Great Wall of Louisiana keeping the east bank safe from storms

Tracking the Tropics

NEW ORLEANS — When it comes to hurricane seasons in southeastern Louisiana, everything changed with Hurricane Katrina. The storm exposed the weaknesses of a hurricane protection system that was a “system in name only.”

Since 2005, the east bank of the Greater New Orleans area is protected by a new system, managed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.

“That system consists of 140 miles of levees and floodwalls, over 240 floodgates, land-based gates, eight river gates, and three permanent pump stations,” says Kelli Chandler, the regional director of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.

The system includes the Lake Borgne Surge Barrier, which is almost two miles long and is known as the “Great Wall of Louisiana.”

“It’s massive. You can drive a truck across the whole barrier once it’s closed. It’s one of the key features of the system,” says Chandler.

The barrier fixes one of the flaws that existed before 2005. Storm surge piled up between the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet and the Intracoastal Waterway in what was called the MR-GO “funnel.” The barrier would have stopped that surge before it reached New Orleans East and the 9th Ward.

The system also has three permanent pump stations at the end of the outfall canals which drain New Orleans and parts of Jefferson Parish. Hurricane Katrina pushed storm surge into the canals through Lake Pontchartrain with disastrous results. The floodwalls failed in many locations and flooded neighborhoods.

At the start of the 2021 hurricane season, the east bank is more safe from storms than it has ever been.

“We are very protected,” says Chandler. “We just finished our annual Corps inspections. We got great reviews on the status of the system. We are ready for the storms as they come.”

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