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Hurricane Katrina as One of the Worst National Disasters in the USA

Hurricane Katrina can be regarded as one of the worst catastrophes ever recorded as a national disaster by the government of the United States of America. This disaster occurred in the New Orleans levees, which were destroyed beyond recognition. As a result of this Hurricane disaster, many people lost their lives, and properties worth millions of money were destroyed. The Katrina Hurricane occurred on August 28th of the year 2005.

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New Orleans levees have a long historical background but were constructed to control floods in the southern city of Louisiana. The Katrina hurricane in New Orleans levees has been regarded as one of the devastating and worst engineering errors in world history. This paper illustrates the technical aspects of the event before and after, the reasons why these levees failed to control the flooding problems during the time of the Katrina hurricane a factor attributed to engineering ethics and the precaution measures which have been put in place by the government to improve the structure of these levees to prevent such a problem in future.

Ethical principles involved

An investigation into the disaster reveals that the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that a massive contribution to the grave damage caused to the city of New Orleans had been made by improper design specifications, substandard construction, and incomplete sections of the levee structures. As a matter of fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers admitted that most of the flooding had been caused by the breaching of the levees. (Schwartz, J 2006).

The New Orleans levees date back to the pre-Katrina era. They had been initially constructed by the French Government who can be termed as the real owners of these levees. Later, they were monitored by the Spanish Government and later sold to the U. S. Government that still controls them to date. In New Orleans pre-Katrina, civil wars in the southern states of Louisiana constantly led to the destruction of the levees by those participating in the wars often evolving from racial discrimination within the state.

The reconstruction of the levees always took a lot of time as financial resources to fund those projects. The city is reported to have always been ‘poor’ before Katrina and had a deteriorating financial position following its literal seclusion from federal and state funds by the then-serving governor. (The Doctors’ Lounge p. 20).

This led to the lowering of the city’s economic status following a reduction in the amount of revenue collected in form of tax. Due to such wars, most of the levee reconstruction was highly constrained. As a result, most levees broke down and the city experienced water overflows that often led to the destruction of property. Such incidences were occasioned by weak foundations for the levees and substandard constructed ditches.

It was therefore not a wonder that when Hurricane Katrina struck, immense destruction occurred as the levees could not prevent the Hurricane. The inefficiency of the New Orleans Hurricane Protection Project steered government investigations including the formation of a Commission to scrutinize the logic and engineering behind the failure of the flood protection system that would have contained the storm surge caused by Katrina.

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Following the findings of the commission of inquiry into the disaster, a lot of blame can be attributed to the engineering faults of the army corps of engineers. Their work as implicated in the inability of the levees to contain flooding was shoddily done and it is such a shame that with their expertise as engineers, they could not figure out the possibility of such a disaster in the event of flooding as the soil around the region is also not any strength to hold backwater. Their construction lacked emphasis on the weak points with regard to the nature of the soil, the volume and level of the water in the Mississippi River, and the strength of the levees.

The engineers on constructing the levees were in a position to determine their efficiency concerning the purpose for which they were being constructed. Unfortunately, they were paid for what turned out to be destruction contrary to the construction. Their blame can be shared with the financiers of their work and the supervision team that failed to ascertain the effectiveness of their construction with regard to the sole purpose or goal of constructing the levees. The levees constructed by these engineers did not serve the purpose they were meant to in time of the disaster but instead contributed to more harm (Fleddermann, 168)

The design of the levees constructed by the army corps of engineers through their officials claims that they were not fully funded but were geared at controlling a minor catastrophe. The group could indeed focused on constructing levees that could only combat substandard flooding when a possibility of terrible flooding existed. As engineers, they were supposed to have figured out the possibility in the design of their construction with regard to the nature and volume of water in the river and the soil surrounding New Orleans.

If their officials thought that more money would have to some extent led to more perfect construction then they could have insisted on more time and perhaps more funding to completely do a perfect piece of work. Money might have been a major factor as to why the work was not done to the expected standards but their officials who seemingly knew the type of work done did not attempt asking for any financial support to help correct their mistakes.

The works done by the army corps of engineers on the levees are a sign of negligence of duty and a lack of full responsibility and accountability. Even if the engineers had not done the construction perfectly, they failed further by not informing the authorities and perhaps seeking an alternative to correct their mistakes through repairs and maintenance. All engineers are expected to keep a record and be accountable for all their works. If at all the army corps engineers had any records of their work on the levees then they at some point would have discovered their errors. It is a shame that this did not occur leading to such a loss.

It is also evident that the army corps of engineers neglected warnings that called for repair and maintenance of the outlet that was at the time thought to be responsible for causing massive destruction of the nearby wetlands. A report from renowned engineer Bob Mea indicated that the massive flooding and destruction that occurred during the hurricane was as are a result of the poor construction and improper repair of the Mississippi outlet. Indeed the flooding may have been fully controlled if the Army corps of Engineers had properly done their work; or went back to repair and maintain the levees, the flooding was a synthetic error of the engineers and they should be held responsible to perhaps prevent future errors of the same magnitude (Fleddermann, 168)

New Orleans before and after Katrina

New Orleans is geographically situated on a natural steep ground parallel to the Mississippi River. Right from the beginning, New Orleans is shown as a city wed to a river and the ocean. As such this strategic situation could control the trade between the vast interior of North America and the rest of the world. New Orleans’s strange situation might even determine the political future of North America.

