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Officials say levees held up well to Gustav

Teams from the Army Corps of Engineers see no major damage to New Orleans' reinforced system.

September 05, 2008|Ralph Vartabedian | Times Staff Writer

The Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday that the levees it maintains in New Orleans stood up to the power of Hurricane Gustav, preventing significant damage in the city.

"The pumps pumped and the system held," the corps said in a statement.

A 12-foot storm surge threatened parts of New Orleans when Gustav hit this week, but there was no major flooding.

Teams have examined miles of levees, looking for damaged foundations, cracks in walls and sand boils that occur when water pushes under a levee, but they have not found any, said Maj. Ken Kurga, a corps spokesman.

Minor damage was found in 21 areas, requiring reinforcement to protect against erosion, he said.

The corps deserves "a pat on the back," said Gerry Galloway, a levee expert from the University of Maryland. "The entire nation watched while the water came to the top of the flood walls."

Galloway was referring to the Industrial Canal, where a 12-foot surge of water tested the integrity of the 12 1/2 -foot-high flood walls, which were repaired and reinforced after Hurricane Katrina destroyed them three years ago. Wind- and rain-driven water poured over the wall, and newly installed concrete splash pads helped prevent the levee from eroding.

After Katrina, the corps began a $15-billion project to improve New Orleans' flood control system so it could withstand a "100-year storm." Gustav hit the Gulf Coast southwest of New Orleans on Monday, packing 110-mph winds.

Though it was not as powerful a storm as had been feared, Gustav was a good test of the system. "They dodged a bullet this time, but they might not be so lucky next time," Galloway said.

Nearly 2 million people fled their homes ahead of Gustav. The federal government on Thursday said it would pay hotel expenses for some of those people, but exactly who would be eligible for the assistance was not clear.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Wednesday in Baton Rouge, La., that the government would pay hotel costs "to make sure that people don't feel economic pressure to return home prematurely, before it's safe."

Meanwhile, two new storms continued to threaten the East Coast.

Tropical Storm Hanna roared along the edge of the Bahamas on Thursday, leaving at least 137 dead in Haiti. Hanna was forecast to pass east of the Atlantic archipelago late Thursday before striking along the coast of North or South Carolina by Saturday. However, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Hanna's sprawling bands of outer winds were likely to hit sooner.

Hurricane Ike, a more dangerous Category 4 storm, was advancing from the east.

By Thursday afternoon, it had maximum sustained winds near 135 mph. It was centered 505 miles north-northeast of the Leeward Islands, and forecasters said it could reach the Bahamas by late Sunday or Monday.

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ralph.vartabedian@latimes.com

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