An Archive of Jacob Appelbaum’s Post-Katrina weblog


Regarding the history of blowing up levees

Posted in astrodome,houston,Katrina,media,radio by jacob on September 8, 2005

While I was heavily criticized yesterday for posting quote from survivors, I just wanted to point you all to this post by a blogger. The main link of interest is this historical article from the Army Corps of Engineers themselves:

As the wall of water moved south into Louisiana, state and city officials prepared for the worst. Governor James Thomson, with the concurrence of Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover and the Corps’ Chief Engineer Edgar Jadwin, authorized a plan to turn the flood into the St. Bernard and Plaquemine Parish marshlands, a desperate attempt to save New Orleans, La.

On April 29, 1927, at a place called Caernarvon, La., 13 miles below Canal Street, in New Orleans, La., 39 tons of dynamite was used to crevasse the levee, sending 250,000 cubic feet of water per second through a fur-rich, tall-grass marshland.

While I fully understand the skeptics of the quotes relating to this, I am willing to listen to people who were in New Orleans. I am willing to listen and as it happens this idea while once hard to grasp seems to make at least a little more sense.

Is this what happened this time? I don’t know.

Is it irresponsible for me to write about things without being able to confirm them? I do not think so. I simply presented what I was told and asked by those same people to tell the world. I stated this at the start of things and I think it’s ridiculous if you feel that every other news angle is somehow 100% objectively proved. I’ve at least gone out of my way to state who my sources are and that it’s what I have been told by survivors.

What I find most amusing is that it was dismissed outright as being impossible that someone would blow up a levee to save a city. Now that history has shown that this has been done before, something done in New Orleans around 75 years ago, I think it’s worth at least trying to get to the bottom of. Or is it still impossible? Is it still just a rumor without any merit? Was anyone there who now has access to a computer and can confirm or deny this? What does the Army Corp of Engineers have to say?

21 Responses to 'Regarding the history of blowing up levees'

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  1. Dale said,

    It was blown up by dem black helicopters what’s been taking all them cows for experiements.

  2. Effie said,

    Is it unreasonable to speculate that Al Qaida blew up the levees with no evidence that they did so? There’s no proof that they didn’t…

    Personally, I think a job like this is more Captain Nemo’s style, though.

  3. jacob said,

    Dale, thanks for the thoughtful response. I love the fact that while this may entirely wrong, entirely a rumor you’re not interested in *facts* to back it up. The best way to remove rumors is to dispel them.

  4. Omri said,

    How could blowing up the levees in this particular case have saved anything? It increased the threat to the French Quarter, not decreased it. And it flooded a nuclear plant and a superfund sight, making possibly the whole area at the very minimum unattractive to live in. If you can point to any topographical evidence that the breach benefitted anyone, it might be believable.

  5. jacob said,

    Omri, I agree that it doesn’t make sense. I’m interested to know why these people think this happened.

  6. Colin Fahrion said,

    This historical example makes it at least worth not blowing off completely.

    Since it would have been blown early in the madness, I could understand how they may have believed that few lives would be at risk from the flooding (assuming that they’d be evacuated easily). Considering how much our government ignores superfund, the site could easy have been unknown or ignored by those in command. And it could have been known/assumed that the nuke plant’s safety was not in danger by flooding.

    I agree with Omri that we still need current topogrphical evidance that the action would have saved the important historical areas.

  7. jim said,

    I did a google search for this term: “deliberate levee cut”.

    I found some military documents which outline a few policies by the USACE, where they mention deliberately destroying levees:
    http://www.usace.army.mil/inet/usace-docs/eng-regs/er500-1-1/c-4.pdf

    According to document: ER 500-1-1 30 Sep 01:
    Deliberate Levee Cut. A deliberate cut made in a levee, with the intention of either protecting the integrity of the structure (or an adjacent structure) from actual or forecasted river stages, or reducing the overall anticipated damages expected to occur to the existing structure by the current flood event. See also Dewatering Levee Cut.

    Dewatering Levee Cut. A deliberate cut in a levee used as an engineering/construction method to dewater the area behind the levee when pumping this contained water is not considered a feasible, timely, or economical alternative. A dewatering levee cut is a type of deliberate levee cut that is never eligible for PL 84-99 assistance.

    Also, according to ER 500-1-1 30 Sep 01
    h. Deliberate Levee Cuts.
    (1) Effecting a deliberate levee cut to maintain the structural integrity of the levee and/or reduce expected repair costs is a responsibility of the public sponsor. Deliberate levee cuts normally will not be carried out by USACE.
    (2) Repairs of deliberate levee cuts are not eligible for Rehabilitation Assistance. An exception will be made for those levees that were deliberately breached after consultation with the Corps, and the Corps acknowledged the validity of the need for the deliberate breach to protect the integrity of the levee (or an adjacent levee system) and thereby reduce overall damages.

    Then, there are the reports by residents which you posted.

    Questions worth asking:
    …Did these witnesses hear the levee breaking under water stress? Or, was it transformers blowing instead?

    Or did they witness the USACE destroying the Levees? If the levee was cut, why? Who ordered it? Were there alternatives?

  8. Fidel said,

    What if the levee was blown up with the intent of rapidly destroying New Orleans, not by any foreign terrorists but by our own government. Put the pieces together. It seems a bit ironic that Halliburton has already gotten the contract to rebuild New Orleans. It’s like American Foreign Policy being used domestically. Seek, destroy and rebuild. A Neo Liberalist wetdream. It has happen time and time again with the majority of people that are being hurt are of course, poor people and people of color.

  9. Renee said,

    Please…

    Almost identical things happened as far as 9th Ward and St. Bernard flooding during Hurricane Betsy in 1965. Therefore, the government built a levee system which could only withstand a category 3. The breaks, which of course flooded those same flood-prone areas, are only logical, considering Katrina was a Cat 4.

    And why would they (meaning, whoever you guys think it could have been) break levees and flood Lakeview, which is the RICHEST and by most estimates, WHITEST neighborhood in Orleans Parish?

    This is far-fetched wacko talk to the nth degree.

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