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Wil Brugman

Imaginary Border

Ray Broussard

Bordered by Levee Failures Since Katrina

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

March 21, 2006, 7:00am

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© 2006 Ray Broussard, All Rights Reserved.

Caption

Borders, well... Levees have always been one of the most significant borders in my life as a New Orleanian. I even focused on them in my Sept. 2004 WWP .

Levees help separate our lives, livelihood and homes from the mass destruction and death that a storm surge can bring to New Orleans. We used to have a much larger land mass south of New Orleans that served to dramatically reduce a hurricane storm surge before it reached New Orleans, but ironically, levees robbed us of our natural storm surge buffer.

South Louisiana was always a continually growing land mass thanks to the precious Mississippi River sediments deposited in our coastal Louisiana wetlands. But, our relatively new Mississippi River levees channel all of the river sediment directly to the Gulf of Mexico and have starved our wetlands of the sediment deposits needed to keep it from washing away much less grow as it did before river levee construction by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

After the 1927 flood, the United States Congress enacted the Flood Control Act of 1928 that mandated the US Army Corps of Engineers construct those River levees. I wish we had never built a single levee anywhere south of Baton Rouge. Perhaps we need to tear them down to regain our little world here.

This panorama was captured at the southern end on top of the eastern levee that borders our Orleans Avenue Outfall Canal. In view are a small portion of our City Park, my 1991 Ford Explorer, an Interstate Highway 6-10 overpass, the Orleans Avenue Pumping Station under the bridge, the canal and the abrupt end of the floodwall on top of the levee.

You haven’t heard much in the news about this Orleans Avenue Canal and its levees. During Hurricane Katrina, this canal suffered no breach, but this exact location was one of the many places where a levee was overtopped by storm surge flood waters. Had every other levee west of the Industrial Canal performed as advertised and not breached, the waters entering New Orleans at this spot still would have caused much of the death and mass destruction we suffered. The United States Army Corps of Engineers has many excuses as to why this flood wall simply ends here. The rest of the flood wall was a total waste of time and money. I wish the Army was more like the Marine Corps which generally doesn’t make excuses and almost always does what they were tasked to do.

In 1965, many New Orleanians and Chalmations were killed because of levee system failures during Hurricane Betsy. The United States Congress enacted the 1965 Flood Control Act which mandated that the US Army Corps of Engineers build levees to protect New Orleans from similar storm surges. That project was still incomplete when Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005, forty years later . And, those portions of our levee system that were complete failed during Katrina because of engineering negligence by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The USACOE has many excuses.

The 17th Street Canal Levee breach was near my home where we had over seven feet of water inside our home and still had water three weeks after the storm. The US Army Corps of Engineers blame our weak soil and make no excuses for their sloppy and inadequate design methodologies or insanely low design safety factors. They even have excuses as to why they ignored the disastrous results of full scale tests (which demonstrated the exact same failure mechanism) they performed on the exact same levee design two decades ago here in Louisiana. Whenever any our local experts in academia have offered constructive criticism of USACOE work, our experts were labeled as crackpots, lunatics, and alarmists. They think we are stupid.

The 17th Street Canal flooded all of my neighbors’ homes too. All of our zip code was flooded except a couple hundred lucky families very close to Lake Pontchartrain. Adjacent zip codes also suffered major flooding. Almost every single small business that helped define our neighborhoods and culture were also destroyed. Churches, schools, post offices, poboy shops, power and communications infrastructures are all gone. Art, family heirlooms, antiques, keepsakes, records, gardens, trees are dead, ruined or gone. Seven months after the storm, only about 400 out of the 18,000 residents have managed to return to our neighborhood.

The London Avenue Canal had two major breaches. The west breach was two blocks from my mother’s house and flushed it out like a toilet. Many of my aunts, uncles and cousins also lost their homes and businesses from that breach. Again, except for a few lucky home owners very close to Lake Pontchartrain, a few zip codes worth of families lost everything to floodwaters.

The London Avenue Canal east breach flooded my in-laws home and destroyed everything they ever worked for. A few zip codes worth of people’s homes and livelihood were destroyed there as well. Those two breaches wiped out tens of thousands of families’ homes.

