Wading through the water after the storm (AP Photo/Eric Day)
After the storm, many are wondering if post-Katrina changes were effective in protecting many New Orleans communities in the wake of Isaac.
LAPLACE, LA. — At the urging of residents who have long felt forgotten in the shadow of more densely populated New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers says it will look into whether the city’s fortified defenses pushed floodwaters into outlying areas in the wake of Hurricane Isaac.
However, the Corps has said it’s unlikely scientific analysis will confirm the suspicions of suburban residents and some politicians. Instead, weather experts say unique circumstances about last week’s storm — not the floodwalls surrounding New Orleans — had more to do with the flooding communities experienced.
Isaac was a large, slow-moving storm that wobbled across the state’s coast for about two and a half days, pumping water into back bays and lakes and leaving thousands of residents under water outside the massive levee system protecting New Orleans. The front, which disrupted the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., as a tropical storm, was blamed for seven deaths and damages along the Gulf Coast.
The Corps’ study was prompted by suggestions that Isaac’s surge bounced off the levees and floodgates built in a $14 billion fortification effort since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and walloped communities outside the city.
Blaming the Army Corps of Engineers is nothing new in southern Louisiana, a region that is both dependent and distrustful of the federal agency that wields immense power over the harbors, wetlands, rivers and lakes that fall under its jurisdiction.
The Corps was roundly criticized after Hurricane Katrina, whose surge breached the levees protecting New Orleans and left much of the city underwater. Before that, the agency was blamed for the unraveling of coastal marshes by erecting levees along the Mississippi River.
In towns such as LaPlace, people want answers, as many communities have never before been flooded because of storm surge.
“It has a lot of us questioning,” said Ed Powell, a 47-year-old airport emergency worker who has lived in LaPlace for 15 years and has never seen flooding on his street until Isaac hit.
Hurricane Isaac, a state emergency official said Tuesday, damaged at least 13,000 homes in Louisiana.
If the numbers of people who requested assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency offer a guide, the tally of damaged homes could end up being much higher.
Nearly 95,000 people signed up for individual aid from FEMA, for grants to help repair homes and replace storm-wrecked belongings, according to numbers provided by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office. The assistance for homeowners, renters and businesses was available in the 10 hardest-hit parishes.
On Friday, U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) asked the Corps to do an independent study on whether the new storm structures around New Orleans caused storm water to stack up elsewhere.
The Corps is expected to complete its study within two months, said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who joined Vitter in calling for the study.
In a statement, the Corps said it expects the study will find “minimal” changes in surge elevation because of its works around New Orleans. It based that assessment on previous modeling. The agency, which received $7.1 billion this fiscal year, said it would not comment further until the scientific work is done.
Isaac came ashore as a Category 1 hurricane, but that classification is based on wind speed, not surge predictions. In the past, much stronger storms have produced smaller surge levels.
Isaac had a broad wind field — at times, more than 200 miles from its center — that made it capable of scooping up a lot of water, said James Franklin, the chief of hurricane operations at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Mississippi, where Picayune officials reported 22 inches of rain fell over three days, and Alabama were also affected. Rain-thirsty inland states benefited from the sprawling remnants of the hurricane that soaked some Midwest states over the Labor Day weekend and drenched the Mid-Atlantic region.