New Orleans Flood Walls update

Friday, December 02, 2005
The Times-Picayune: 17th Street Canal levee was doomed. (Despite the fact that the T-P "lives there" I do believe they are talking about the floodwall rather than a levee.)


Jamie Irons said...


I chanced on this sad meditation today:

Can New Orleans right itself? The signs aren't good. Last week, the state House killed a measure to consolidate levee boards. Currently, the levees are divided into tiny patronage fiefdoms (the specter of Huey Long still haunts Louisiana) that hide behind hollow locals-know-best rhetoric and persuade congressional appropriators that federal money will be wasted. Yet evacuees say they won't return until they know the levees can protect them from Category Five storms--something unlikely to happen for another decade under half a dozen autonomous boards. Still, in a few ways, New Orleans is already its old self again--impossibly slow to change, abject in its corruption. Its worst traits may hinder the revival of its beautiful historic persona. It's possible that, in the spirit of comity and collective determination, the city will heal itself. But it's just as likely that a skeletal population will learn to fry its food resignedly amid the heaps of ruin.


Knucklehead said...


It will be very interesting to see what becomes of New Orleans. The more "historic" part will live on. That portion was, after all, build upon reasonably sensible ground. The larger part of the city cannot be rebuilt in any form without serious change in the way the city goes about its business. No corporation in it's right mind would insure property there without major changes in the way water is controlled and channeled but without change in the city's political structure there can be no change in how the water is dealt with.

In ten years, perhaps 20, I suspect New Orleans will be much closer to what it should be - which is not at all what is was 10 years ago. Large portions of it were, in reality, little more than urban welfare projects. There is no reason for them to be replaced on land below sea level. New Orleans will be much smaller, quainter, quieter and safer. It will, oddly enough, be much closer to the myth of New Orleans. The flooding, so horrible to contemplate now, will be the impetus, eventually, that cleans away those portions of New Orleans that should never have been.

Just my guess, of course.

Knucklehead said...

BTW, if you'd like to read a decent article that helps one get at the sheer malignant (at least from a human's perspective) power of a hurricane, in this case Katrina, read Ride of a Lifetime.

I'm sending the link to this article to one of my Euro friends who I recently chatted with about New Orleans and Katrina. He can't fathom what happened in Katrina.

I made a brief attempt to explain that a storm such as Katrina is too far beyond anything anyone in Euroland has ever experienced to allow for any comprehension. Oh, said he, but Europe is beginning to experience "hurricanes" and he quicly found some pictures from the huge storm that had recently happened in a place he later visited. He showed me photos of the aftermath - stands of 5 and 6 inch white birches snapped like twigs. People lost telephone service!

It just isn't possible to make the point that a simple nor'easter or heavy thunderstorm does that much damage and it ain't no cat 3, 4, or 5 hurricane (or cat 1 for that matter). You might as well be telling the story of Paul Bunyan and his oxe.

Buddy Larsen said...

My old HS class has a mail-list debate going on as we speak, on the broad subject of New Orleans--which is almost a sister-city to the home town just north, Lafayette, Louisiana. Here's an email I got today, with only the first and last sentences deleted, to protect identities:

"The stories you have heard about the shooting and looting in N.O. are only a fraction of what actually went on in the city. My family has been in the Law Enforcement Supply business for about 50 years. We know most of the law enforcement personnel across the state very well. For this reason, we were asked to go in on the Thursday after the storm in order to clean out or N.O. store of guns, ammo, body armor, chemicals, etc., to keep it from being looted as pawn shops and sporting goods stores were. We had to go in armed, with an armed escort. I have since been in about 8 or 9 times, only the last 4 or 5 unarmed. If you really want to know what went on, then we need to get together for a beer or two, and it will curl your hair. Another time, another place...

If you have never seen a house that has been under water for three weeks, you have no idea how it looks. Anything made of wood literally falls apart after you touch it. You cannot open doors, drawers, windows, etc., due to the swelling. Refrigerators were lying on their backs after having floated around. You look at everything your child’s family owns in ruins. You have to walk away from the toys and books you bought your grandchildren, the furniture you bought them, and the work you put into their home in order to make it possible for them to have it. All you can reclaim is inorganic objects that can be treated with a strong bleach solution before allowing it into you current living arrangement. They are virtually penniless, although they are living in a comfortable home with their mother for the time being. It also means spending the better part of a weekend helping your best friend put tarps on his roof because Mr. FEMA, in his infinite wisdom has decided he doesn’t qualify for a “blue roof” for some obscure bureaucratic reason. As many of you can attest, we really are “fifty something”, and you really feel it after a weekend of roofing work.

