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New Orleans Levees Were Blown In 1927 Were They Blown in 2005?


Extracts from Another Flood That Stunned America

For days, the rain fell. The rivers swelled, the lakes rose. And when the water could no longer find a place to go, it battered the weakest parts of the levees that had protected thousands of people and blew through, sending a surge of white-capped brown water faster than the spill of Niagara Falls.

So began the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, the most catastrophic deluge ever to hit the South and one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

The seminal event of pre-integration southern politics, the 1927 flood inundated an area about half the size of New England. It killed as many as 1,000 people and displaced about 700,000 more. At a time when the entire federal budget was barely $3 billion, it caused an estimated $1 billion in damage.

When the rains broke records in April 1927, the Gulf of Mexico was full and worked as a stopper to the Mississippi. The Mississippi was full, too, pushing its own waters up tributaries, breaking levees and causing flooding as far as Ohio and Texas. All that water had to go somewhere.

It couldn't go to New Orleans, panicky city fathers told the Army Corps of Engineers; it would devastate the regional economy.

To save New Orleans, the leaders proposed a radical plan. South of the city, the population was mostly rural and poor. The leaders appealed to the federal government to essentially sacrifice those parishes by blowing up an earthen levee and diverting the water to marshland. They promised restitution to people who would lose their homes. Government officials, including Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, signed off.

On April 29, the levee at Caernarvon, 13 miles south of New Orleans, succumbed to 39 tons of dynamite. The river rushed through at 250,000 cubic feet per second. New Orleans was saved, but the misery of the flooded parishes had only started. The city fathers took years to make good on their promises, and very few residents ever saw any compensation at all.


DAVID MUIR, ABC NEWS: This is the actual levee that runs along the canal on the eastern side of the city. And when the hurricane hit, the water came through at such force, it was apparently too much. You can see the massive breach here, and when you look around the corner you can see what the water did to the Lower Ninth Ward. It completely destroyed neighborhoods.

JOE EDWARDS, JR., 9TH WARD RESIDENT: I heard something go BOOM!

MUIR: Joe Edwards rushed to get himself and as many neighbors as possible into his truck. They drove to this bridge, where they've been living ever since

EDWARDS: My house broke in half. My mother's house just disintegrated. It was a brick house. All the houses down there floated down the street like somebody's guiding 'em
MUIR: Was it solely the water that broke the levee, or was it the force of this barge that now sits where homes once did? Joe Edwards says neither. People are so bitter, so disenfranchised in this neighborhood, they actually think the city did it, blowing up the levee to save richer neighborhoods like the French Quarter.

MUIR: So you're convinced . . .

EDWARDS: I know this happened!

MUIR: . . . they broke the levee on purpose?

EDWARDS: They blew it!
MUIR: New Orleans' mayor says there's no credence to this.

NEW ORLEANS MAYOR RAY NAGIN: That storm was so powerful and it pushed so much water, there's no way anyone could have calculated what levee to dynamite to have the kind of impact to save the French Quarter.

MUIR: An LSU expert who looked at the video today says, while the barge may have caused it, it was most likely the sheer force of the water that brought the levee along the Lower Ninth Ward down.
Dyan French, also known as “Mama D,” is a New Orleans Citizen and Community Leader. She testified before the House Select Committee on Hurricane Katrina on Tuesday. “I was on my front porch. I have witnesses that they bombed the walls of the levee, boom, boom!” Mama D said, holding her head. “Mister, I'll never forget it.” [MSNBC]