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Developments erected later on incorporated the filling in of a nearby lake to raise its altitude. Navigable canals were constructed to facilitate water transport and trade. Following the building of the Inner Harbor Navigations Canal, the waterways present were closed drastically lowering the city’s water table. In fact, the conglomeration of the highly absorbent organic soils led to subsidence reaching up to 2.4 meters. This illustrates why most of the city of New Orleans lay below sea level. The 1965 Betsy Hurricane raised a lot of concern pertaining to flooding about the future hurricanes and which led to the enactment of The Flood Control Act of 1965.

This Act among other key issues authorized the design and even construction of flood barriers in the city of New Orleans by the Corps of Engineers subject to cost-sharing conditions but the legislation later waived some of them. Though the responsibility of maintenance; particularly lay on the local municipal authorities upon completion of the flood control protection, projects were scheduled to take thirteen years inclusive of both design and construction.

In spite of the compulsory order to evacuate, people declined because of various reasons which included: the obligation to protect their property, lack of finances and reliable means of transport, and the belief that their houses offered adequate protection. The extensive floods greatly affected the remnants that survived Hurricane Katrina and even remained long after the hurricane had passed.

In fact, the obviously stranded survivors resided at their housetops throughout the city while some were trapped inside their attics. According to Galle’s report, most residents chopped their way onto their roofs with sledgehammers and hatchets as they had been advised to keep in readiness for such disastrous occurrences. There was no uncontaminated water and outages experienced were anticipated to last for long periods. On 29th August, the loss of lives was described as significant as bodies floated on the water in the whole city particularly in the eastern region. (Galle, J 2006).

New Orleans experienced communication failures after Hurricane Katrina. This resulted from the breaking of transmission lines, power failures, and destruction of base stations which in turn affected telephones and internet access. Television stations with local coverage were disrupted and newspapers were transferred to their other stations in neighboring cities. This had a great impact on the dissemination of information in New Orleans as electronic mailing and broadcasting were the most significant means of transmitting information to the survivors and the rest of the world. Sander (3) confirms that in New Orleans only the local CBS-affiliate WWL-TV remained on the air during and after the storm.

Emergency and tactical communications were provided by the Amateur radio which also handled health and welfare inquiries. (Sanders, T 2006). New Orleans had a well-established infrastructure before Hurricane Katrina struck. The infrastructure comprised a well-laid network of roads that led into and out of the city. There were also several banks, warehouses, gymnasiums, hotels, clubs, a Superdome, airlines, educational and financial institutions among other buildings.

Though the Hurricane spared New Orleans the worst implications by passing to the eastern side of the city on 29th August at noon thus seemingly making the city appear to have escaped most of the destruction, the levee system was not spared in the least. The storm surge severely damaged the city’s improperly constructed levee system that had been built by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Mississippi River Outlet’s levees were breached at about twenty points flooding much of New Orleans to the eastern side.

The London Avenue Canal, the Industrial Canal, and 17th Street Canal levees formed the principal levee breaches in New Orleans that resulted in most of the city’s flooding. The flooding that occurred as a result of the breaching drowned most of the city for days up to weeks in certain places. Most buildings and roads were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. (Housser, Christine, et al)

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Measures put in place

After the Katrina Hurricane in New Orleans, the government has taken many measures to rebuild the levees to prevent any future destruction of properties and human lives in general. During that time the Bush administration got seven million dollars from the United States of America congress for the repairing of the levees covering a distance of 350 miles. This measure was aimed at protecting the residents of New Orleans against the floods which would sometimes extend up to the lake of Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico at large (John Smith, 83-90).

At the same time, the government has started to fund the projects aimed at restoring some places which were identified as wetlands, which will help to absorb the flooding waters and prevent hurricanes from coming into the city. Most of the Katrina damages have been repaired by the administration. At the same time, the damaged levee walls have currently been replaced with the T-walls which are stronger. Consequently, the transition areas in the levees have been strengthened. Many flood walls have been created. The height of the flood gates has been increased in height to prevent further overflow.


Hurricane of Katrina can be regarded as one of the catastrophic disasters in the history of the United States of America. The New Orleans levees have got a historical origin. The cause of the large destruction can be attributed to the engineering errors and the strength of the storms. Had any of the measures been installed before the hurricane, chances are that the impact of the hurricane would not have been as devastating as it was.

The ethical implications in the engineering work done by the Us Army corps engineers may be to blame to a very large portion for the impacts of the storm. Had their works been properly done, it may not have been possible for the flooding to overflow and even break through the walls of the banks. The levee floods resulted from the failure of the levee system after an inland swash of the storm inwards. The effects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans were not only shattering but also long-lasting. Although a great portion of the Katrina missed the city, the storm surge caused greater than fifty breaches according to a report issued by investigators into the catastrophe.

Works Cited

Galle, Julie. ‘Special Report: Vulnerable Cities; New Orleans LA’. The Weather Channel. 2006: 2-6.

Housser, Christine, et al. ‘Mandatory Evacuation Ordered for New Orleans as Storm Nears. New York Times. 2005.

John Smith Kendal, History of New Orleans , Washington; Oxford University press, 2002.

Sanders, Tony. ‘Belo Corp Profile’. The Center for Public Integrity. 2006.

Schwartz, John. ‘Army Corps Admits Flaws in New Orleans Levees’. The New York Times 2006.

Fleddermann Charles ,Engineering Ethics (3rd) Prentice Hall, 2007.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 24). Hurricane Katrina as One of the Worst National Disasters in the USA.

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StudyCorgi. "Hurricane Katrina as One of the Worst National Disasters in the USA." November 24, 2021.


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