Had the US Army Corps of Engineers chosen to drive the flood walls’ sheet piles just a few feet deeper than the bottom of the adjacent canals, they very likely would have not breached. But, arrogance and over confidence (as well as ignorance, laziness and under-education) led the US Army Corps of Engineers to not bother driving those sheet piles even to the depth of the adjacent canals. It was a pure and simple case of negligence that led to the homicide of many hundreds of New Orleanians.

The Lower Ninth Ward breach was a different level of negligence. IMO, that was an obvious hate crime against our residents. Those levees were simply designed to fail if topped. Most engineering disciplines consider survivability of their designs. Ships are designed to survive (stay afloat) even if two major adjacent compartments are flooded. Planes use redundant engines. Cars have seat belts and air bags. Buildings are designed to withstand earthquakes. Computer systems rely on redundancy. Stairwells have emergency lights in case power goes out. Buildings have sprinkler systems in case of fire. However, the US Army Corps of Engineers purposely designed our levees to catastrophically self destruct if storm surge exceeded levee height. They have excuses for that too. They are putting a tremendous amount of effort into finding anyone else to blame for any of their levee failures.

Locally, we are praying the US Congress forces the US Army Corps of Engineers to accept oversight by local experts. Given the opportunity, the USACOE will kill Americans again. There should be some accountability by the US Army. What happened here is exactly the same thing as if they had detonated a nuclear weapon in our city. We feel so foolish to have trusted them with our lives and livelihoods. They killed off a lot of our MawMaws and PawPaws. The average age of the dead is almost 80. They painted a big X on every building in town. The bath tub ring indicating the water line where the water sat for weeks is everywhere.

Ironically, the local US Army Corps of Engineers is reaping huge rewards for their negligence. They are now very well funded and tasked to remove public debris and reconstruct levees to their pre-Katrina strength - what a joke. I understand they get 26% of all tax payer money for ‘administration’ of projects that they contract with private companies to perform. If the past is any indication, I suspect they will drag these projects out for many decades (and purposely never complete them) to ensure they all enjoy a life of reading the paper, drinking coffee and extra long lunch hours followed by a comfortable retirement.

Should New Orleans be rebuilt? Of course. And, we are already rebuilding as best we can. Everyone with the means and some place to live are back and doing everything we can to rebuild our lives and homes. A lack of schools and places to live are still huge issues for returning families. So far, we only have about 2000 powered and occupied FEMA trailers out of the initial 45,000 that we requested for the city. And the State took over most of our pathetic schools, but hasn’t reopened any that I know of. In many ways it seems government has written us off - last Wednesday I received a properly addressed and stamped Christmas card mailed in December from a friend in Houston. We still haven’t heard anything from SBA about our application for a loan to help us rebuild. Forget FEMA. A wave of New Orleanians die from stroke and heart attack with each shocking and discouraging news story. Suicide is rampant. Health care is nearly unavailable in Orleans Parish. New Orleanians are still dropping like flies from the stress, bodies are still being found in the rubble and attics and many hundreds of American citizens are still missing. Our surviving elderly and desperately poor citizens are mostly unable to return, but most of the rest of us are totally determined to return and rebuild this unique city we inherited from our ancestors. Despite assumptions and accusations from various congressmen, 2/3rds of us flooded home owners had flood insurance. But, most of us were under-insured for a variety of reasons.

Personally, we hope to soon demolish our flooded home and rebuild a cheap modular home raised about 12 feet off the ground over a ‘raised basement’ on our lot in Lakeview. We are not sure if we might receive any kind of ‘mitigation’ insurance money or grant for raising our home, but that is what we feel we must do to put ourselves out of reach of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ incompetence. Most of us are still waiting for the new flood maps and the so far unfunded Louisiana Recovery Authority plans before we risk our rebuilding money.

We’ve been very lucky. We live in a comfortable place while we try to rebuild and our kids are back in their regular school with most of their old friends. Almost all of us are suffering from a great sense of grief for our city, people, establishments and traditions. Most of us are depressed and angry and many have post traumatic stress disorder. We hope to return as much as we can to our cie la vie, fun loving lifestyle as soon as possible. I want to go fishing really bad, but I have no time and none of my friends or relatives have boats anymore.

