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The Levee Breach Name Game

For all of you watching the live coverage of the flooding of New Orleans and are puzzled by the name game the anchors are playing with the verbiage there is an explanation you might not be aware of.

The Army Corps of Engineers DOES NOT want the media to call it a levee break or a levee breach. Why does it matter? The upcoming lawsuits. If the levee "fails" then the Corps is responsible. BUT if the repair fails they will try to argue they were not... So here is a brief explainer of the various verbs you're hearing.

* The water "over-topped" the levee. Congress told the Corps how tall to build them. If the water exceed that height, don't blame the Corps, blame Congress.

* The water "Spilled Over" the levee. The same as above with the addition of a laughable visual image. That 20 feet of water in your home? It was just a little "spill" get a "Bounty Quicker Pickerupper" and it will all be OK.

* The levee "broke, breached, failed" etc bad bad bad for the Corps. That means they screwed up. They designed and built something that failed.

* The "repair got over-topped." The Corps says "Well, we did the best we could."

* The "repair failed." See above.

Bottom line??? The Corps is trying to spin this instead of giving people accurate information to people that will use to make live and death decision. I don't care about the name game. I want the Army Corps of Engineers giving people the most accurate information they can. That did not happen and is not happening.

When the Corps of Engineers is looking at a waterfall of water coming into the city and saying the levees are "in tact," it gives people (who are mostly listening by radio right now) a false and dangerous picture of the situation.

Does that get me mad? You betchya.

Update: The moron from the Corps is STILL saying there are no levee breaches on FOXNews as I type. It all depends on what your definition of "breached" is.

Update 2: This Levee is NOT Breached.
leveebreach.jpg
Just ask all the know-it-alls in the comments section.

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Comments (74)

No! There is a big differe... (Below threshold)

No! There is a big difference between overtopping and a levee breach. Overtopping just floods, breaching sends a sudden cascade into the city! Don't be like Humpty-Dumpty; please use the definition used by the professionals who are out there trying to preserve lives and property.

More here: On the Levees of New Orleans, Update 14

That mayor has got... (Below threshold)
Adam:


That mayor has got to go. He is an idiot, MAN!!

Saying there is no differen... (Below threshold)
Craig:

Saying there is no difference between a "breach" and "over the top" is like saying there is no difference between over-filling a glass with milk until it spills, and shattering the glass on the ground.

How about : HUGE GAPING ... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

How about : HUGE GAPING HOLE!

Not sure if that is a technical term, though.

I gotta say i disagree with... (Below threshold)
Doug:

I gotta say i disagree with you. I think an overflowing or 'overtopped' or overspilled levee is VERY different from a breeched levee. if it is just spillign over the top and you can find a place to pump it out to, if it is breached/broken you can pump all day long and it won't matter. when the reain stops it will keep coming in. with the overflow when the rain stops it will stop coming in.

Keep in mind that in reality NO ONE should be back in there. even the rescue/cleanup crews should be out ahead of this happening. There is not likely to be any NEW damage from this. I guess I just don't see the problem.

Sounds like the head of the... (Below threshold)
stan25:

Sounds like the head of the Army Corp of Engineers is taking his cue from the Liar-in-Chief. Typical engineer. They think that whatever they design is perfect.

Overtopping just floods,... (Below threshold)
Paul:

Overtopping just floods, breaching sends a sudden cascade into the city!

Solomon... Just a guess here- You don't a TV near you do you? "a sudden cascade" would be an understantement.

please use the definition used by the professionals who are out there trying to preserve lives and property.

They are not trying to preserve lives... They are tying to preserve their asses.

The Levee has not yet been ... (Below threshold)
Mamesh:

The Levee has not yet been breached. This is overtopping and there is a difference. If you know what to look for you can clearly see that the levee is still holding and this is water pouring over, and yes it has washed away some of the top repair. It has not been breached.

Saying there is no diffe... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

Saying there is no difference between a "breach" and "over the top" is like saying there is no difference between over-filling a glass with milk until it spills, and shattering the glass on the ground.

The big difference between the two is the aftermath. If the levee is overtopped, the water stops coming in once the water level in the canal drop below the top of the levee. If the levee is breached, then the water doesn't stop coming in until the water gets lower than the bottom of the breach. That can be quite a difference in levels.

Paul is correct that the pictures would seem to indicate that the levee has been breached. However, if the water level is completely over the top of the levee as the Corps claims, they may not be able to distinguish breachingom overtopping until the water level in the canal starts to go down. If you can't see the top of the levee, you can't tell for sure what is going on. You can take a good guess, but you just don't know for sure.

OK for those of you who wan... (Below threshold)
Paul:

OK for those of you who want to play the name game...

What it "Breached" last week?

Did it heal itself in the mean time?

It is "still" breached?

Oh never mind.

