Katrina: A Week After Storm, Levee Break Is Fixed

A mere week after Hurricane Katrina hit–and less than that after it broke from the storm surge–the levee in New Orleans has been plugged by the Army Corps of Engineers.

A Week After Storm, Levee Break Is Fixed (AP)

A week after Hurricane Katrina, engineers plugged the levee break that swamped much of the city and floodwaters began to recede, but along with the good news came the mayor’s direst prediction yet: As many as 10,000 dead.

Sheets of metal and repeated helicopter drops of 3,000-pound sandbags along the 17th Street canal leading to Lake Pontchartrain succeeded Monday in plugging a 200-foot-wide gap, and water was being pumped from the canal back into the lake. State officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say once the canal level is drawn down two feet, Pumping Station 6 can begin pumping water out of the bowl-shaped city.

Some parts of the city already showed slipping floodwaters as the repair neared completion, with the low-lying Ninth Ward dropping more than a foot. In downtown New Orleans, some streets were merely wet rather than swamped.

“We’re starting to make the kind of progress that I kind of expected earlier,” New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said of the work on the break, which opened at the height of the hurricane and flooded 80 percent of the city up to 20 feet deep.


The leader of National Guard troops patrolling New Orleans declared the city largely free of the lawlessness that plagued it in the days following the hurricane. And he angrily lashed out at a reporter who suggested search-and-rescue operations were being stymied by random gunfire and lawlessness. “Go on the streets of New Orleans — it’s secure,” said Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore. “Have you been to New Orleans? Did anybody accost you?”

While there has been much justified criticism of the federal response to the disaster, the levee repair seems an amazing success story. Given how much mayhem was going on in the streets a couple days ago, restoring law and order this quickly is impressive as well.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Yes, what a success a “mere” 10 years after engineers have been warning of its impending demise and the deaths of thousands! A grander feat has not been seen in the history of humanity!

  2. dw says:

    This is what the Corps does best — coming into emergency situations and providing quick solutions. Best civil engineers in the world.

    It’s too bad, though, that the flood wall wasn’t reinforced years ago, or that there was such awful communication between NOLA and the COE on Tuesday when the breach was discovered.

    I really hope that the main lesson everyone learns is that we really, really need to improve our communications and logistics methodologies during a disaster.

  3. “… much justified criticism of the federal response to the disaster..”, oh? If you take the word “justified” out I can certainly agree with this. But most of the criticism I’ve read thus far seems to depend on complaints about a failure of crystal balls, a lack of magic wands, an extremely poor knowledge of logistics, or a shifting of blame for any failure from any level of government whatsoever on to the federal government. Responsibility and authority have to go hand in hand. If even half of those people had been removed from New Orleans before Katrina hit, the humanitarian crisis would not have been half as bad. Still tragic, but an order of magnitude more manageable for the resources available.

    I’m fairly sure you may not agree with this sentiment, and I’m not anxious to defend folks who may well have been less than on the ball, but has anyone actually named one specific unit or organization or even a truck that could have been moved differently without the benefit of hindsight? Other than all those flooded buses in New Orleans, of course. Everything I’ve read continues to say that the federal government’s response has never been as quick for any previous natural disaster as it has been for Katrina’s aftermath. The federal government’s relief efforts alway takes 72-96 hours to get organized, even when it has prepositioned forces and issued orders in advance. Can you imagine the hue and cry that would have went up had President Bush taken over Louisiana, Orleans Parish, or New Orleans from their elected governments on Saturday and forced everyone to leave? No?

    The ever-spreading utopian mindset that somehow everything could have been ok if only the right things had been done smacks of world class hubris and the worst kind of statist folly. Some things are just too big and awful to be dealt with effectively in 2 or 3 days. This was one of them. Maybe if the media spent some time embedded with some of the FEMA units their perspective of the difficulties would change a bit. Then again, it would probably just shift the utopian blame game down the chain to someone else.

    I only rant on about this for fear that we are going to once again take all the wrong lessons away from this disaster. Anyone who claims you can know the future and mitigate all risk is either a fool or a liar, or both. And yet, that is what so many clammoring for the head of Bush, Chertoff, and Brown seem to imagine is possible.