In many ways, modern day hippies, church groups and spring breakers seemed to have helped our people more than the Red Cross, government or insurance corporations. Despite all the amazing help, there is a widespread overwhelming feeling of abandonment. It must be frustrating to all the wonderful people that have contributed so so much in money, sweat, time and material, that we still feel abandoned for the most part. And then there are the security people, carpetbaggers and the continuing looting. Post Katrina life is just so bizarre and surreal. Local news has been so strange.

If our utility isn't helped out in some way, returnees are going to be paying double for gas and electricity - which is detrimental to our recovery.

My five dollar tire repair kit and thirty dollar cigarette lighter tire inflator air compressor have proven to be a couple of my most useful post-Katrina possessions.

Immediately after the storm, while in Houston, the Red Cross put $2,000 cash in our hands to spend however we needed. We bought pillows, sheets, towels, pots, pans, utensils, underwear, jeans, a cheap printer, a wireless card, a couple of folding tables, air mattresses, some cheap chairs, a tv, microwave, shoes, school uniforms and book bags, etc. While visiting our home in the flood zone to try to salvage a few things, Red Cross would come by and give us plate lunches, cookies, water, ice, brushes, buckets, bleach, shovels, tarps, bug spray, handi-wipes and stuff like that. Thank you Red Cross and thanks to everyone who gave money and time to Red Cross.

We are struggling to rebuild stronger, higher and better with the best education system we can muster and enjoy a successful rebirth. We are going to try to restore our coastal wetlands and improve our storm surge protection system so this doesn’t happen to our children and grandchildren again. Like many New Orleanians, my family has lived here for over two hundred years and we will likely live here as long as there is a ‘here’. New Orleans is still about the most interesting city in North America and nearly every relative we have lives south of Interstate Ten in South Louisiana.

My family has had it relatively easy - especially compared to those that didn't evacuate before the storm. I've had some long assignments in the Lower Ninth Ward and despite loosing our home, a car, our neighborhood and nearly everything we ever owned, but I've never felt so rich after spending time in the lower nine. Everyone has a story. I regularly encounter recently returned New Orleanians wondering their neighborhood in tears.

I’ve shot many panoramas in New Orleans since the storm, but have not yet felt like sharing them publicly. Doing so feels sort of like sharing pictures of yourself naked, dirty and beaten to a bloody pulp laying in a putrid gutter. I’ve also shot about 25,000 Katrina related still pictures, but I’ve only posted 920 for public viewing. I normally spend a couple of minutes with each picture in Photoshop improving exposure, sharpening and sometimes re-cropping, but most of these were posted straight off the camera. If interested, you can view them here: http://www.MaritimeNewMedia.com/katrina/

I regret missing the last two WWPs. I participated in all the others and all but one of the Wrinkle’s. I shot something very topical in New Orleans for the one six months ago, but ultimately decided not to submit. Three months ago, I was just too busy dealing with post-Katrina life and still too upset to share a pano. Life is getting a little better now. I hope you enjoyed my submittal. If you were hoping to see a panorama of destruction, tough luck.

We sincerely appreciated all the help we received while displaced from the city (especially Houston and Vicksburg) and enjoyed every one of those Red Cross meals, MREs, bags of ice and bottles of water and other post-Katrina staples. Thank you so much for your kind help. I promise that every family from Cameron Louisiana to Bayou LaBatre Alabama whose homes and livelihood were destroyed continues to appreciate your generous assistance. Thanks.

If you can spare a few minutes, please write or call your congressmen encouraging them to help us rebuild our coastal wetlands that serve as the most important aspect of our storm surge buffer/hurricane protection system. http://www.house.gov/ http://www.senate.gov/ Please also encourage them to visit and take ‘the tour’. We’ll feed and entertain them well during their stay. We could use some levee system improvements too, but if we don’t restore our wetlands here, the levees are a wasted effort. To survive, New Orleans needs to recover the wetlands taken away by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Don’t let them wash us away.

Thanks again for all of your kindness.

Ray Broussard
View 920 of my Katrina damage still photos.

My 1997-2000 New Orleans Tour

Location

USA-Canada / USA-Louisiana

Lat: 29° 59' 42" N
Long: 90° 6' 3" W

Elevation: 10'

→ maps.google.com [EXT]

Precision is: High. Pinpoints the exact spot.

OpenStreetMap: © OpenStreetMap contributors

Equipment

D70s, Sigma 12-24, PeaceRiver 3Sixty
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