New Orleans Levees Won’t Be Tested by Gulf Storm, Officials Say

Friday, 02 Sep 2011 03:54 PM

Sept. 2 (Bloomberg) -- New Orleans officials, bracing for rain from Tropical Storm Lee in the Gulf of Mexico, said they’re confident a new drainage and pumping system will protect the city from flooding following $10 billion of repairs.

No storm surge is expected, so the levees fortified after devastation by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 won’t be tested, said Robert Turner, regional director of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority.

“I don’t have any major concerns with the pumping capacity,” said Turner. “There is nothing we have seen that would indicate there are any problems there.”

The storm, about 210 miles (340 kilometers) southwest of the Mississippi River mouth, may reach Louisiana over the weekend. Winds of almost 60 miles per hour were reported on oil rigs north and east of the storm center at elevations of a few hundred feet, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said today in an advisory.

After Katrina hit coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, a storm surge as high as 14 feet (4.3 meters) broke through levees and caused flooding as high as 20 feet in 80 percent of New Orleans. Almost the entire population was displaced after homes were destroyed.

‘Ready to Defend’

After the repairs, the levee system is ready to withstand a 100-year flood, which has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year, said Wade Habshey, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The 133 miles of levees that surround the city have been raised and strengthened, he said.

“We’re ready to defend against a hurricane storm surge,” Habshey said.

Still, there is still a chance the rebuilt levees may be breached by a surge stronger than a 100-year-flood, Habshey and Turner said. That would test the ability of the city’s drainage and pumping system to carry the water away.

Sandy Rosenthal, president and founder of Levees.org, a group set up after Katrina to monitor the status of the improvements, said she is satisfied with the work. Even so, she is taking items from the first floor of her New Orleans home to the second level and moving cars to higher ground.

“If the rain falls too fast, the pumps may not keep up,” she said in a telephone interview. “We would expect floods. But I wouldn’t expect the levees to break.”

--With assistance from Lynn Doan in San Francisco. Editors: Mark Schoifet, Stephen Merelman

To contact the reporter on this story: Darrell Preston in Dallas at dpreston@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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