Mamesh:You're wron... (Below threshold)

Mamesh:

You're wrong. The shots I've been seeing show, quite clearly, that the levee has been breached in at least one location. It was obviously caused by overtopping, which washed out the back side of the levee, and there's a great big hole about 30 feet across and ten feet or so deep. That is a "breach."

Didn't they already do a st... (Below threshold)
susan:

Didn't they already do a study that said the levees failed during Katrina?
The forces were within what they were supposed to be able to handle and it was poor design or building that caused the breach... I will try to find a link.

So it seems like that cat is already out of the bag on this one.

Mamesh,If you have... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

Mamesh,

If you have been watching any of this on television you would see that while it may have started out as over topping, the levee on the Industrial canal is completely compromised now.

The non-breach is at least 15-20 feet deep.

While I do not know if anything could have been done to prevent this in the short time since Katrina -- the water is high enough to cause wave over topping along several levees -- this is not a time for CYA. The thousands of people that came back at Nagins urging need to have precise and correct information right now.

A wall of water is heading through town, they need to know exactly what areas will be hit he hardest so they can get out of the way.

Tragedy plus time yields co... (Below threshold)

Tragedy plus time yields comedy. I am beyond sorrow at this point. As a Green Wave who landed in New Orleans on the tailwinds of Hurricane Betsy, and with family in LA & TX, comic relief (battlefield or hospital humor, if you will) seems a reasonable escape at this point. I am called back to this movie and to this song:

Musical "Paint Your Wagon" soundtrack
The Gospel Of No Name City lyrics

You wanna see sin of the wickedest kind?
Here it is!
You wanna see virtue left behind?
Here it is!
Sodom was vice And visa-versa
You wanna say where the vice is worser?
Here it is! I mean, here it is!

You wanna live life in the rottenest city?
Here it is!
Women and whiskey, night and day?
Here it is!
You wanna embrace the golden calf?
Ankle, and thigh, and upper half?
Here it is! I mean, here it is!

No name city. No name city.
The Lord don't like it here!
No name city. No name city.
Your reckoning day is near!
No name city. No name city.
Here's what He's gonna do:
Gobble up this town,
And swallow it down,
And goodbye to you!

Will you go to heaven?Will you go to hell?
GO TO HELL! (chorus)
Either repent, or fare thee well!
FARE THEE WELL! (chorus)

God will take care of no name city!
Comes the end, and it won't be pretty!

Here it is! I mean, here it is!

Here it is! I mean, here it is!
Here it is! I mean, here it is!
Amen!

Can someone please get Paul... (Below threshold)

Can someone please get Paul some sedatives or maybe keep him from posting until this all passes? I mean, I like Paul, but his "live as it happens" ranting is a bit much. Let's save it until after all is said and done, shall we?

Look at the clear constancy... (Below threshold)
Memesh:

Look at the clear constancy of rapids along the entire length of the submerged levee. Please explain how that can be if there was any significant breach.

Paul,I wonder if y... (Below threshold)

Paul,

I wonder if you would pose this "coming lawsuit" to your community of readers, many of whom are lawyers.

IANAL, but my sense of this is that "acts of God" such as floods, are not actionable.

Mamesh,What are yo... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

Mamesh,

What are you watching?

The breach goes right through about fifty feet of a temporary levee that is several hundred feet long.

BIG GAPING HOLE!

I'll put this out there as ... (Below threshold)
Mike:

I'll put this out there as a legitimate question to Paul, although I'm sure many will answer as well.

Are you only upset that the Army Corps of Engineers said that the levee will hold? Do you truly believe that they would lie about this and risk the lives of so many people because of politics or lawsuits? And how do people sue over an act of God anyway? Maybe I just think that no one out there is that calaculating and cold. One thing is certain, you can always say you are prepared until Mother Nature shows you your weaknesses.

And if most of the people listening are doing so by radio, what does it matter what someone is saying on Foxnews? I've read multiple stories from St. Bernard's Parish representatives stating that the flooding is bad and that people should leave immediately. I imagine that is the info they are getting by radio, not the stuff from Foxnews.

Not everyone is as sinister as you seem inclined to believe they are.

>I wonder if you would pose... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>I wonder if you would pose this "coming lawsuit" to your community of readers, many of whom are lawyers.

>but my sense of this is that "acts of God" such as floods, are not actionable.

Clearly you ain't one. No, you can not sue God.

But if the levee did not perform up to the specifications then OBVIOUSLY the construction company who built it is liable.

If it was designed wrong than the design engineers will be sued.

Just because it was "an act of God" does not give everyone a legal pass on their responsibilities.

I'm really not trying to slam you. (no really) but dude, quit arguing for arguments sake and think your comments thru.

This is semantic insanity.<... (Below threshold)

This is semantic insanity.

The latest AP update via Yahoo! news describes the situation as a 100-foot-wide waterfall that "poured over and through" the Industrial Canal levee.

I'm no engineer, but for water to pour through the levee, that would indicate to me that it has to be breached or broken.

