Last major weak link in hurricane defenses gets plugged

New Orleans -- Workers began installing the final major piece of metro New Orleans' new, beefier hurricane defenses.

Over the course of two days, they are putting in place two giant leaves that form the sector gate on the Industrial Canal.

Engineers say the $165 million gate complex, positioned where the canal meets Lake Pontchartrain, will close off the last glaring weak link in the system.

"This will close the circuit on the lakefront protection," said Eric Stricklin, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The twin wings, each weighing 220 tons and stretching 95 feet, are complimented by two 50 foot lift gates already in place.

All three of the gates will stay open during normal weather, but are designed to slam shut for a tropical system.

That is in sharp contrast to conditions on Aug. 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina's storm surge barreled into the canal and bulldozed the Industrial Canal flood wall. 

Three years later, Hurricane Gustav again exposed the weakness, as water poured over the flood wall.

"The surge coming out of Lake Pontchartrain won't be able to get into the Industrial Canal anymore," said Col. Ed Fleming, the Corps' New Orleans District Commander.

The sector gate is designed to work in tandem with the 2-mile long surge barrier in New Orleans East, where the now-closed Mississippi River Gulf Outlet meets the Intracoastal Waterway.