ivor-van-heerden

ACE downplays lowered Katrina category

Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Susan Jackson responded to the news that Katrina was apparently weaker than originally reported as follows:

"In the Gulf, Katrina was a Category 5 storm, and the surge was still Category 5 when it hit the ground... It's the surge -- the pressure of water against those levee walls -- that's the most important factor, not the winds."

As previously discussed, there are questions over whether ACE's design of the levees and floodwalls was faulty or not.
And, the downgrading also affects LA's government:

"That storm was the biggest storm ever to enter the Gulf of Mexico," [Edmond J. Preau Jr., Louisiana's assistant secretary for public works] said in testimony before the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "I think it would be a real disservice to everyone if Katrina goes down in the history books as a '4' because the wind speed dropped at the last minute."

And:

To some local experts, the report was further evidence that human error was primarily to blame for New Orleans's drowning.
"This is a further indictment of the levee system," Ivor Van Heerden, an LSU professor and leader of a team of Louisiana investigators probing the cause of the levee breaches. "It indicates that most of the flooding of downtown New Orleans was a consequence of man's folly."
Other engineering experts agree: Considering Katrina's weakened state at the time it reached New Orleans, the failure of the city's 17th Street and London Avenue canal floodwalls can be explained only as a failure of design or construction, said Robert Bea, a civil engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
"The water level in the canals wasn't that high when the floodwalls breached," said Bea, a member of an investigating team funded by the National Science Foundation. "We had a premature failure of the defense system."

Beeb tries for Brown, FEMA scoop and fails

The BBC will be showing a doc called "The Hurricane That Shook America", and they promote it in Fema 'knew of New Orleans danger'.
There appear to be two slightly newsworthy bits of info:

a key briefing officer within Fema sent a message directly to Mr Brown early on the day before Katrina hit, warning him of potentially disastrous flooding in New Orleans, which could trap more than 100,000 people.

I'm pretty sure Brown knew that was a possibility. The question is what details were provided and the major question is what happened after the floodwalls/levees failed. Was there specific information in the memo that Brown did not act on? Recall he wanted a mandatory evacuation. Perhaps the memo should have been sent to Blanco, and a few days before the storm.

Walter Maestri, head of emergency preparedness for Jefferson Parish, told the BBC that Fema officials promised emergency teams from the area that they would supply food, water, medical provisions, and assistance with transporting evacuees from the city - all within 48 hours of the emergency.
In the event, these emergency teams were left without the help they asked for.

Is that news?

Ivor van Heerden, an expert on hurricanes from Louisiana State University, told the BBC that local officials had taken the predictions of the Pam exercise rather more seriously than their federal counterparts.

Covered by Sixty Minutes a few weeks ago.
As for the headline of their story, obviously everyone knew the levees weren't built for a Category 5 storm.

More on the Pelican Commission, pork, and lobbyists

The LAT article "Lobbyists Shape Gulf Coast Rebuilding" has more on just how much say corporations got in Louisiana's rebuilding plan. Bear in mind, that article is about the state's plan, the one they want $250 billion for. See "Louisiana wants $40 billion; stuffed with pork" for previous coverage.
From the LAT:

..."I was basically shocked," said Ivor van Heerden, director of a hurricane public health research center at Louisiana State University. "What do lobbyists know about a plan for the reconstruction and restoration of Louisiana?"
Van Heerden is the first participant in any of the senators' working groups to provide such a detailed and scathing account of the process. He said he was shut out after he voiced his concerns.
The result, he said, was a lost opportunity "to come up with something innovative, something the people of Louisiana and the nation could really endorse."
Among the lobby-supported interests with a stake in the relief and recovery bill:
Energy utilities: Entergy Corp. and Cleco Corp...
...Supporters of a controversial industrial canal project for New Orleans: Among those on advisory panels were two officials of Jones Walker, a New Orleans-based firm that lobbies in Washington for the canal project...
...Highway advocates Among those on a transportation working group were lobbyists for highway projects seeking funds, including one from a firm headed by former Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.)...

