17th Street Canal Levee Breach in 2005

Stop 5 of 6 in the Levee Breaches During Katrina tour

In 1965, Hurricane Betsy demonstrated that a major hurricane could overtop the earthen levees of the 17th Street Canal. So the Army Corps of Engineers recommended two cost-effective plans which were 1) raising the height of the canal walls or 2) installing floodgates at the canal's mouth at the lakefront. The Corps felt both could provide reliable hurricane surge protection.

Since the cost for both approaches was about the same, the Corps ultimately elected to raise the canal walls using I-walls (concrete capped steel sheet pilings). The Corps did this partly because the local sponsors (Orleans Levee Board and the Sewage and Water Board) preferred it. The OLB and SWB viewed the floodgates plan as incompatible with their interior drainage responsibilities. (Note the gates plan did not include auxiliary pumps like those in place today.)

On August 29, 2005 at about 9:45 a.m, a monolith (30-foot long section of the concrete floodwall) failed sending torrents of water into New Orleans's Lakeview neighborhood. The water level in the Canal at the time of failure was about 5 feet lower than the top of the wall. The breach quickly expanded into a 450 foot wide gap through which storm surge water poured, killing hundreds (directly and indirectly), destroying hundreds of residences, and causing millions of dollars in property damage. Thirty-one (31) bodies were recovered from areas directly flooded.

Today, the adjacent land is vacant of homes, buildings and trees. Many foundations or slabs where homes once stood are all that remain. The repaired breach site now consists of a different sturdier design called a T-wall. Three times more expensive to build, the new wall is easily differentiated because of its different texture and different color. It is also two feet thicker.

Post-disaster studies conclude that the breach was due to steel sheet pilings driven to depths that were too shallow. Sadly, in recommending the I-walls with such short sheet pilings, the Corps had relied upon a poorly executed and misinterpreted study it had conducted near Morgan City in 1988. At a savings of $100,000,000, the Corps wrongly concluded it could short-sheet the steel pilings of the 17th Street Canal driving them to depths of not more than 17 feet instead of between 31 and 46.

In January of 2008, Federal Judge Stanwood Duval, of the US District Court for Eastern Louisiana, held the US Army Corps of Engineers responsible for defects in the design of the concrete floodwalls constructed in the levees of the 17th Street Canal; however, the agency could not be held financially liable due to sovereign immunity provided in the Flood Control Act of 1928.

Images

Before the Flood

Before the Flood

6926 and 6932 Bellaire Drive BEFORE the Flood Before Katrina arrived in 2005, the area immediately in front of the 17th Street Canal breach was a thriving, predominantly white, middle to upper class neighborhood with homes filling the area right up to the canal floodwall. Mature oak and pecan trees graced the neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Bellaire Drive homeowner Roy Arrigo. View File Details Page

After the Flood

After the Flood

6926 and 6932 Bellaire Drive AFTER the Flood When sections of floodwall failed, storm surge poured through the breach tossing homes and cars around like toys. The deluge destroyed hundreds of residences and caused millions of dollars in property damage. Thirty-one (31) bodies were recovered from areas directly flooded by the breach. Photo courtesy of Levees.org View File Details Page

Aerial view of breach of 17th Street Canal

Aerial view of breach of 17th Street Canal

At about 9:45 a.m, a 30-foot long section of concrete I-wall floodwall adjacent failed sending storm surge into the Lakeview neighborhood. The water level was about 5 feet lower than the top of the I-wall. The breach quickly expanded into a 450 foot wide gap. Photo courtesy of the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force, convened and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers View File Details Page

I-Wall versus Superior T-Wall

I-Wall versus Superior T-Wall

Post Katrina, the repaired breach site of the 17th Street Canal consists of a new flood wall in the T-wall design rather than I-wall design. A T-wall is a reinforced concrete structure supported by foundation pilings with a non-structural steel sheet pile assembly beneath the levee. T-walls are not typically earth supported, are a significantly sturdier design, and are also three or more times more expensive to build than I-walls. Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force report View File Details Page

Historic Plaque at Breach Site

Historic Plaque at Breach Site

Created and installed for both visitors and residents, a Historic Plaque explains what happened during Katrina and the consequences. Vetted and fact-checked by historians with the Louisiana State Office of Historic Preservation, the plaque is adorned with the beloved state bird. Photo/Roy Arrigo View File Details Page

Unveiling the Louisiana State Historic Placque

Unveiling the Louisiana State Historic Placque

On August 23, 2010, Levees.org unveiled its first ever Louisiana State Historic Plaque on city property at ground zero of the 17th Street Canal. This was the first of what is intended to be many such plaques in Greater New Orleans. Pictured is Sandy Rosenthal, founder. Photo/Pat Garin View File Details Page

Musical Tribute

Musical Tribute

Doyle Cooper plays a trumpet solo in honor of the hundreds of people who lost their lives in the aftermath of the levee failures. View File Details Page

Harry Shearer

Harry Shearer

Part-time New Orleans resident Harry Shearer's most serious work in a career spent in comedy is rooted in his advocacy on behalf of post-Katrina New Orleans. Shearer produced the 2010 documentary The Big Uneasy regarding the roles that the US Army Corps of Engineers and human error played in the levee failures. View File Details Page

Levee Breach Bike Tour

Levee Breach Bike Tour

On May 6, 2012, Levees.org launched its first Levee Disaster Bike Tour. Founder Sandy Rosenthal led several dozen bikers to the London Avenue Canal breach (4900 Warrington Drive) in the Filmore Gardens neighborhood of Gentilly and then to the 17th Street Canal breach (6932 Bellaire Drive) in Lakeview before riding back to City Park. View File Details Page

More about Levees.org

More about Levees.org

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Video

Levees.org's Levee Breach Bike Tour, 2012 Length: 2 min.

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Cite this Page:

Levees.org, “17th Street Canal Levee Breach in 2005,” New Orleans Historical, accessed July 26, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/275.
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