no point risking your life and the lives of your children.” [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Ivor Van Heerden, Hurricane Katrina

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

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