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WILL NEW ORLEANS’ $14.5 BILLION WALLS STAND UP TO THE NEXT BIG STORM?

It’s not a question of if, but when. Another Katrina-like hurricane, or worse, is out there, and for New Orleans the big questions are: How soon before the next one hits? How prepared will the city be? “We’re dealing with probabilities here,” said Gerry Galloway, a retired Army Corps of Engineers general who is now an engineering professor at the University of Maryland. “There is nothing that prevents a hurricane the size of Katrina or Katrina-plus tomorrow. Sooner or later something like that is going to happen.” In the 10 years since Katrina killed more than 1,500 people in Louisiana and left 80 percent of New Orleans under water, significant steps to reduce the risk of future flooding have been taken.

The most visible: $14.5 billion in stronger levees that truly make New Orleans a city walled in from the water. That’s a major change from the numerous gaps and faulty pumps that marked the city’s defenses before Katrina. The crown jewel in this 133-mile, concrete necklace is the $1.1 billion Lake Borgne Surge Barrier, which measures 26-feet tall and is nearly two miles wide. Its job is to prevent what happened on Aug. 29, 2005, when a 15-foot-high surge of water tore through shipping canals and toppled levees, swamping the Lower Ninth Ward.

What has been accomplished in just a decade “is a modern miracle of construction,” said Ed Link, who chaired the Army Corps of Engineers task force that investigated why Katrina overwhelmed the old levees. “But is it enough? It’s a great foundation to build from but, no, it’s not enough.” A Katrina-like storm today could very well still overtop some levees and cause some flooding, said Link, “but I doubt it would be anywhere close enough” to destroy levees and cause massive flooding.

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