If it is breached in an area where it was repaired, then common sense says that the repair failed, water is coming in, and that anyone in that area is in immediate danger. Period.

Every news account I am seeing indicates that it was a repaired section of the Industrial Canal levee where the water is coming in. And the Yahoo/AP account I refer to above specifically quotes a Georgia National Guardsman as saying that there are three "significant breaches" in the levee.

I've never been to, nor do I know a damn thing about New Orleans, but between the written accounts and the photos and video coming out of the city today, it's pretty obvious: the levee failed. If it didn't, the 9th Ward would be dry.

That the ACOE seems to be splitting rhetorical hairs about it is very frustrating.

I'm really not trying to... (Below threshold)
Mike:

I'm really not trying to slam you. (no really) but dude, quit arguing for arguments sake and think your comments thru.

In all sincerity, might I suggest you do the same.

"...think your comments thr... (Below threshold)
Cardinals Nation:

"...think your comments thru."

Good advice, Paul.

Okay, let's go back to post one, question one:

"...now that you've dismissed the entire US Army Corps of Engineers as "morons" and "idiots" who are "stupid", I must assume you possess sufficient expertise in the field of hydro engineering to make that assessment. So, I ask you; what exactly, and with detailed specificity, is your solution for keeping an area that is below sea level from flooding, both now, after a catastrophic Category 4 hurricane, and in the future?"

Care to field this now, or should I just "fuck off" and expect this post to be shut down as well?

Here's a simplistic analogy... (Below threshold)

Here's a simplistic analogy.

You build a wall to keep an enemy out. In this case you call the wall a levee and the enemy is water.

If the enemy gets past that wall, it has breached your defense. It doesn't matter if it came under, through, or over.

>Are you only upset that th... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>Are you only upset that the Army Corps of Engineers said that the levee will hold?

Not exclusively. I'm not pleased pols are talking about RASING taxes in LA, but for today's discussion, this is close enough. Well - other than they are lying to the public in the present tense.

>Do you truly believe that they would lie about this and risk the lives of so many people because of politics or lawsuits?

Ummmm. Yes. Why? Because it is happening! Quit arguing with me and open your ears. I'm not making these quotes up. Go turn on the TV and hear the tortured explanations.


>And how do people sue over an act of God anyway?

I'm sorry Mike, you have officially excused yourself from being considered rational. You DON'T think people will be suing my the thousands? It most be nice living in Candlyland, but I live in the real world.


>Maybe I just think that no one out there is that calaculating and cold.

Man, put on a raincoat because your bubble is going to burst- BIG TIME.

The real question is whethe... (Below threshold)
Indy Voter:

The real question is whether these repairs are getting washed away or not. If they're getting washed away then we're looking at Katrina, Part Deux in New Orleans without 100,000 unwilling extras this time. However, if this is just rising water pouring over the top of the repairs without tearing away the repaired dikes themselves then the water will stop coming in when the storm passes and pumping the water out can start pretty much right away.

I don't have access to a TV right now, and am not getting a clear picture on this situation from the internet right now. Does anyone know for a certainty whether the dike repairs are holding or not?

Cardinal, I answered you, g... (Below threshold)
Paul:

Cardinal, I answered you, go read.

I'm not going to debate thi... (Below threshold)
Memesh:

I'm not going to debate this further. The water however is puring rapidly over and it is an awful scenario, it may pretty quickly come to the point that it does not matter. The only point at this time is that if it is breached the water will raise to a higher level than if it isn't.

Alex,The sources y... (Below threshold)
Cardinals Nation:

Alex,

The sources you are citing are the same sources that pushed the "10,000 dead" meme. I'm in no position to say what they are reporting is wrong because I'm not standing on top of the levees right now (and neither is anyone else!), just that they are notorious for being prone to hyperbole. Right now it's a ratings race to be the "first with the worst" so they'll say just about anything to get the audience.

Cheers,

The Army Corps of Engineers... (Below threshold)

The Army Corps of Engineers probably has no exposure to monetary damages in this situation. 33 U.S.C. 702c :"No liability of any kind shall attach to or rest upon the United States for any damage from or by floods or flood waters at any place."

Courts have pretty uniformly construed this provision VERY broadly.

Stephen Macklin:Ba... (Below threshold)

Stephen Macklin:

Bad analogy.

The real terminology (as people have used for a very long time):

If the water level goes over the levee without damaging it, that's just overtopping.

If the levee has an actual physical gap due to damage, that's a breach. There are several causes of breaches, including erosion (often caused by overtopping).

Breaches can also be caused by things like barges striking the levee, ground settling due to seismic events, or other things.


NOTE: Please Read (look ... (Below threshold)
Paul:

NOTE: Please Read (look at) Update 2 Before Posting Again

I'm sorry Mike, you have... (Below threshold)
Mike:

I'm sorry Mike, you have officially excused yourself from being considered rational. You DON'T think people will be suing my the thousands? It most be nice living in Candlyland, but I live in the real world.