Sinking, bad design caused floodwall failure?

From "Ground Shifted Beneath Levees":

...Levees and storm walls may be as much as 2 feet lower than they were designed to be, both because elevation data were outdated when the levees were built and because the land has continued to sink, [some experts] say.
...Experts also are studying the Army Corps of Engineers' 1990s project that topped existing earthen levees with concrete walls to strengthen New Orleans' hurricane defenses. The approach was economical but may have left the walls weaker than intended. Three concrete walls failed after Katrina hit Aug. 29, to catastrophic result.
Engineering experts [including Ivor L. van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center] say the designs failed to use the most modern technology, had almost no redundancy to compensate for minor problems during a storm, and were further undermined by weak clay soils in the New Orleans area...
...In other areas, including eastern New Orleans, overflow destroyed many miles of levees.
...[Louisiana State University engineering professor Roy K. Dokka] had warned in the last two years of an approaching disaster. "The most recent data shows that all of the previous subsidence work was faulty," he said.
On average, coastal Louisiana has been sinking half an inch annually, he said. But New Orleans East, which saw devastating flooding when levees overflowed, is sinking faster. Many levees are at least 6 inches lower than they were designed to be, and those in New Orleans East and badly damaged Plaquemines Parish are perhaps 2 feet lower.
...Geological and human forces are causing land elevations to drop, said Virginia R. Burkett of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wetlands Research Center in Louisiana.
Over thousands of years, coastal subsidence was offset by Mississippi River sediment deposits, Burkett said. But dams and other water projects on tributaries have halved river sediment since 1950, and levees on the main river channel now carry the remaining sediment deep into the gulf rather than spreading it along the coast.
Offshore oil and gas extraction have accelerated subsidence in some areas, Burkett said. And swamp drainage, particularly under New Orleans, has caused organic soil matter to decay and compact, adding even more to the subsidence.
As levees have sunk, melting glaciers have lifted ocean levels globally, she added.
The problem is expected to worsen in the coming century...
...In 2001, the National Geodetic Survey warned Congress that elevation surveys for Louisiana were "obsolete, inaccurate and unable to ensure safety."
...Two years ago, the agency began recalibrating Louisiana elevation data using the Global Positioning System, Deputy Director David Zilkoski said. But Katrina struck before the project could make a difference.
In the year before Katrina, Zilkoski said, he went from town to town to warn local officials that elevation data in the region were inaccurate, including those that showed evacuation routes.
...Meanwhile, LSU's Van Heerden expressed concern that the 1990s work to place concrete walls atop levees might have contained fundamental design flaws.
The new walls were tied into existing steel sheeting inside the earthen levees. In some cases, the tops of the steel and the footings of the new concrete walls overlapped by just 2 feet. Steel reinforcement bars were welded or looped into the sheeting to tie the structures together, he said.
Van Heerden said he believed the walls on the 17th Street and London Avenue canals failed because they could not resist the water pressure, not because of overflow or foundational erosion.
He said the storm walls snapped where the steel sheeting met the concrete walls. He said it was generally bad practice to use old sheeting as a foundation.
Katrina would also have weakened the levees' clay soils, a further potential cause of failure.
Geotechnical engineering professor Dobroslav Znidarcic of the University of Colorado at Boulder said he was surprised concrete walls were used for the levees.
Few retaining walls are made of reinforced concrete anymore, he said. Instead, "mechanical stabilized earth" can provide greater strength and resistance to total failure. The system, developed in the late 1980s, sandwiches fabric grids between layers of soil.
"I am concerned their design is prone to catastrophic failure if anything goes wrong," he said. "It does not have a sufficient level of redundancy."

