Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Experts say Louisiana levees should have held


Experts say Louisiana levees should have held

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hurricane experts said Hurricane Katrina's storm surges were smaller than authorities have suggested and that poor design, faulty construction or a combination of the two were to blame for the failure of New Orleans' flood-protection system, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

Scientists and engineers at Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center -- with the help of computer models and visual evidence -- concluded the levee system should have been sufficient to keep most of the city dry.

They also said Katrina's storm surges did not come close to going over the floodwalls, contradicting statements from the Army Corps of Engineers, which has said the surges sent water from Lake Pontchartrain over the top of the concrete walls.

"This should not have been a big deal for these floodwalls," said oceanographer G. Paul Kemp, a hurricane expert who runs LSU's Natural Systems Modeling Laboratory. "It should have been a modest challenge. There's no way this should have exceeded the capacity."

Ivor van Heerden, the Hurricane Center's deputy director, said the real scandal of Katrina is the "catastrophic structural failure" of barriers that should have handled the hurricane with relative ease.

"We are absolutely convinced that those floodwalls were never overtopped," the newspaper quoted van Heerden saying.

The Post said the center's researchers said it is too early to say whether the breaches were caused by poor design, faulty construction or some combination. But van Heerden said the floodwalls at issue -- massive concrete slabs mounted on steel sheet pilings -- looked similar to the sound barriers found on major highways, the Post said.

Corps spokesman Paul Johnston told the Post the agency believes storm surges sent water flowing over the floodwalls and undermined the earthen levees they sat upon, creating the breaches. Johnston said the Corps would investigate to ensure that scenario is correct.

The Corps has said that Katrina, a Category 4 storm, was too massive for a levee system not intended to protect the city from a storm greater than a Category 3 hurricane.