Sorry, should have phrased it differently. I agree, I know people will be sueing by the thousands, but do they have footing? Do they have a case that merits consideration. I don't think they do. This is an act of God and the people bringing the case live in an area that Nature never intended to be developed. But you are right, people will sue. And I still don't believe that the Army Corps of Engineers would send someone onto Foxnews to intentionally play politics to head off future lawsuits while people are (and thus placing more people) in harm's way.

>the people bringing the ca... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>the people bringing the case live in an area that Nature never intended to be developed.

Can you give me 3 places nature DID intend to be developed?

Saw the picture...but what ... (Below threshold)
Cardinals Nation:

Saw the picture...but what I'm still trying to find is your detailed plan for keeping water out of an area that is below sea level, one that is feesible engineering-wise and better than the current ACoE plan.

I looked on the closed posts "New Orleans Already Flooding" and "New Orleans Officials: No Breach in Levee", but didn't find your plan. I've also read this one top to bottom, but can't find anything close to a plan. So, for the sake of expediency, since you say, "I answered you, go read" perhaps a quick cut-n-paste will help with my now-unending quest to get you to answer the question.

Ummmm. Yes. Why? Because... (Below threshold)
Mike:

Ummmm. Yes. Why? Because it is happening! Quit arguing with me and open your ears. I'm not making these quotes up. Go turn on the TV and hear the tortured explanations.

Paul, the picture shows that the levee is breached. This article states that the sheriff and others have announced this already. So I'm sure that people who need to know are getting the information. There are more news outlets than Fox. I do not have access to TV at this point, but I would agree that if the guy is still saying there is no breach, than he is an idiot.

Paul,I guess I'm o... (Below threshold)
AnonymousDrivel:

Paul,

I guess I'm one of the nimrods that agrees with you on this one. I did before the image you posted. The fixed camera FOXNews feed for the past several hours has been showing a breached (as in some level of depression from what looks like erosion) levee with concomitant overtopping to the peripheries. Perhaps that is the case elsewhere.

Furthermore, I'm not naive enough to believe that there are not lawsuits lying in wait. GeoBandy mentioned an interesting legal code which may provide some protection as it would seem considerable historical precedent has been established. Considering the loss of employment and assets by such a large quantity of people and the loss of life by a relative few, however, pockets will be fondled. Juries will see whose get picked.

Sure looks like a breach to... (Below threshold)

Sure looks like a breach to me. That's about the breachiest non-breach I ever laid eyes on. after the water goes down again one might go breachcombing there and find some seashells and shit like that.

Carnial,For the se... (Below threshold)
Paul:

Carnial,

For the second -and last- time. I don't fault them for the city flooding. I fault them for lying to the public about the conditon of the levees.

My abilty or inabilty to produce "a plan" is quite irrelivent to the situation. You can't produce "a plan" to put a man on mars. It is hardly relivent to the Corps' spin game.

Paul,At the risk o... (Below threshold)

Paul,

At the risk of not thinking through this comment before I post it, I'll agree with you:

If the levee system "did not live perform up to the specifications then OBVIOUSLY the construction company who built it is liable."

I think it's pretty much an established fact that the entire levee system in New Orleans was designed to perform up to the specifications of holding back the floodwaters of a Category 3 hurricane.

As it happens, New Orleans is being pounded by two successive Category 4 hurricanes.

My opinion (am I free to have an opinion here without being called a moron and told to fuck off?) is that:

a) the Corps is not participating in semantic games as a way of deflecting lawsuits. Your other commenters are correct; there will be MANY lawsuits. Every shyster in Louisiana with a law degree will be chasing every ambulance they can find, as soon as people return. Lawsuits are already being filed against insurance companies to force them to pay for flood damage that they didn't insure against.

b) There will be no successful lawsuits against the US Army Corps of Engineers, the designers, or the builders of these levees.

c) If there looks like there MIGHT ONE DAY BE a successful lawsuit against the Corps of Engineers, Congress will indemnify the Corps by fiat. Case closed.

Everyone knows that these levees were destroyed, not by shoddy design, but by an act of God that they were not designed to prevent.

Anyone who ever lived in New Orleans knew the risk, or should have. Certainly if they cared about risk in their lives, they could and should have known about this particular risk.

A good faith cost-benefit analysis was made when the decision was made as to how large these levees were to be built. The taxpayers of Louisiana and the country, through their elected representatives, decided to build a Cat 3 levee system.

Hey, guess what? On average, about every 200 years, there will be a Cat 5 Hurricane that hits New Orleans.

So, the lawyers may sue. But the levee breach was caused by an act of God. So they won't win.

>I guess I'm one of the nim... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>I guess I'm one of the nimrods that agrees with you on this one. I did before the image you posted. The fixed camera FOXNews feed for the past several hours has been showing a breached...