"Incredibly damning" evidence found about flood walls

Lisa Myers of NBC reports in "New Orleans levee reported weak in 1990s":

NBC News has obtained what may be a key clue, hidden in long forgotten legal documents. They reveal that when the floodwall on the 17th Street Canal was built a decade ago, there were major construction problems - problems brought to the attention of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
A 1998 ruling, by an administrative judge for the Corps' Board of Contract Appeals, shows that the contractor, Pittman Construction, told the Corps that the soil and the foundation for the walls were "not of sufficient strength, rigidity and stability" to build on.
"That's incredibly damning evidence," says van Heerden, "I mean, really, incredibly damning."
Pittman won the contract in 1993. There already was an earthen levee made of soil. Embedded in that was a thin metal wall called sheet piling. The contractor was hired to pour concrete on top of all that to form the flood wall.
But the 1998 documents - filed as part of a legal dispute over costs - indicate the contractor complained about "weakness" of the soil and "the lack of structural integrity of the existing sheet pile around which the concrete was poured." The ruling also referenced the "flimsiness" of the sheet piling.
NBC showed the findings to engineering experts.
"That type of issue about the strength of the soils, of course, bears directly on the performance of a floodwall," says LSU engineering professor Joe Suhayda.
"I think it is very significant," adds Robert G. Bea, a former Corps engineer and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who is part of a National Science Foundation inquiry into the failure of flood controls. "It begins to explain some things that I couldn't explain based on the information that I've had."
The construction company said as a result of these problems the walls were shifting and "out of tolerance," meaning they did not meet some design specifications. Nevertheless, the Army Corps of Engineers accepted the work.
"It seems to me that the authorities really should have questioned whether these walls were safe," says van Heerden.
The judge, in her ruling, blamed the contractor for the construction errors and turned down Pittman's request for more funds.

Pittman is now out of business. The ACOE says it will investigate, and it's preserving documents...
They provide this 6.4Meg PDF file with the ruling.

Louisiana wants $40 billion; stuffed with pork

That alone should raise suspicions, but, as previously reported that's only part of what they want: Landrieu, Vitter want $250 billion.
WaPo offers "Louisiana Goes After Federal Billions":

Louisiana's congressional delegation has requested $40 billion for Army Corps of Engineers projects in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, about 10 times the annual Corps budget for the entire nation, or 16 times the amount the Corps has said it would need to protect New Orleans from a Category 5 hurricane...
...The bill, unveiled last week, would create a powerful "Pelican Commission" controlled by Louisiana residents that would decide which Corps projects to fund, and ordered the commission to consider several controversial navigation projects that have nothing to do with flood protection. The Corps section of the Louisiana bill, which was supported by the entire state delegation, was based on recommendations from a "working group" dominated by lobbyists for ports, shipping firms, energy companies and other corporate interests...

I don't think they learned this from Bush, I'm sure it's more innate than that.

"This bill boggles the mind," said Steve Ellis, a water resources expert at Taxpayers for Common Sense. "Brazen doesn't begin to describe it. The Louisiana delegation is using Katrina as an excuse to resurrect a laundry list of pork projects."
Aides to Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) helped shape the bill. The governor yesterday asked for $31.7 billion in federal funds for her state's infrastructure, including $20 billion for hurricane protections -- which aides described as a down payment on the larger sum.

BTW, "Pelican" stands for "Protecting Essential Louisiana Infrastructure, Citizens and Nature". I wonder how much they paid to come up with that.

...The 440-page bill also includes $50 billion in open-ended grants for storm-ravaged communities and $13 billion for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, along with mortgage assistance, health care, substance abuse treatment and other services for hurricane victims. It also includes hefty payments to hospitals, ports, banks, shipbuilders, fishermen and schools, as well as $8 million for alligator farms, $35 million for seafood industry marketing, and $25 million for a sugar-cane research laboratory that had not been completed before Katrina...
...The coastal protection section may be the most contentious part of the bill, overturning a slew of Corps precedents, but Louisiana officials say that past practice has failed to protect their state. They say their communities do not have the money to pay the standard 30 percent local share for Corps hurricane protection, or the time to wait several years for standard Corps studies...
...Vitter and Landrieu tapped John M. Barry -- author of "Rising Tide," the definitive history of the 1927 flood -- to lead the working group on the Corps response to Katrina. Almost all the other members of the group were lobbyists from firms such as Patton Boggs, Adams & Reese, the Alpine Group, Dutko Worldwide, Van Scoyoc Associates, and a firm owned by former senator J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.). There was a lobbyist for the Port of New Orleans, a lobbyist for Verizon, and three lobbyists who were former aides to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska).
Internal notes from the working group obtained by The Washington Post suggest that hurricane protection was by no means its sole preoccupation. A list of "outstanding issues" from a Sept. 15 conference call mentioned the possibility of authorizing at least six unrelated navigation projects, and included questions such as "Are there other things we can do to boost our ports?" and -- perhaps a joke -- "How much can I bill my client?"
"My concern was that the focus was not on protecting Louisiana," said Ivor van Heerden, the deputy director of Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center and one of the few non-lobbyists on the working group...

