New Orleans' Levees: Background information when reading Five Days at Memorial

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Five Days at Memorial

Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

by Sheri Fink

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink X
Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2013, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2016, 592 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
Buy This Book

About this Book

New Orleans' Levees

This article relates to Five Days at Memorial

Print Review

Though Hurricane Katrina did strike a mighty blow, it was only part of the catastrophe that befell New Orleans. As Sheri Fink writes in Five Days at Memorial, "Katrina rapidly lost strength after moving onto land. The rain lessened and the winds began to ease by late morning. The water level outside Memorial stabilized at about three feet."

Lake PontchartrainDuring the squalls of the hurricane on Monday August 29, 2005, water raced down Clara Street (Memorial's location) and "a red car and a red van were submerged to the tops of their wheel wells," but the hospital seemed free from disaster. Then a National Guard soldier informed Memorial's plant operations director that the levees had been breached. Fifteen feet of water from Lake Pontchartrain was heading for the hospital.

According to NPR reporter John F. Burnett, in his book Uncivilized Beasts and Shameless Hellions: Travels with an NPR Correspondent (2006), New Orleans was founded in 1718, built on "alluvial silt next to the Mississippi, 4.4 feet above sea level," a natural levee. Neighborhoods in the growing city of New Orleans moved closer and closer to Lake Ponchartrain. "Over the decades, the land, some of which is lower than the floor of the lake, was drained and reclaimed by digging a network of drainage canals and installing huge steam-driven paddlewheels to push the periodic floodwaters [back] into the lake," Burnett writes. "Gradually, the bog became habitable." From 1717 to 1727, the French built the first levee system near the area, but it was no match for heavy flooding.

The first man-made levee system in New Orleans was built by 1727. But Mississippi River floods and late-summer hurricanes still caused serious floods in the city. "Levee breaches were common in the early days," observed Mark Twain in 1883, "There is nothing but that frail breastwork of earth between the people and destruction."

Lake Pontchartrain wind during KatrinaBurnett asserts that storm surges that originate in Lake Ponchartrain and rush into the city are responsible for flooding. He writes, "The brackish, oval-shaped lake is huge, at 630 square miles, and shallow, with an average depth of only 13 feet, making it particularly susceptible to flooding. A major hurricane bearing down on New Orleans would push a mass of water before it, and the hydraulics of southeastern Louisiana would provide multiple portals into the lake - which is exactly what happened on August 29."

The 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure, issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers, gave the "nation's estimated 100,000 miles of levees" in "all 50 states and the District of Columbia" a D+, a poor grade. The report states that "significant federal funding" has gone to New Orleans for its levee system. But according to a January article in New Orleans' The Times-Picayune newspaper by reporter Mark Schleifstein, a consulting engineer for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East named Bob Jacobsen says that the new design standards used to improve the levee system in the wake of Katrina "are already outdated." A more recent article by Schliefstein from the end of May, providing a fuller picture of the new levee system, says that the "improved system is designed to block overtopping from surges created by a hurricane with a one percent change of occurring in any year, the so-called hundred-year storm. The improved levee design is supposed to guarantee that even when topped, the levees and floodwalls will stay in place."

Yet, emergency managers warn that "the levee system is designed to protect property, not lives, and hurricanes with surges greater than the system's hundred-year storm design will top the new levee system for at least a few hours." According to Lt. Col. Jerry Sneed, deputy mayor for public safety in New Orleans, his biggest worry is that people will think that the levee system is good enough now and they won't have to evacuate. But calls for evacuation are still at the top of the list when a hurricane approaches.

The levees have been breached again and again, and attempts to strengthen them and the push for more safety during storms still go on. Unfortunately, the only true test is when a major storm hits.



Both images from Wikipedia. The first image of Lake Pontchartrain. The city of New Orleans is on the southern shore below the lake. The Lake Pontchartrain causeway can clearly be seen bisecting the lake. To the upper left is Lake Maurepas. The city of Slidell, Louisiana can be seen at the top right of the photo.
Second image depicts windspeed of Hurricane Katrina 7 a.m., showing hurricane-force winds (yellow/brown/red: 75-92 mph) hitting the northeast/south shores of Lake Pontchartrain (1 hour after landfall) on August 29, 2005.

Filed under People, Eras & Events

Article by Rory L. Aronsky

This "beyond the book article" relates to Five Days at Memorial. It originally ran in September 2013 and has been updated for the January 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join & Save $10!

Discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten. One-year membership: $29

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Book Collectors
    The Book Collectors
    by Delphine Minoui
    About halfway through The Book Collectors, I was disappointed. I came into the book with a ...
  • Book Jacket: Blue Sky Kingdom
    Blue Sky Kingdom
    by Bruce Kirkby
    Who hasn't dreamed of escaping all of the trappings of today's modern life and finding a secluded, ...
  • Book Jacket: My Heart Underwater
    My Heart Underwater
    by Laurel Fantauzzo
    Corazon — Cory — Tagubio is a Filipina-American teenager living with her family in ...
  • Book Jacket: Black Sun
    Black Sun
    by Rebecca Roanhorse
    Reading the first book in a series is always difficult because readers know that, by definition, it ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Patron Saint of Pregnant Girls
    by Ursula Hegi

    Set on a German island in 1878, perfect for fans of Water for Elephants.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Exiles
by Christina Baker Kline

The author of Orphan Train returns with an ambitious, emotionally resonant historical novel.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win This Book!
Win Jack

Return to Gilead with Jack, the instant New York Times bestseller

Enter to win Marilynne Robinson's latest novel in her classic series.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

I G I O Ear A O T O

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.