AnonymousDrivel,

What happened here is that the people who saw it on Television got it right away. The people who only read the post had no clue the magnitude of the situation. For example:

breaching sends a sudden cascade into the city!!

Television made a huge difference on this. The picture on CNN of the waterfall going into the city with the words "Corps: No Breach In Levees" was simply laughable.

When did Paul suggest that ... (Below threshold)

When did Paul suggest that the water could be stopped? If he said that then I missed it.

Isn't the whole point the fact that thousands of people were told it was safe to stay when it isn't?

At least, that's what I'm getting.

Unfortunately, it will in m... (Below threshold)

Unfortunately, it will in most cases never be an issue whether anyone has liability, because very few, if any, suits will go to court (where with an honest competent judge, most, if not all, would be tossed out). The federal government will hand out settlements to the uninsured, cover insurers who are overextended, and pay millions in claims for losses that never occurred. All at taxpayer expense.

SilverBubble,I thi... (Below threshold)

SilverBubble,

I think my point is that everyone who has ever lived in New Orleans knew from the GET GO it was NEVER SAFE to live in New Orleans.

It was always a GAMBLE.

It wasn't SAFE yesterday, isn't SAFE today, and won't be SAFE tomorrow either.

Paul,Got it. Than... (Below threshold)
Cardinals Nation:

Paul,

Got it. Thanks for clearing that up.

When heads roll at ACoE over all their malfeasance that you've cited here, there will be plenty of openings for folks like you who aren't "morons" and "idiots" that are "stupid" and just want to "spin" their "crimes against the citizens."

I think the SF 171 is the application form. Good luck.

Does it matter if the peopl... (Below threshold)

Does it matter if the people who sue are successful or not? It's still a pain-in-the-ass process, and lawyers don't come cheap. Plus, there's public image to consider. If the ACoE did screw up, they will be roased over the media coals for it. Those who are the higher-ups in the ACoE who were personally responsible for the screw-ups (if they happened) will likely be axed.

Paul, I read the blog a lot... (Below threshold)
Jmel:

Paul, I read the blog a lot and often find a lot of good insight to what you report on, but I think that your anger here is a bit over the top.

I'm not even saying you are right or wrong, tho probably right, but geez, you might want to relax before you have a heart attack or something.

There's plenty more things to get rabid about than temporary repairs on a flooded city.

I propose a change in termi... (Below threshold)
Varuth:

I propose a change in terminology to reflect a more black and white world, rather than the euphemistic world we all seem to live in.

I propose that future discussion of the levee systems use one of two descriptions, as follows:

1) The levee is holding - This means that the aforemention earthworks are keeping torrents of water away from the piece of real estate that they were constructing to keep dry.

2) The levee has failed - This means that, in contrast to "holding", the civil works project is no longer keeping the rising waters at bay. As a result of this inability to keep the water contained to the lake/river/oceanfront that it is erected in front of, water is flooding into the area to be protected from the lake/river/ocean originally designed to be kept out.

Thus, as soon as water started to "over-top" the levee, the levee had failed. If the levee system had held, there would be no water in the the 9th Ward other than any that would have fallen as rain IN the 9th Ward (at least until we put a roof on the 9th Ward to keep the poverty-stricken hermetically sealed in their coffins).

>My opinion (am I free t... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>My opinion (am I free to have an opinion here without being called a moron and told to fuck off?) is that:

If it comes even close to being sensical of course. If you are a blathering idiot, I'll call it like I see it. - regardless of your politcal persuation or other considerations.

>a) the Corps is not participating in semantic games as a way of deflecting lawsuits.

Simple question: Then why are they doing it?

The fact they are playing the game is undenyable. Just watch the news guys. SO.. since we know they are doing it and you reject my explaination of their motivation, please explain to me why they are doing it. If you give me a better explaination, I might just agree.

---------
>I think it's pretty much an established fact that the entire levee system in New Orleans was designed to perform up to the specifications of holding back the floodwaters of a Category 3 hurricane.

>As it happens, New Orleans is being pounded by two successive Category 4 hurricanes. ...

>Everyone knows that these levees were destroyed, not by shoddy design, but by an act of God that they were not designed to prevent.

You REALLY REALLY need to read this, Experts Say Faulty Levees Caused Much of Flooding

Read it closely. I have pictures I have chosen not to post (yet) -but will mail you- that show what APPEARS to be a scum line 4 feet below the top of the wall. Other engineers have documented the same thing. Furhter, the scum lines on the houses behind the wall support this.

If the wall broke when it still had 4 feet of freeboard left, the lawsuits will fly.

Well - they will fly anyway- but if the wall broke well before the design specs it will be the story of the year.

>There's plenty more things... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>There's plenty more things to get rabid about than temporary repairs on a flooded city.

You are absolutly correct... There are only tens of thousands of people in jeapordy who are not getting real information from public officials... But I'm sure you're right.... There must be more important things going on in the world...

