Officials at midday: New Orleans levees seem to have held

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 1, 2008 

NEW ORLEANS — City and federal officials were cautiously optimistic at midday Monday that New Orleans' hurricane protection system, which is in the midst of a major fortification effort, had withstood the test of Hurricane Gustav.

They remained wary, however, that any additional storm surge Monday afternoon, combined with heavy rains, might still create significant problems for the New Orleans area.

Of the places that officials believed could be major problems, the biggest concern — an unfinished flood wall along a canal on the west side of the Mississippi River in suburban Jefferson Parish — was holding.

The wall is incomplete — filled in spots with dirt and sand. But water levels remained low enough that they did not push past the imcomplete barrier. The storm's force was evident, however — along the canal, power lines weree down — including a long string of 10 utility poles that came down together. Signs and debris littered the area. The canal water level, though, was well below the top of the levees and flood walls.

Flooding did occur in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans, the same area that also took an enormous amount of water during Hurricane Katrina. Water along the Industrial Canal reached the top of the flood walls and crashed over in constant waves, flooding nearby streets and making them impassable.

Seen from an Interstate 10 bridge over the canal, the high water levels appeared to have turned an industrial waterfront area into a large lake. Water rose to street signs in the industrial area.

Near the Florida Avenue bridge, also over the Industrial Canal, water squirted continuously through a steel gate and splashed over the flood wall. But the flood walls held, and nearby neighborhoods remained dry.

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