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Corps of Engineers Surveys New Orleans Levee System in Gustav’s Wake

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 2, 2008 – Army Corps of Engineers teams have fanned out across New Orleans to survey the 350 miles of levees, floodgates and floodwalls that protect New Orleans, while expressing cautious optimism that the reinforced system successfully withstood Hurricane Gustav.

“All indications are that the system held, as expected,” Amanda Jones, a Corps spokeswoman, said from the Corps’ Vicksburg, Miss., district office.

Jones reported water overwashing levees in some areas, but said no breaches have been identified in the system that’s been heavily reinforced since Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.

The Corps has about 30 people on the ground assessing the network and expected to do a flyover of the region today, Jones said. Additional Corps members are expected to arrive within the next day or two to step up those assessments.

But by all indications, Jones said, the reinforced system appears to have stood up to its first post-Katrina test as Hurricane Gustav made landfall yesterday as a Category 2 hurricane.

Corps staffers rode out Gustav at each of three outfall canals in New Orleans as well as the Harvey Canal and at all locks.

In dramatic footage captured by a television news crew, William Zar from the Corps’ New Orleans District Office dove into Industrial Canal’s choppy waters to secure a 500-gallon diesel fuel tank that had broken loose and threatened to ram a floodwall. Zar was patrolling the area in the Corps’ tugboat Kent when he spotted the tank.

Last night, Corps workers closed gates to the London and 17th Street canals in the face of rising water, Jones said. The gates will be reopened as water levels drop, she added. The levees along the 17th Street Canal broke during Hurricane Katrina, contributing to widespread flooding.

Army Maj. Gen. Don Riley, the Corps’ deputy commander, expressed optimism yesterday that New Orleans had survived Hurricane Gustav, but said it’s still too soon to declare victory.

“There is still a danger, clearly, because of the wind and the wave wash that’s occurring, and the tremendous pressure that’s against all of the levees and floodwalls,” he said at a Federal Emergency Management Agency briefing in Washington. “Until that abates, I think there’s still danger. But we’re confident they will withstand the erosion and the forces they see right now.”

The Corps is halfway through a six-year project to strengthen the Crescent City’s hurricane defenses, Corps of Engineers officials reported. So far, 220 miles of floodwalls and levees have been repaired and restored, with I-walls replaced with stronger T-walls at breach sites, floodwalls armored and transition points strengthened between floodwalls and levees, officials said. In addition, 18 interior pump stations have been repaired and improved, with eight more under construction and four in the design phase.

In preparation for Gustav, the Corps followed its emergency response plan, alerting its emergency command posts, stationing liaisons in all 13 of Louisiana’s coastal parishes for redundant communications and preparing to operate canal gates.

The Corps also pre-positioned supplies, rocks, sand, bastions and equipment, and had 400 4,000-to-7,000-pound sandbags filled and ready for use. As a flood-fighting measure, workers placed sand baskets along an 1,800-foot section of the Industrial Canal’s west floodwall. They also tested gates and temporary pumping stations – each capable of pumping 16,000 cubic feet of water per second -- at the three outfall canals.

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