Can you BELIEVE Britanny Spears giving her kid the initial PMS... Like OMG- What was SHE thinking!?!?

Thanks for the reality check.

Mike said:"This is... (Below threshold)
Mark:

Mike said:

"This is an act of God and the people bringing the case live in an area that Nature never intended to be developed. But you are right, people will sue."

Lawsuits of this type are very common, and whatever people think they've heard about "acts of god," the "doctrine" probably would not apply. After all, engineers, architects and contractors are hired to counteract "acts of god" every day. It could probably be said that the entire industry arose from the eternal struggle to protect man from the elements. As long as the elements are foreseeable, and the technology exists to stave them off, then shortcomings on the part of designers or builders are actionable.

If the levee construction fell short of the specifications, AND if the deficiency caused or exacerbated the flood damage, then the builders will be held liable. Part of the analysis will be whether the design specs would have held up to the storm if built properly; if not, then the substandard construction cannot be said to have caused the damage.

If the design specifications were not adequate, then the designers can be held liable if it can be proven that the designers failed to meet the standard of practice in the engineering community. That is long-hand for "negligence," and negligence is not established simply by the failure of a design. Factors will include the forseeabliity of storms of this magnitude, the state of the art of technology, financial constraints, and what their marching orders were. Here, if Congress ordered a Cat 3 system and a Cat 4 storm damaged it, the designers will not be liable. Of course, it is not that simple: Was the design truly capable of withstanding a Cat 3 storm? Were the levees truly subjected to the full force of a Cat 4? What's the difference between the two? --overtopping? or erosion from the base? Arguably, a good Cat 3 system should have held up Katrina--but maybe not.

Finally, GeoBandy brings up the most important point. Governments are very good at immunizing themselves from liability. I don't know off-hand whether the statute he cites would apply to this situation, but I'm sure it, or something like it, will be an obstacle to litigation. Of course, like any obstacles, they can usually be overcome somehow. Therefore, if the Corp. was solely responsible for the design and construction, without the help of any subcontractors, it will be difficult, but probably not impossible, to successfully sue them.

>I propose a change in term... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>I propose a change in terminology to reflect a more black and white world, rather than the euphemistic world we all seem to live in.

Wolf Blitzer just gave up and started saying, "The levees are not working." - I'll say.

There are only tens of t... (Below threshold)
Mike:

There are only tens of thousands of people in jeapordy who are not getting real information from public officials...

And you know this how? Because of what you are seeing on TV. I just linked an article that had quotes from numerous public officials who were aware of what was going on. 2 of those officials were from St. Bernard Parish, do you think they are not telling people to get out?

I'm not trying to argue with you here, but I don't think those in harm's way were listening to Foxnews and/or CNN as their only news source.

Paul,Unless you ar... (Below threshold)

Paul,

Unless you are an expert in hydraulics, you might not want to pin your hopes on an "hurricane expert" who is in fact a public health expert. That's the kind of expert quoted in the Washington Post article you linked.

For example, you seem to believe (and it's not your fault because you are relying on what you read in the Washington Post, so I'll grant you some leeway here) that because the levees were not "overtopped" that therefore their failure was a design or construction flaw.

You should read up on the effects of water pressure as it relates to earthen dams. You can start here:

http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/water/pubs/pdfs/fctsht31.pdf

They needn't be overtopped to fail. If they are designed for a certain level of water pressure, and that pressure is exceeded, then they can both fail, and also meet their design considerations.

So, don't fall into the trap set for you by the Washington Post, which, for political reasons, wants to make sure all of this ultimately gets blamed on the federal government, and thus, George W. Bush.

Paul -To an extent... (Below threshold)
ts:

Paul -

To an extent you are arguing apples and oranges. The levee breaches that have been undergoing subsequent computer modeling were the 17th Street and London Avenue Canals. They have not breached or overtopped today. The flooding that you see today is occuring on the Industrial Canal. The article you link to indicates that researchers agreed that the storm surge from Katrina overwhelmed the floodwalls and levees in this area, and was more than they were designed to withstand.

And they are flooding areas that no one but emergency personnel have been in at this point in time, so no one should have been put in danger as a result of today's flooding. In fact, watching the local news coverage, since I live down here, the responses by both the local media and the local emergency support people have been relatively calm despite the fact that some previously flooded areas are now reflooding. That may well be because this is not a suprise given that all these neighorhoods have long been evacuated.

>And you know this how? Bec... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>And you know this how? Because of what you are seeing on TV.

Um Mike--- I left there just over 12 hours ago.

And you?

There are THOUSANDS of people in Jefferson counting on thoese levees. The whole south part of old Metaire can not be pumped out because Orleans parish has told Jefferson Parish they can not pump into the 17th street canal. And Orleans owns the canal so they win. (Do you have any idea what I am talking about?)

I know what is going on becuase I just drove 12 hours to give a set of car keys to a cousin who could not get out due to car trouble.... I've spent half the day today on the phone with people still in town who now can not get out.

