Magazine article Risk Management

When the Levees Break-Again

Magazine article Risk Management

When the Levees Break-Again

Article excerpt

With the most dangerous stretch of the hurricane season now fully upon us, the question on most people's minds is whether or not New Orleans can withstand another hurricane like Katrina. The Army Corps of Engineers have spent much of the last two years repairing the system, and now, many are doubting whether enough has been done. One particular critic, Dr. Robert G. Bea, a professor of engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, found many areas of concern on a tour of the area he took in March.

Dr. Bea's highly publicized report suggests that heavy storms may cause "tear-on-the-dotted-line levees" and that the erosion on a levee by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a navigation canal that channeled water into New Orleans during the storm, is particularly troubling. Dr. Bea does go out of his way to praise the Corps for much of the work it has accomplished in the storm's wake, but believes that levee is still in need of fortification with rock or concrete to protect against overtopping, an action the Corps had chosen to avoid in the short term. Dr. Bea is also sure to note that he cannot claim certainty without further inspection, but believes the Corps should not ignore such "early warning signs."

Corps officials argue that Dr. Bea is exaggerating the risk involved and promise to reinspect those elements of the levee reportedly in need of further repair. Corps representative Richard J. Varuso, the assistant chief of the geotechnical branch of the districts engineering division, said that some erosion after the construction of a levee is to be expected. He continued that "as vegetation grows in, the levee heals itself."

Yet, Dr. Bea is not the only expert to weigh in on the situation in New Orleans. J. David Rogers, who holds the Karl F. Hasselmann chair in geological engineering at the University of Missouri, said it would take more efforts, including a better analysis of the soils in the levee to determine whether there was a possibility of a catastrophic failure. His first comment, however, upon viewing aerial pictures of channel levee in question was that it "won't survive another Katrina."

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) also released a report in June--the official start of hurricane season--titled "The New Orleans Hurricane Protection System: What Went Wrong and Why. …

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