The Army Corps of Engineers — responsible for the massive rebuilding of hurricane protection after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — and leaders from around the metropolitan area say they’re working closely on emergency planning as the new hurricane season officially gets under way June 1.
With billions of dollars invested in new levees, floodwalls and other flood protection, and an overhaul of cooperative emergency planning that emerged from the Katrina disaster, officials say citizens should have greater confidence that if tropical weather sweeps out of the Gulf of Mexico this year the systems and infrastructure in place are up to the test.
Congress gave the Army Corps about $12.8 billion to fix and upgrade the 133 miles of flood protection around the New Orleans area after Katrina. About $4 billion in work remains under construction, according to the corps.
“This team is battle tested,” Col. Ed Fleming, the commander of the Army Corps district in New Orleans, said about federal, state and local agencies that have worked together during hurricanes and historic flooding on the Mississippi River last year.
Officials also urged residents to get ready for hurricane season.
“Get a plan, get ready, be prepared,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. He urged residents to sign up on a new website the city has set up for emergency preparedness, www.ready.nola.gov.
There is a similar website produced by the state government called www.getagameplan.org.
The corps hopes to finish construction on several key pieces of the city’s protection by the end of this year.
The corps said construction of a $1.1 billion storm surge barrier that stops floodwaters from entering the Industrial Canal will be done by this fall. Meanwhile, a new set of $165 million floodgates at Seabrook in New Orleans, where the Industrial Canal enters Lake Pontchartrain, will be completed this summer, the corps said.
Levee work in eastern New Orleans and along Lake Pontchartrain also is due to be done this year, the corps said.
Yet the corps doesn’t project to be done with the work it set out to do after Katrina until at least 2016. That’s when three new pump stations and floodgates are expected to be installed at the mouths of three drainage canals.
After Katrina, the corps built what it considered temporary floodgates and pumping stations at the mouths of the canals but those are to be replaced with new structures.
Floodwalls broke along two of those drainage canals during Katrina and caused extensive flooding in the city.
“We have made great strides and we’re better protected today than we’ve ever been protected in this metropolitan area, but we can’t rest on our laurels,” said John Young, the president of Jefferson Parish.
He said the state needs to continue pushing for even better protection to make the region safe from the most catastrophic hurricanes, Category 5 monsters like Katrina.
The corps acknowledges that the system it is building would not necessarily withstand the worst hurricanes possible and is careful to call what they are building a “risk reduction system.”
The corps said the system is capable of protecting the metro area from a hurricane likely to hit over the next century, what it terms a 100-year storm.
Jerome Zeringue, executive director of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said there are many areas in coastal Louisiana, including Terrebonne, Lafourche and St. Charles parishes, which need better protection.