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Rensselaer Alumni Magazine Winter 2005-06
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ATRENSSELAER

CIVIL AND ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING

Levee Failures Investigated

Levee Failure in New Orleans

A barge was blown inland and pushed atop a levee wall in East New Orleans. Photo by Rune Storesund/UC Berkeley

It is clear that there were multiple causes for the levee failures in New Orleans, but researchers need to gather more data to better understand what they were and how to rebuild properly after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, according to testimony Nov. 17 before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Tom Zimmie, professor and acting chair of civil and environmental engineering at Rensselaer, offered his perspective on the degree to which the preliminary findings on the failure of the Gulf Coast levees are being incorporated into the restoration of hurricane protection.

“There is not one simple answer as to why the levees failed,” Zimmie said in a prepared statement. “Field observations indicated various causes: overtopping of the levees, erosion, failure in foundation soils underlying the levees, seepage through the soils under the levees causing piping failures, and this is not a complete list.”

Zimmie spent a week in New Orleans as part of an expert team investigating levee failures in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The team, which was funded by a special exploratory grant from the National Science Foundation, released their preliminary report Nov. 2 in a presentation to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Others at the Environment and Public Works hearing echoed Zimmie’s comments, noting that until all the physical evidence has been collected and analyzed, engineers will not have a complete picture of what happened.

“Hopefully the results of our study will lead to a clear appreciation of what happened in Katrina, and that the lessons learned from this event will lead to improved protection in the future, not just in the New Orleans area, but throughout the nation and around the world,” Zimmie told the committee. “The emphasis today is New Orleans, but we really have thousands of miles of levees in the United States.”

Zimmie was joined at the hearing by several other panelists: Dan Hitchings, director of Task Force HOPE for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Sherwood Gagliano, president of Coastal Environments Inc.; Larry Roth, deputy executive director of the American Society of Civil Engineers; Joseph Suhayda, emeritus professor of engineering at Louisiana State University; and Robert Verchick, a professor at Loyola University Law School in New Orleans.

Related Link:
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works Hearing Statements

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