London Avenue Canal Levee Breach in 2005

Stop 4 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 London Avenue Canal. So the Army Corps of Engineers recommended two plans -- raising the height of the canal walls using concrete-capped steel sheet pilings (I-walls) or installing floodgates at the canal's mouth at the lakefront. The Corps felt both alternatives provided equally sufficient storm surge protection.

Since raising the heights of the walls was three times more expensive than the floodgates plan, the Corps recommended the latter. The Corps believed it was following its congressional mandate. Unlike the ones built post-Katrina, these original gates did not include auxiliary pumps.

Meanwhile, the Orleans Levee Board (OLB) and the Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) legitimately feared that the cheaper gates-only plan was incompatible with their interior drainage responsibilities. So, in 1991, in full transparency, the OLB, backed by the New Orleans City Council, the S&WB, and neighboring communities, asked the state congressional delegation for authorization for the much more expensive higher flood walls plan. They succeeded, and the corps installed the new I-walls.

Before the 2005 flood, the adjacent area to the breach site was a thriving mixed neighborhood of white and African American homeowners. Homes were shaded by oak, cypress and pecan trees.

On August 29, 2005, at about 9:30 a.m, two monoliths (30-foot long sections of concrete floodwall) failed, sending torrents of water and sand into New Orleans's Gentilly neighborhood. The location was the 4900 block of Warrington Drive. At failure, the water level in the canal was about 5 feet lower than the top of the wall. Storm surge water poured through the gap, killing hundreds (directly and indirectly), destroying hundreds of residences, and causing millions of dollars in property damage.

Today, the adjacent land is largely 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 color.

Post-disaster studies concluded that the breach occurred 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 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 London Avenue Canal; however, the agency could not be held financially liable due to sovereign immunity provided in the Flood Control Act of 1928.

Images

Aerial view of London Avenue Breach Site

Aerial view of London Avenue Breach Site

Aerial photo by NOAA August 31, 2005. Note a home (upper left) pushed into the middle of the street from catastrophic force of water flowing through breach. View File Details Page

Filmore Gardens neighborhood of Gentilly

Filmore Gardens neighborhood of Gentilly

Filmore Gardens, the neighborhood directly adjacent to the east side London Canal levee breach was once a thriving tree shaded area. Oaks dominated this area, but there were also magnolia, cypress and pecan. Today the region is largely void of trees. View File Details Page

Residence of 4902 Warrington Drive

Residence of 4902 Warrington Drive

This home survived the brunt of the floodwaters from the levee breach directly behind it, but remains unoccupied. Equipment can be seen repairing the canal wall in this September 2005 photo. Note the sand at the left. Photo courtesy of Levees.org View File Details Page

Site of Louisiana Historic Plaque near London Avenue Canal Breach

Site of Louisiana Historic Plaque near London Avenue Canal Breach

Today, there is a Louisiana State Historic Plaque at the site of this neutral ground, the corner of Mirabeau Avenue and Warrington Drive in the Gentilly neighorhood of New Orleans. In this photo taken Oct 20, 2005 the damage is conspicuous. Notice a home in the middle of Warrington Drive in front of the canal breach. Photo/Steve Nelson View File Details Page

I-wall versus T-wallz

I-wall versus T-wallz

Post Katrina, the repaired breach site of the London Avenue 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. Drawing submitted courtesy of Levees.org View File Details Page

Residents install Historic Plaque at the London Avenue Canal

Residents install Historic Plaque at the London Avenue Canal

Three members of the Gentilly community hoist Historic Plaque onto post. Nick Harris, Sr, Asst VP at Dillard University- CDC, Rev Lionel Davis, Sr, Liaison, Pilotland & Chaplain, Filmore Gardens Neighborhood Assoc, Oji Alexander, Project Assistant, Project Home Again. H.J. Bosworth Jr, lead researcher for Levees.org (behind plaque) assists. Photo/Hubie Vigreux View File Details Page

Irvin Mayfield Jr

Irvin Mayfield Jr

Irvin Mayfield Jr plays the Elysian Trumpet at Levees.org's Unveiling Ceremony for a Historic Plaque on May 20, 2011. His father, Irvin Mayfield Sr. was discovered drowned in the flooding not far from his home near the London Avenue Canal in Gentilly. Photo/Hubie Vigreux View File Details Page

Louisiana State Plaque at the London Avenue Canal breach sites

Louisiana State Plaque at the London Avenue Canal breach sites

Created and installed for both visitors and residents, the Louisiana State Plaque at the London Avenue Canal breach sites, adorned with the beloved state bird, explain why the flood protection failed and what were the consequences. The plaque is sponsored by Levees.org and was a collaborative effort with the neighborhood residents. Photo/Gloria Decuirs-Robert courtesy of Levees.org View File Details Page

More about Levees.org

More about Levees.org

View File Details Page

Audio

Irvin Mayfield Jr. trumpet solo

During the unveiling ceremony, Grammy Award-winning musician Irvin Mayfield played a traditional hymn titled "Just a Closer Walk with Me." Mayfield's father was one of the victims killed by flooding in the Gentilly neighborhood. The performance is used with the permission of Mr. Mayfield. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Levees.org, “London Avenue Canal Levee Breach in 2005,” New Orleans Historical, accessed May 24, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/276.
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