    Why didn’t Bush act like a fascist and take over New Orleans before Katrina hit? Because, he’s a… a… a… fascist! Yeah, that’s the ticket. And why didn’t Bush do everything Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco failed to do? Because… because… because he’s incompetent and he hates poor black people!

    I have a great deal of respect for all the things I’ve read on your site for a long time, but I am a little disappointed that you are so easily rehashing this meme that the federal government failed when there is quite ample evidence that it did not, unless you want to blame the president for not realizing just how poorly Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco would respond.

    I realized while previewing this that it looks like I’m putting words in your mouth, and for that I apologize. That’s not my intent, but those words are what we are hearing from people who are screaming the loudest that the government (always federal, never local or state) has failed them for, well, whatever.

  4. Dean says:

    Finally it is great news to hear the levee is patched.

    Now, on the security. Well, when you pour 50K troops in, it is hard not to be secure.

  5. It was only yesterday that ABC broadcast video of Sen Landrieu in a helo making a juvenile sneer about the Corps of Engineers’ efforts to plug that breach.

  6. BadTux says:

    For the apologist for the slow storm aid: I have survived several hurricanes that hit Louisiana. I have never — *NEVER* — encountered the sort of incompetence indistinguishable from malice that happened here. Last hurricane I was at, 6,000 National Guardsmen were mobilized. FEMA dispatched them to where they were most needed. Within 4 hours after the eye of the hurricane passed, there was a national guard platoon driving down my street, which was still flooded but that didn’t stop them, and all the major shopping areas had National Guardsmen dispatched to protect them from looting. The shelters were fully stocked with a week’s worth of food and water by the American Red Cross *BEFORE* the hurricane hit.

    I have a timeline of the aftermath of the San Francisco Earthquake (1906) on my blog. Within 2 hours, the general at the Presidio had presented himself to the mayor of the city and asked how he could be of service. Within four hours, Army soldiers were in the city on search and rescue and fire fighting missions and had shot and killed their first looter. That evening the general wired Army headquarters in Washington D.C. asking for tents and blankets for the survivors. By 5AM the tents and blankets were on their way. Four hours after the earthquake, the fires reached the hospital and burned it down. Not one patient loss their life — all the patients had been evacuated an hour before.

    Meanwhile, Governor Blanco formally requests National Guard troops from New Mexico, Arkansas, and Texas after she’d been offered troops by those states, and it takes four days — FOUR DAYS — for the Pentagon to authorize the transferral of those troops to Louisiana.

    If you cannot tell the difference between four HOURS (1904) and four DAYS (2005), I pity you. But see, in 1904, we had a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Today, I don’t know what we have… all I know is that our so-called “federal government” is killing our citizeny whether it is via malice or simple incompetence, and that’s a violation of the most basic role of government — to protect the citizenry. If you ask me, we should just go dig up Teddy Roosevelt’s body, clone him, and set him back to work kicking butt and getting our government working again. Because it’s clear that TR’s effective federal government vs. George W. Bush’s pathetic response is a sign that it’s time for the federal government to be disbanded and re-assembled from scratch, because what use is a government that kills its own citizenry?

    – Badtux the non-snarky Penguin

  7. bryan says:

    Yes, what a success a “mere” 10 years after engineers have been warning of its impending demise and the deaths of thousands! A grander feat has not been seen in the history of humanity!

    Actually, engineers have been warning about the levee being topped by a storm surge, not breached by such a surge.

  8. Kenny says:

    great post Charles Austin…….took the words out of my mouth

  9. ICallMasICM says:

    Ayn Rand is having a party in the great beyond as she sees Atlas Shrugged play out in New Orleans. The incompetent bureaucrats, emotional breakdowns by so called leaders, police walking off the job, the looting, people demanding to be rescued after refusing to leave. Where did I read all that before? Are Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco not cartoon characters as the antagonists? All the time looking to blame someone else and bail them out.

  10. Jason says:

    Charles, you are the first person I’ve heard talk about this that is not a moron. This administration may not have done all it could, but I believe the biggest mistake it made was underestimating the local and state governments apparent incompetence and how quickly they would fail.