But please... Tell me more about how much YOU know about the situation.

heh- ts I'm arguing Apple A... (Below threshold)
Paul:

heh- ts I'm arguing Apple AND Oranges.

One issue is that the Corps is playing symantical games to cover their ass.

The other that cropped up during the discussion is if there will be lawsuits.

Of course there will be- But if the wall broke with only 4 feet of water on it, all hell (legally) will break lose.

The link was to support the Orange, not the Apple. ;-)

The levee breaches that ... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

The levee breaches that have been undergoing subsequent computer modeling were the 17th Street and London Avenue Canals. They have not breached or overtopped today. The flooding that you see today is occuring on the Industrial Canal.

In fact, the Corps did not take many of the same precautions with the Industrial Canal as they did with the other two. They believed that the Industrial Canal levee would not have any issues. Two days ago, one of the bazillion news reports on this storm had an interview with one of the engineers and he stated that.

But if the wall broke wi... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

But if the wall broke with only 4 feet of water on it, all hell (legally) will break lose.

Unless it's the one with a huge barge now sitting on the wrong side of the levee (you can see it in the TV coverage). Did the barge hit the levee and go through it or was it pulled through after the original breach?

Mesa, the 2 levees are a do... (Below threshold)
Paul:

Mesa, the 2 levees are a dozen+ miles apart.

I'm talking about the 17th street canal. The barge was on the industrial canal.

I took some pictures of the entrance to the 17th street canal... suffice it to say, no barge hit it.

It would have had to wind its way under and thru 2 bridges then disappear into space. (because it ain't there now)

I really need to post those pictures.

Let me get this straight:</... (Below threshold)
KobeClan:

Let me get this straight:

Idiots at all levels of government are proving that they are still idiots and people are surprised that they are still idiots??

"Scotty, beam me up!"

"The levees are still intac... (Below threshold)
Johnd01:

"The levees are still intact, is just that portions of it have relocated into the city."

By the looks of the grass in the pic, this appears to be an existing levee, not one recently repaired. (Although I have seen pics of the failed repais as well.)

<a href="http://www.breitba... (Below threshold)
mantis:


Rita's Rains Breach Two New Orleans Levees
:

In the already-devastated Ninth Ward, water streamed through gaps at least 100 feet wide and was soon waist-deep on a nearby street.

Paul,Gotcha, thank... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

Paul,

Gotcha, thanks.

I just meant in that instance it would bring a few more entities into play.

About ten years back a construction crew knocked a piling through the Chicago River into a tunnel and flooded the entire downtown area. The flooding was mostly below street level as Chicago's Loop is built about twenty feet above ground level to avoid flooding, but the entire downtown area had to be evacuated and Chicago was effectively shut down for a week.

Lawsuits followed immediately. Since the accident happened in the river, Maritime Law applied. The Maritime law held that the contractor had been hired by the city and was not liable -- the laws involved are much different from their civil counterparts (no, I'm not a lawyer).

So, I was just saying that if that barge caused any of the breaches it could change the lawsuit situation in an interesting way.

huh- Mesa that is interesti... (Below threshold)
Paul:

huh- Mesa that is interesting even if not applicable.

Actually I know one of the big dog laywers who is planning to be one of the lead councils. He lost everything* but he is willing to work pro-bono. He's just pissed.

* I say he lost everything. His home was probably about 1 millon plus his possessions. Flood insrance tops out at like 250,000. And the lot will proably be worth 100,000 when this is over, so he lost (round figures) a million bucks.

Yes, Paul, it depends on wh... (Below threshold)
htom:

Yes, Paul, it depends on what you think the words mean (as well as other things.) One of the best bits of advice I was ever given was "Don't try to explain what you've done to a cop; you don't speak cop, and he doesn't listen engineer."

I would describe the photo as showing "erosion caused by over-topping", and would not describe it as "breached". It might well become breached if the erosion continues. Not being a hydro-anything, I'm not sure where their definition of "breached" would be. If more than half of the height was gone, I would consider using the word. That doesn't seem to be the case here.

There's probably a more app... (Below threshold)
snowballs:

There's probably a more appropriate Chinese word for this - this probably happens all the time there.

Fix the post, Paul. I thou... (Below threshold)
John:

Fix the post, Paul. I thought one of the biggest benefits of the blogosphere was adding clarity?

There were no breach of the... (Below threshold)
spurwing plover:

There were no breach of the levee becuase the eco-freaks who care so much for the invisible levee guppy they sued to stop the levee repair and they said the TITANIC WAS UNSINKIBLE

What the first guy said...<... (Below threshold)
Synova:

What the first guy said...

Having water come over the top is not the same as having the levee break. The result is the same but it's not the same cause.

Granted, once the water comes over the top, a dirt levee is going to erode quickly. At that point "breached" seems to descibe the situation quite well.