Then you find out that the Corps of Engineers and the contractors put sheet pilings only 10 ½’ down in an 18’ deep canal, and spent more time having lunch than inspecting levees. A motorcycle shop in Jefferson suddenly has a FEMA contract worth millions for trailers that they were not even licensed to sell. Think about it.

Pontchartrain Blvd is a series of 75’ mounds of different kinds of refuse. One pile of mattresses and furniture, one of appliances, another of trees, another of branches, etc. When you drive into NO at night, there are not some lights, a few lights, there are NO lights from the Western Orleans parish line, through the city’s interior to the Eastern boundaries of N.O. All you can think while driving at night is that it looks like a “Mad Max” movie set, with no people anywhere, only skeletons of homes.

Something else to think about--is that N.O. was responsible for 30% of the taxes and revenues collected in the state of Louisiana, so the rest of the state is now finding out just what it means to “miss New Orleens”. Hopefully Roy is right, and perhaps some day I can laugh at songs like that one, but not now.

Sorry, I hope I have not offended anyone, especially you, June, as you have done a bang-up job with the cyber-reunion, and there is always someone who will react in a way you did not intend for them to. I guess I have avoiding the whole issue as long as I could."

Jamie Irons said...

Interesting read, Buddy, and so sad.


I think your prediction is probably about right.

One thing intrigues me, though. I have heard that a lot of Mexicans (a term of great respect in my book) have been showing up to work in N.O. I just wonder if some might settle down and rebuild the place, giving at least part of it a completely different character from the old New Orleans.

Knucklehead said...


The pawn shops and gun store thing doesn't surprise me. There are some bad, and some crazy, people aroun NO. Under those conditions anyone with any legit business going anywhere near guns and ammo undoubtedly should have been armed and double-wary.

The "blue roof" bureaucratic stuff is sad, and surely aggravating to the point of depression, for the people who live it. But that has always been, and always will be, the nature of bureaucracy. The "best and brightest", and especially the risk takers who work by things other than checklists, don't ordinarily work for the government. And consider that a large protion of the people dealing with all this now for FEMA are probably temps and contractors grabbed form wherever - heck, they could be NO refugees who never worked a job remotely resembling the one they have. Doesn't help your buddy, and it isn't an excuse, but I'd bet it 'splains a few things.

Not getting stuff done and rushing to get things done so that a motorcycle shop is suddenly selling trailers to the government are just the two sides of the same bureaucratic coin.

Re: the sorted piles of debris... Nice to know they have the sense to sort the stuff in gross fashion, but why isn't it being hauled away. Doesn't anybody with any responsibility for the operation of NO have a clue how to queue freakin' dump trucks?

Peter UK said...

People have been living in unsuitable locations for millennia,cities have come and gone,Mohenjodaro,Pompeii...we are all living on the debris from a nuclear explosion...we do that,we always will.

Buddy Larsen said...

Oh, the folks down there are nothing if not philosophical about the predicament. No stopping hurricanes, and the pre-hurricane conditions are well-known and well-lamented--and blame is assigned.

The added elementof tragedy, though, is entirely gratuitous and has to do with the national opprobrium felt by hundreds of thousands of good citizens, as a result of the crazed-out Bush-attack news coverage, the Louisiana politicians that over-reached for federal help, and the resulting--and understandable--backlash that amounts to "Louisianians?Screw 'em". And the true pain that is dawning all over the state that, yes, the state governmemnt is a swamp--and there's no one to blame but themselves.

Some of the problem is the 'oil curse'...that so many politically powerful families are in the same moral condition as the Arab oil wealthy: Once the hole is in the ground, the money just flows out, and the owners--and their heirs--are no longer required to have enough sense to pour pee out of a boot.

Rick Ballard said...


