NEW ORLEANS — The levees, floodwalls and floodgates that protect New Orleans held up against Hurricane Ida’s fury, passing their toughest test since the federal government spent billions of dollars to upgrade a system that catastrophically failed when Hurricane Katrina struck 16 years ago.
But strengthening the flood protection system in New Orleans couldn’t spare some neighboring communities from Ida’s destructive storm surge. Many residents of LaPlace, a western suburb where work only recently began on a long-awaited levee project, had to be rescued from rising floodwaters.
Marcie Jacob Hebert evacuated before Ida, but she has no doubt that the storm flooded her LaPlace home based on what she has seen and heard from neighbors. Her house didn’t flood in 2005 during Katrina, but it took on nearly 2 feet of water during Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
“We haven’t had these problems until everybody else’s levees worked,” said Hebert, 46. “It may not be the only factor, but I sure do think it contributes.”
Louisiana State University professor emeritus Craig Colten, who has taught historical geography, said most of the New Orleans levee systems has been in place for decades. He said the flooding in LaPlace can be explained by wind direction, not by any floodwater diverted from New Orleans.
“Isaac was really a minor storm in terms of wind speed, but it did drive water into Lake Pontchartrain to the western edge, toward LaPlace, as this storm did. And that just is going to pile water up where LaPlace is,” Colten said. “I haven’t seen anything that was done since Katrina that’s really going to make a huge difference.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards said a preliminary survey of levees in Louisiana showed they did exactly as they intended and held water out.
“We don’t believe there is a single levee anywhere now that actually breached or failed. There were a few smaller levees that were overtopped to a degree for a certain period of time,” Edwards said.
Two flood protection districts oversee the system in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes. Neither district reported any breaches or overtopping of levees.