Having just finished readin... (Below threshold)
chad:

Having just finished reading this post and all the associated posts I have a couple questions:

1. Where was this picture taken, was it a location that was previously breached?

2. If it is a location that was previously breached is this a new breach (i.e. the repair failing) or was the repair not completed to the level of the permanent levee? There is ome sort of obstruction the water is rushing over.

3. In one of the previous pictures it shows reapirs being conducted that were not built up to the level of the previous levee. What were the time estimates on completing permanent repairs on the levees? I am guessing it was in the months. If so why is this a surprise.

4. Why is anyone much less hundreds of thousands of people in an area that is in so much potential danger before permanent repairs are completed?

5. Given that experts were saying that 3 inches of rain could cause flooding again and that it was practically guaranteed that more than 3 inches of rain was going to fall as well as the associated storm surge from Rita why is anyone surprised that flooding is occuring?

6. Growing up in a very drought ridden area of the country I am aware of the potential for flash floods occuring when parched land is suddenly inudated with moisture. As I recall that water tends to sit on the surace and slowly seep in. In the case on New Orleans the started pumping the water off and there were very high temperatures (if the news reports were correct). Is it possible that these combined in a way to again reduce the permeability of the ground and increasing the severity of the flooding? If that is the case would it follow that maybe the talking head that made the comment about parched ground had a point?

7. I would also like to know if it is possible that the repairs held and new breeches were occuring and that was what the corps of engineers was referring too? I am not watching the news at this time, so I cant see it myself just trying to get some clarification.

At the moment I am taking all the gloom and doom talk with a grain of salt after all the claims of tens of thousands dead and multiple rapes and murders in the convention center and the superdome I just don't believe anything coming out of New Orleans. While I have sympathy for Paul and his family I also have to say if you are there now after being told multiple times that the area wasn't safe then you gambled and lost.

Why even get so particular ... (Below threshold)
RFYoung:

Why even get so particular as to talk abouit levees? Just say that it is all over.

Evil engineers trying to use precise language to facilitate communication should be made to hyperventilate like out most trusted oracles, the news reporter.

Logical Reasoning:<b... (Below threshold)
NAB:

Logical Reasoning:
Overspilling- H2O flowing over the TOP of a given structure that remains intact. Breached- The structure is no longer in its previous form losing its structural integrity and therefore allowing the H2O to pass through the object.
If these levees are simply "over-topped" why the large hole and apparent eroded channel shown in the photographs?

The flooding of New Orlea... (Below threshold)
Kelleher, William J.:

The flooding of New Orleans that followed hurricane Katrina was not an-act-of-God nor was it the fault of Congress, Presidents Clinton and Bush for not providing more monies to improve the canal levees that pass through the city itself. The loss of hundreds of lives and the living nightmares experienced by thousands of survivors was clearly the result of engineering malpractice on the part of the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
When the elevations of the canal levees were raised in the 1990s one of the contractors that built the new concrete flood walls put in a claim for additional money because an existing flimsy sheet pile and the soft soil caused major delays in pouring and curing the concrete walls. A hearing was held, one witness for the Corps testified that the existing sheet pile could have been tin foil, it made no difference in the pouring and curing of the walls. The contractor’s claim was rejected.
There were over six expert witnesses who testified at the hearing. None questioned the well known fact that a single cantilevered sheet pile embedded in soil is not an acceptable permanent foundation for dams or floodwalls over seven feet high. Further the Corps own manual requires that this type of dam or floodwall be analyzed to make sure that the overturning moment caused by the height of water can be resisted by the sheet pile and the soil in which it is embedded. The overturning moment is a function of the height of water cubed. This means the overturning moment for 10 feet of water is eight times greater than for 5 feet of water. The Corps designed floodwalls 6 to 11 feet high attached to a flimsy existing cantilevered steel sheet pile embedded in the existing earthen levee.
Hurricane Katrina caused the water levels in the canals to rise up into the new flood walls. At some elevation the bending moment on the combined sheet pile caused it to deflect increasing the effective height of the water on the wet side of the levee. As the cantilevered sheet pile started to tip over the sheet pile and soil had to resist the height of water over the entire depth of the combined levee. At one breech the force of the water pushed the concrete and steel sheet pile out 35 feet. The explosion heard by nearby residents was probably caused by the massive tearing apart of the sheet piles and the whipping off of the reinforced concrete flood wall from the steel sheet pile. The failure of the new floodwalls caused the existing earth levee to fail, it would have been better if the new floodwalls had not been built.
A very important question that the President and Congress must answer is why continue the funding of levees on all of the canals within the city of New Orleans? What commercial benefit justifies the lost of human lives and over $200 billion in damages. These canals should have been filled in or damned off years ago. A new modern pumped storm water system can be built to keep New Orleans dry after a rainstorm.
William J. Kelleher, 182 Roweland Avenue, Delmar, NY 12054, 518-439-6281, billdort@aol.com




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