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The Great Hurricane Wall of New Orleans

Photo: U.S. Geological Survey
It took less than two years to build the levee that New Orleans will rely on to protect it from hurricanes.

When the hurricane Isaac made landfall in late August just southeast of New Orleans, it met a city prepared.

Since the devastating strike of Hurricane Katrina, that left almost 2000 people killed and property damages in excess of 100 billion USD in its wake, the city has reinforced its flood defenses considerably.

The improvements were to protect the region's most vulnerable areas from storm damage, and meet the demands of the insurers. Unless something was done to improve the levees surrounding the city, they would withdraw residents' flood protection insurance.

In record time

Less than two years after construction began, the Great Wall of New Orleans, as it has been dubbed, was ready for the ultimate test. And unlike the former levees, the new ones held when the hurricane came.

But in the preceding months, the Great Wall had engineers and construction crews working around the clock. For 18 months they worked 14 hours a day, 6.5 days a week to complete the project in record time.

Dale Berner is Managing Director of Ben C. Gerwick, Inc, a COWI Group Company and one of the primary consultants for the US Army Corps of Engineers, the organisation responsible for the levee construction.

"We designed the wall in less than ten per cent of the time it normally takes the Army Corps of Engineers to design a project of this size," says Berner. “We designed as we built. Getting all the permits that quickly was something of a challenge.”

The new levees held

One of Berner's responsibilities during construction was to answer the constant flow of questions posed by officials from the eight organizations supervising the project, among them Congress, state officials from Louisiana and an external review committee.

"I think just about everyone doubted we could do what we said we would," says Berner.

On August 29 the barrier was closed for the first time and even though it wasn't able to completely annul the storm surge of Hurricane Isaac, the city and its residents would have been far worse off without the Great Wall.

"It feels good to say that I helped build something that will help protect the people of New Orleans and allow them to keep their insurance, and that we did it in record time."

By Dennis Christiansen, dech@cowi.com

Published 18.09.2012

LAST UPDATED: 11.03.2014