A $ 15 billion embankment in New Orleans was held. But another problem is imminent, experts say.


Norma Jean Mattei Spent a Sunday night on a hurricane Aida At her home in Metairie, Louisiana. After the storm, She cleared the streets, checked her neighbor’s house, and set about cleaning the fridge.

Mattei, a lifelong resident of the area sheltered for Hurricane Katrina, said the main reason, while the storm brought a horrifying, howling wind and tore the shingles from the roof. She felt a comfortable stay It was a $ 15 billion rebuild of the New Orleans embankment system.

“We had a nice and huge investment from the country in a system to mitigate the risk of damage from hurricanes and storms, and we were confident in the system we have, so we made a decision based on that,” said Professor Mattei of Civil Engineering. I was able to give it down. ” He said on a Wednesday phone call at the University of New Orleans that an extension cord was extending from his neighbor’s generator to charge his phone, refrigerator and fans.

Engineers, other experts and lawmakers said Wednesday: Hurricane Aida was a major test A $ 15 billion federal embankment officially known as the Hurricane & Storm Damage Risk Reduction System. They say that reconstruction is the gold standard for US embankment systems, and its testing is an important turning point in the discussion of national infrastructure, especially as the US faces increasingly damaging storms and weather patterns. I said there is.

The London Avenue Canal in the Gentilly district of New Orleans, August 31, 2021.  (AFP via Patrick T. Fallon / Getty Images)

The London Avenue Canal in the Gentilly district of New Orleans, August 31, 2021. (AFP via Patrick T. Fallon / Getty Images)

“This was a very important test, especially in the West Bank,” said a research engineer at the University of Maryland, who was the principal investigator of the post-Katrina New Orleans storm system in the western and southern suburbs of the Mississippi River. Edrink said. .. “Many of these new structures haven’t been built into the actual game because the hurricanes are beyond a small practice time. They’re not close to Katrina, but we’re currently testing them.”

When Katrina struck the Gulf Coast 16 years ago, the storm surge broke through the embankment system. The embankment system was a shortcut for previous generation leaders to reduce construction costs. The result was a devastating flood in New Orleans, killing more than 1,500 people.

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As the storm passed and the city began to rebuild, Link and the Army Corps of Engineers worked to find flaws in the system. None of the pre-Katrina structures were designed to withstand water over the embankment.

“In short, it was much more like sausage making, money savings, and someone’s prejudice than precision engineering and design,” Link said, referring to the old embankment system.

Reconstruction began in 2006. Richard Campanella, a geographer of the Bachelor of Architecture at Tulane University, who wrote extensively about New Orleans and scrutinized new embankments and pumping systems, described a significant portion of his decision to stay in the city during the storm. His knowledge of the risk reduction system and the city’s new pumping station, he described it as “great.”

“The system was built within a period of about five years from 2006 to 2011, but it will usually take 30 to 50 years,” he said.

According to Campanella, the embankment was built to withstand a 100-year storm that is weaker than Katrina, but it is a standard set by Congress and the National Flood Insurance Program that allows real estate owners to insure in flood-prone areas. It is a federal government-backed program that makes it available for purchase and requires them to adopt land use and flood control measures.

Like Link, some say that New Orleans needs higher thresholds because standards can be affected by climate change and rising sea levels. “That’s our standard for flood insurance,” he said. “It’s not the standard for protecting hundreds of thousands of people.”

However, experts said the embankment system is limited by national priorities and values.

“If we wanted to imagine a world of unlimited resources, we could have set higher goals,” Campanella said. “But if you have a world of limited resources, you have to make difficult decisions.”

But experts also Hurricane Aida We did not test the drainage channel, which is one of the city’s main weaknesses.

Pushing the storm surge against the embankment wall, Aida did not supply the same amount of water as Katrina, or stalled in New Orleans, causing heavy rain in the city. Many experts have stated that it is a godsend because the city’s drainage system remains the main heel of Achilles.

“The amount of rainfall that is designed to be managed is small compared to what hurricanes and tropical cyclones bring, so we need to upgrade the system to increase capacity,” said Rick Ruetich. increase. Director of the Institute for Marine Sciences, University of North Carolina, who served on the board of directors of the New Orleans Flood Defense Authority.

This is not an easy task, as the entire city’s plumbing system will have to be redone, but drainage is essential.

Because New Orleans is below sea level, its drainage and pumping system is electricity, not gravity. This means that it relies on the power grid or generators to move water out of the city.

Related: The storm struck two towns southwest of New Orleans, leaving residents vaguely rattling.

According to Campanella, the two New Orleans generators that operate the system are so old that the agencies that operate them build their own parts in-house to repair them. is needed. Increasing efforts are being made to connect pumps and drainage systems to the main grid, but the fact that this has not yet been done proved to be a blessing for the city’s salvation. The generator maintained the flow of the New Orleans water system when electricity was cut off in southeastern Louisiana and sewers and water were lost in some areas.

“This is a lesson about the value of redundant systems and a commentary on the amazing engineering of the early 20th century,” says Campanella.

New Orleans has largely fought a devastating blow, but the community surrounding it Continue to fight the rampant floods.. A key issue is the loss of nature conservation, including the disappearance of depleted wetlands and barrier islands along the Louisiana coast.

Experts said the focus needs to be on creating a combination of “green” and “gray” infrastructures to further protect coastal communities across the country.

“Outside the New Orleans fortress, those people are much more vulnerable to storms,” ​​Link said. “They are looking at alternatives like swamps and some combinations of green and gray infrastructure, but I don’t know where the funding comes from to do that.”

Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Who helped create and pass bipartisan infrastructure measures, has some ideas. He said the restructuring of the embankment system saved New Orleans and the surrounding area from heavy damage, but there is still much to do.

He said the infrastructure bill, which the House of Representatives will vote for at the end of the month, will strengthen the country and Louisiana against natural disasters by investing billions of dollars in national embankments, flood mitigation, and coastal restoration. Said it would be useful. Expanded access to programs, water systems, power grids, and broadband. This allows you to provide information to people.

“We are benefiting 16 years after Katrina, with flood mitigation systems that truly mitigate the risks, not just the embankments,” Cassidy said while observing the damage caused by Aida. “We need to invest now for the future. That is a lesson learned from investing in embankments.”

Cassidy wants Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives to support the $ 1.5 trillion infrastructure bill in this month’s vote, which is separate from the Democratic-promoted second infrastructure bill. I emphasized that.

“I think they need to put politics behind them and think about what’s happening in people’s lives,” he said, referring to House Republicans.