If they have a good US Attorney down there some people are going to jail for a very long time. I went through some of the record keeping involved in driving sheet piling on Contrary Pelican's piece. In order to short drive those piles as they apparently did the whole damn crew had to be in on the scheme. The foreman, the riggers and the PE who recorded the depth. If the pile were supposed to be driven to 18' then they started with a 20' pile. The fact that they are only driven ten feet means that the 20 was burnt off at 10. Half the material and half the time. There is no way that the whole crew could pretend to be ignorant of what was being done.

Wet side driving at a 20'depth costs about $1,000 per lineal foot (horizontally). They "saved" about $400 per lineal foot by driving to 10 feet rather than 18 or 20. The 600 lineal foot breach was worth $240,000 in "savings" to the contractor. I hope those responsible average 24 year sentences for what they did. A year for every $10,000 "saved".

Peter UK said...

And that my Dear Ballard is what blogs are about,pointing out the scam,facts and figure.Nice one.

Doug said...

Buddy's Comment,
"the state government is a swamp--and there's no one to blame but themselves."
Reminded me of this first person account of the inexplicable, unaccountable Gov Blank O, who indeed is well named - Seems she specializes in doing NOTHING.

This is a Doc from Davis CA talking about trying to help w/a transportable O.R.
The Gov saw to it that her people lost out on that one too.

. Doctor Goodheart .
I think FEMA got a great bargain. FEMA, the military, and some of the states such as Florida have looked at this prototype, so more may be built. Working with the military, the North Carolina folks were able to cut two inches off the dimensions, and that made the whole facility transportable by C-17 or C-5A. You like it? I may be able to get you a good deal on one. Have your governor call me.

This time, its first deployment, was a little more problematic. The Med-1 team was ready to go just after the storm; an agreement between the governor of North Carolina and Governor Blanco of Louisiana was prepared and faxed to Governor Blanco.
24 hours elapsed and the agreement was not signed.
The team was ready to leave on Friday, September 2, and the agreement was not signed.
The team was then federalized by FEMA and ordered to deploy They made it as far as Mississippi—still no agreement.
So instead of heading for Louisiana, Med-1 came to Bay St. Louis, where it serves as a temporary replacement for Hancock Memorial while the latter is out of commission. Although they have a mobile CT scanner as well (arranged by the Director of Hancock Memorial), Med-1 does not try to be a full-service hospital. They can do emergency surgery, but more sophisticated specialty surgery and large-scale hospital care is beyond their capability. What they can do is treat the more common things, stabilize critically-ill patients, and evacuate those they cannot handle.

One can imagine that several of these rigs would be a Godsend to a devastated state in a natural disaster—provided the governor asks for it.

Here is Myhanh in front of the New--and Improved--Waveland Cafe, where Christian Life feeds thousands every day.

Rick Ballard said...


The true idiocy of this is that right now is the perfect moment to make a long term decision to fix the problem permanently. The flood walls are a fools choice. Condemn the property for a 100' set back from waters edge and start running bulldozers and dump trucks. There are 370 miles of levee to broaden and properly berm. Done correctly, there needn't be much concrete involved at all. A 25' wide properly sloped berm can be retopped rather cheaply as it drops due to subsidence. It would be surprising if it cost more than $2.5 million per mile.

People have been doing this in deltas for over 5,000 years - it takes real fools and/or crooks to screw things up this badly.

David Thomson said...

“The true idiocy of this is that right now is the perfect moment to make a long term decision to fix the problem permanently.”

The fact that the majority of New Orleans’ citizens are black is the number one reason why common sense will be ignored. Leftists will not hesitate to throw around the race card. This will sufficiently frustrate the rebuilding efforts.

The corruption in New Orleans was allowed to go unchecked primarily because of the use of the race card. Someone questioning the Democratic establishment almost certainly was accused of not trusting black people to take care of their own responsibilities.

Doug said...

It's possible all those carefully figured truncated pilings Rick mentions were sheared off by the shaped charges carefully placed around the them in the poorest and blackest neighborhoods.

Louis F.
(I foresaw all this in a vision mediated by one of the manifestations of the sun god Tezcatlipoca while being teleported to the Mother Ship.)

Tim said...

I know this is an old post, but I hope you are aware of the facts: The sheet piling was installed correctly, so all that talk of corruption by contractors and the PE is trash. See the story here: