levees

Michael Brown: Bush knew levees could breach; Chertoff should quit

From this March 3 CNN transcript come these claims from former FEMA head Michael Brown:
- FEMA had been marginalized.
- He thinks Michael Chertoff should quit or be fired.
- He thinks Chertoff was misleading the American public about Brown appearing on TV and characterizing it as show-boating.
And, this:

MESERVE: In the transcripts of the 29th briefing, you talk about conversations you had that morning with the president. This is the day of landfall. And you say you talked to him about a number of things. He's asked questions breaches of the levees. How did the president know to ask about breaches of the levees? Did he have reports in hand at that time already that that had happened in New Orleans?
BROWN: There's no question in my mind he probably had those reports, because we were feeding in the Homeland Security Operations Center, into the White House sit room, all of the information that we were getting. So he had to have had that information. Plus, I think the president knew from our earlier conversations that that was one of my concerns, that the levees could actually breach.
MESERVE: So are you saying when you said recently that it was baloney that the White House didn't know about the breaches on Monday night -- are you saying that the president knew about the breaches on Monday morning?
BROWN: He knew that was a potential, because my testimony has been...
MESERVE: And he knew there were reports of them?
BROWN: Well, yes. He knew about the reports of potential breaches. Now, I think we're drawing a fine line here. Because even I have testified that I didn't know whether we had a breach of the levees or the levees had been topped. But somehow in the 11:00 to 1:00 timeframe, that became clear because we had sent someone out to actually look at them and see.

Much more at the link, and a summary in the article about the interview.
In other skull news, reports are that Chertoff might be leaving, but those have since been denied.

AP clarifies Bush flooding/overtopping video

The Associated Press has issued the following voluntary confession:

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In a March 1 story, The Associated Press reported that federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees in New Orleans, citing confidential video footage of an Aug. 28 briefing among U.S. officials.
The Army Corps of Engineers considers a breach a hole developing in a levee rather than an overrun. The story should have made clear that Bush was warned about floodwaters overrunning the levees, rather than the levees breaking.
The day before the storm hit, Bush was told there were grave concerns that the levees could be overrun. It wasn't until the next morning, as the storm was hitting, that Michael Brown, then head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Bush had inquired about reports of breaches. Bush did not participate in that briefing.

What they refer to as "overrunning" is also refered to as "overtopping".
Previously: "Bush admin knew levees could fail" (hey, I was taking AP's word) and "Blanco said levees were safe (Aug 29 at noon)".

Blanco said levees were safe (Aug 29 at noon)

Around noon on the day when Katrina hit New Orleans, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco told the Bush administration that the levees were safe:

"We keep getting reports in some places that maybe water is coming over the levees... We heard a report unconfirmed, I think, we have not breached the levee. I think we have not breached the levee at this time."

However:

In fact, the National Weather Service received a report of a levee breach and issued a flash-flood warning as early as 9:12 a.m. that day, according to the White House's formal recounting of events the day Katrina struck.

And:

She reported that floodwaters were rising in parts of the city "where we have waters that are 8 to 10 feet deep, and we have people swimming in there."
"That's got a considerable amount of water itself," the governor said. "That's about all I know right now on the specifics that you haven't heard."
Blanco spokeswoman Denise Bottcher said Thursday that "our people on the ground were telling us that there could be overtopping and breaching, but it was hard to tell" by the noon briefing.
Another official who was heard but not seen on the video was then-Federal Emergency Management Agency Michael Brown, who was at the federal emergency operations center in Baton Rouge, La. He implored officials to "push the envelope as far as you can," noting that he had already spoken to President Bush twice that day and described the president as "very, very interested in this situation."
"He's very engaged, and he's asking a lot of really good questions I would expect him to ask," Brown said of Bush. "I say that only because I want everyone to recognize ... how serious the situation remains."

"Overtopping claim won't hold water, experts say"

From this:

Engineer Manual No. 1110-2-2502 is not a publication that would normally excite interest from the general population. But in the weeks and months ahead, as New Orleans struggles to rebuild from the floods of Hurricane Katrina, Section 4 of that Army Corps of Engineers book could be scrutinized intensely by city and state officials.
The manual sets the performance standards for, among other things, inland floodwalls: the kind the corps built along the city's drainage canals and that failed spectacularly during Katrina, flooding much of the city and leading to many of the 1,100 deaths thus far confirmed from the storm.
...Forensic engineers investigating the levee failures say the layman's translation of that section amounts to a "gotcha" clause for those who believe the walls failed through faulty design and not because they were overwhelmed by a storm that exceeded design limits.
"It says what every engineer knows: If you build walls to 14 feet, regardless of the design specifications for the expected storm -- 12 feet or 10 feet or 13 feet -- those walls must hold water to their tops," said J. David Rogers, a forensic engineer on the National Science Foundation team investigating the failures.
..."So, yeah, this was a human failure, not a natural disaster."
Since overtopping has been ruled out as the cause of failure along some canal walls, experts in and out of the corps have debated whether the water inside the failed floodwalls was higher than the 12.5 feet maximum listed as the design capacity. But Rogers and other engineers said Section 4b makes that discussion moot. Because the walls were built to 14 feet, to account for wave splash, any collapse below that level means the design failed.
"Their own manual makes it pretty clear this was a failure, " Rogers said, "although they might try to argue it was something else."
...But the debate continues, because the stakes are high. If the walls yielded to forces lower than their design specifications, the city will be on firmer moral and legal footing in asking Congress to pay for the all the property damaged and destroyed when the waters of Lake Pontchartrain poured into the city. If not, the government can say the cost should be borne by flood insurance and homeowners.

Much more at the link.

"Their Levees vs. Our Levees"

This page has pictures of the measures that various countries take to protect their coastlines from being flooded, ending with the New Orleans levee system. Point taken, but it's not exactly fair to blame the Army Corps of Engineers for fault that, once again, is shared by various levels of government as well as the public.

"Levee tests gnaw at termite expert"

From this:

A termite expert is questioning whether tiny, voracious Formosan termites played a role in the failure of levee walls in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
Louisiana State University entomologist Gregg Henderson said there are clear signs that the destructive insects were present, and he wants the opportunity to dig into the levees beneath the walls to find out if termite nests contributed to their weakening.
Army Corps of Engineers officials, however, say no evidence has been found to indicate that termites undermined the integrity of the levees.
Henderson, a world-renowned expert on termites, found evidence of insects -- both Formosan termites and fire ants -- in the joints between wall panels on both the London Avenue and 17th Street canals. Fire ants, an enemy of termites, tend to invade the channels created by the wood-destroying insects...
At the London Avenue Canal, where several engineering teams believe the pressure of water in the canal undermined a weak layer of sand beneath levee walls and caused them to slide and fail, Henderson found insects in 73 percent of the joints, he said...
...Jerry Colletti, corps manager for completed public works, said engineers determined that the pinholes created by termites in the plastic joint spacers and in some cases in concrete were not dangerous...
..."The corps did an evaluation to determine how much water would come through those little pinholes," he said. "The decision was made not to take any action on the joints. We looked into sealing the joints, and it was going to be expensive and we didn't see a purpose to it; the pinholes didn't cause a structural integrity problem."
"We don't have anybody at the corps who's a termite expert," he said...

"Mistake copying numbers may have contributed to levee failure"

From this:

A difference in soil boring data transferred from one chart to another may have played a key role in engineering decisions that led to the breach on the 17th Street Canal floodwall that flooded much of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, National Science Foundation investigators say.
A cross-section drawing in the project design documents shows a weak layer of peaty soils running between 11 feet and 16 feet below sea level in the area that failed during the storm. But information in the individual soil borings that were used to draw the cross section show the peaty layer extending as deep as 30 feet below sea level.
Investigators said their own borings taken at the site this week confirm the 30-foot depth, leading them to believe that designers used the flawed cross section drawing to set the sheet pilings beneath the floodwalls at 17.5 feet below sea level - a choice that allowed water to migrate to the land side of the wall, causing the breach.
"It's pretty obvious the depth of the organic deposit shown on that cross section is what determined the sheet piling depth ... for the whole canal," said J. David Rogers, a member of the National Science Foundation team, and a leading authority on levee and dam failures. "They saw this marshy deposition, they recognized it as potentially dangerous, so they specified sheet piles that went just beyond the bottom of that line.

Bush promotes New Orleans in own unique way; doesn't commit to Category 5 levees

President Bush visited New Orleans yesterday in what appears to have been a visit designed to bring back tourists and conventioneers. Here's the NYT's first paragraph:

President Bush made his first trip here in three months on Thursday and declared that New Orleans was "a heck of a place to bring your family" and that it had "some of the greatest food in the world and some wonderful fun."

Of course, the first quote is more than a little reminiscent of the infamous Bushism "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job". As if on cue, the Huffington Post links to the NYT report using 'Bush Visits New Orleans Declares City A "Heck Of A" Place...' Also as if on cue, over 500 comments result from ardent "liberals".
Bush's motorcade passed by some devastated areas, but he avoided a demonstration put on by the Academy of the Sacred Heart demanding full levee protection.
Then, he paid a visit to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, where he said:

"for folks around the country who are looking for a great place to have a convention, or a great place to visit, I'd suggest coming here to the great New Orleans."

He did not, however, promise to develop levees that could withstand a Category 5 storm, only "stronger and better". That translates into being able to withstand a weak Cat 4 at the most.

ACE discovered engineering mistakes in 1990, but did nothing

The Army Corps of Engineers did a design review of the New Orleans levees in 1990. Apparently the engineers on the project thought the soil under the 17th Street Canal was stronger than it was, and one of their offices discovered this at that time:

Corps documents show the mistake of overly optimistic levee strength was detected by its Vicksburg, Miss., office, which directed local engineers to make changes. But when the chief engineer in New Orleans replied that the results were based on "engineering judgment," his superiors dropped the issue.

And:

[Robert Bea, a University of California-Berkeley professor] said the discussion in the 16-year-old "design memo" points to the key decision that created fatal problems on the 17th Street Canal levee and could reveal a systemic problem that will show up during investigation into the London Avenue and Industrial Canal levees, which also breached during the Aug. 29 storm.

See also "Incredibly damning" evidence found about flood walls

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."

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