Levees rebuilt 17 years after Hurricane Katrina wrecked New Orleans — Analysis

Finally, US military engineers are done rebuilding the damaged levee system that was destroyed during the catastrophic storm of 2005

The US Army Corps of Engineers has finally finished rebuilding the system of levees, floodgates, and other protections surrounding the city of New Orleans. Built stronger and more extensive than the structures it replaced, the flood-prevention system is the “largest civil works project in the Corps’ history,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced on Friday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

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The people of New Orleans have experienced the worst Mother Nature has to offer, and with the completion of this system, they’ll be protected by the best of engineering, design, and hurricane protection,” the governor declared. Official completion of this project occurs just in time to prepare for the hurricane season which starts in June.

New flood protection systems include the world’s largest pumping station, and a storm surge barrier. It can close during severe storms. The former stretches over 1.8 miles (2.8km). For erosion prevention, levees are now armored. Permanent canal closures were also added. Congress provided $14.5 billion to fund the project. Its formal name is Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System.

Already partly in operation, the system thus far appears to work, judging by its success withstanding last year’s season, the third-most active Atlantic hurricane season ever recorded. The year saw the standard alphabetical list of storm names exhausted and one of the worst storms in Louisiana’s history unleashed. Hurricane Ida, a Category-4 storm that hit in August – 16 years to the day after Katrina laid waste to New Orleans – tied historical records as the strongest hurricane ever to hit Louisiana.

Katrina caused the greatest storm damage in American history. It caused $178.8 billion (in 2021 dollar) of destruction to the Gulf Coast. Storm Katrina and its aftermath caused more than 1 800 deaths. Nearly 50% of fatalities resulted from drowning, as 50 out of 50 levees meant to protect New Orleans were destroyed. Many more died from chronic illness exacerbated after Katrina. Most of the deaths due to storms (1,577) occurred in Louisiana. There were 238 Mississippi-related deaths, as well as many in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

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Nearly 35% of New Orleans’ occupied homes were damaged by the storm. This forced more than 50% of residents to leave the city while rebuilding was underway. While a mandatory evacuation was issued ahead of Katrina’s landfall, many residents – especially the poor and elderly who had nowhere to go – opted to stay instead, sheltering in their homes or in the Superdome sports arena, which soon turned into an overcrowded, poorly-planned deathtrap. Ultimately, some 400,000 people were permanently displaced by Katrina, and the city’s population numbers have never recovered.

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