Author Info

Raymond B. Seed, University of California - Berkeley
Robert G. Bea, University of California - Berkeley
Remon I. Abdelmalak, Texas A & M University - College Station
Adda G. Athanasopoulos, University of California - Berkeley
Gordon P. Boutwell, Jr., Soil Testing Engineers, Inc.
Jonathan D. Bray, University of California - Berkeley
Jean-Louis Briaud, Texas A & M University - College Station
Carmen Cheung, University of California - Berkeley
Diego Cobos-Roa, University of California - Berkeley
Julien Cohen-Waeber, University of California - Berkeley
Brian D. Collins, U.S. Geological Survey
Luke Ehrensing, Thigpen Construction
Dan A. Farber, University of California - Berkeley
W. Michael Hanneman, University of California - Berkeley
Leslie F. Harder, California Department of Water Resources
Kofi S. Inkabi, University of California - Berkeley
Anne M. Kammerer, Arup
Deniz Karadeniz, University of Missouri - Rolla
Robert E. Kayen, U.S. Geological Survey
Robb E.S. Moss, California Polytechnic State University - San Luis ObispoFollow
Jennifer Nicks, Texas A & M University - College Station
Seshu Nimala, Oregon State University
Juan M. Pestana, University of California - Berkeley
Jim Porter, Soil Testing Engineers, Inc.
Keunyong Rhee, Texas A & M University - College Station
Michael F. Riemer, University of California - Berkeley
Karlene Roberts, University of California - Berkeley
J. David Rogers, University of Missouri - Rolla
Rune Storesund, Storesund Consulting
Anand V. Govindasamy, Texas A & M University - College Station
Xavier Vera-Grunauer, CVA Consulting Group
Joseph E. Wartman, Drexel University
Conor M. Watkins, University of Missouri - Rolla
Ed Wenk, Jr., University of Washington - Seattle Campus
Solomon C. Yim, Oregon State University


This report presents the results of an investigation of the performance of the New Orleans regional flood protection system during and after Hurricane Katrina, which struck the New Orleans region on August 29, 2005. This event resulted in the single most costly catastrophic failure of an engineered system in history. Current damage estimates at the time of this writing are on the order of $100 to $200 billion in the greater New Orleans area, and the official death count in New Orleans and southern Louisiana at the time of this writing stands at 1,293, with an additional 306 deaths in nearby southern Mississippi. An additional approximately 300 people are currently still listed as “missing”; it is expected that some of these missing were temporarily lost in the shuffle of the regional evacuation, but some of these are expected to have been carried out into the swamps and the Gulf of Mexico by the storm’s floodwaters, and some are expected to be recovered in the ongoing sifting through the debris of wrecked homes and businesses, so the current overall regional death count of 1,599 is expected to continue to rise a bit further. More than 450,000 people were initially displaced by this catastrophe, and at the time of this writing more than 200,000 residents of the greater New Orleans metropolitan area continue to be displaced from their homes by the floodwater damages from this storm event.

This investigation has targeted three main questions as follow: (1) What happened?, (2) Why?, and (3) What types of changes are necessary to prevent recurrence of a disaster of this scale again in the future?

To address these questions, this investigation has involved: (1) an initial field reconnaissance, forensic study and data gathering effort performed quickly after the arrival of Hurricanes Katrina (August 29, 2005) and Rita (September 24, 2005), (2) a review of the history of the regional flood protection system and its development, (3) a review of the challenging regional geology, (4) detailed studies of the events during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as the causes and mechanisms of the principal failures, (4) studies of the organizational and institutional issues affecting the performance of the flood protection system, (5) observations regarding the emergency repair and ongoing interim levee reconstruction efforts, and (6) development of findings and preliminary recommendations regarding changes that appear warranted in order to prevent recurrence of this type of catastrophe in the future.

In the end, it is concluded that many things went wrong with the New Orleans flood protection system during Hurricane Katrina, and that the resulting catastrophe had it roots in three main causes: (1) a major natural disaster (the Hurricane itself), (2) the poor performance of the flood protection system, due to localized engineering failures, questionable judgments, errors, etc. involved in the detailed design, construction, operation and maintenance of the system, and (3) more global “organizational” and institutional problems associated with the governmental and local organizations responsible for the design, construction, operation, maintenance and funding of the overall flood protection system.


Civil and Environmental Engineering

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