LSU: Faulty design or construction of floodwalls to blame

Ivor van Heerden and others from LSU's Hurricane Center now say that the flooding of New Orleans was caused by either faulty design or fault construction of the floodwalls, rather than overtopping or other explanations: "Experts Say Faulty Levees Caused Much of Flooding". (Note that the WaPo's headline is confused: they aren't talking about the levees).
LSU has constructed computer modeling showing that the surges did not overtop the floodwalls:

...[Van Heerden] said the real scandal of Katrina is the "catastrophic structural failure" of barriers that should have handled the hurricane with relative ease.
"We are absolutely convinced that those floodwalls were never overtopped," said van Heerden, who also runs LSU's Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes.
In an interview Tuesday, [Army Corps of Engineers] spokesman Paul Johnston said the agency still believes that storm surges overtopped the concrete floodwalls near the lake, then undermined the earthen levees on which they were perched, setting the stage for the breaches that emptied the lake into the city.
Johnston said the Corps intends to launch an investigation to make sure it is correct about that scenario. But he emphasized that Katrina was a Category 4 hurricane when it smashed into the Gulf Coast, whereas Congress authorized the Corps to protect New Orleans against a storm only up to Category 3. "The event exceeded the design," Johnston said.

And:

On a tour Tuesday, researchers showed numerous indications that Katrina's surge was not as tall as the lakefront's protections. They showed a "debris line" that indicates the top height of Katrina's waves was at least four feet below the crest of Lake Pontchartrain's levees. They also pointed out how the breached floodwalls near the lake showed no signs of overtopping -- no splattering of mud, no drip lines and no erosion at their bases. They contended that the pattern of destruction behind the breaches was consistent with a localized "pressure burst," rather than widespread overtopping.
The center has also completed a computerized "hindcast" of Katrina, which has confirmed the evidence before their eyes. Their model indicates that most of the surge around the lake and its nearby canals was less than 11 feet above sea level, and that none of it should have been greater than 13 feet. The Army Corps's flood-protection system for New Orleans was designed to handle surges of more than 14 feet above sea level.
"This should not have been a big deal for these floodwalls," said oceanographer G. Paul Kemp, a hurricane expert who runs LSU's Natural Systems Modeling Laboratory. "It should have been a modest challenge. There's no way this should have exceeded the capacity."

Why did the floodwalls break and not the levees?

From this:

One of the central mysteries emerging in the Hurricane Katrina disaster is why concrete floodwalls in three canals breached during the storm, causing much of the catastrophic flooding, while earthen hurricane levees surrounding the city remained intact...
"Why did we have no hurricane levee failures but five separate places with floodwall failures?" asked Joseph Suhayda, a retired LSU coastal engineer who examined the breaches last week. "That suggests there may be something about floodwalls that makes them more susceptible to failure. Did (the storm) exceed design conditions? What were the conditions? What about the construction?"
Ivor Van Heerden, who uses computer models to study storm-surge dynamics for the LSU Hurricane Center, has said that fragmentary initial data indicate that Katrina's storm-surge heights in Lake Pontchartrain would not have been high enough to top the canal walls and that a "catastrophic structural failure" occurred in the floodwalls...

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