Hurricane Barry’s near miss leaves lessons in its wake

Published: Aug. 6, 2019 at 7:31 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - While some along the coast suffered significant damage from Hurricane Barry, the majority of the metro area was mostly unscathed, but not without a major scare as the storm approached.

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers said there are lessons to be learned from this near miss.

Usually the river is at a low point during hurricane season, but during Barry, forecasts showed a surge could have caused it to rise to just over 19 feet. Most levees in the metro area sit around 20 feet.

The corps’ Rene Poche said even if Barry had hit us head-on, the levees would have held strong.

“We’re speculating, we really don’t know. But, we might have seen some a little overtopping of the Mississippi River levees. It’s really hard to say. You wouldn’t have seen any kind of failure," Poche said.

It's a catalyst to make the forecasts and protection even better.

“We were lucky we didn’t take the direct hit, but all these different factors got folks talking and thinking about the storm season and storms in general," Poche said.

Now that we are seeing significant drops in the water levels, the Poche said this year’s information is invaluable. Now, the organization is discussing proposals for additional river gauges south of New Orleans and the levees.

“It’s a constant work in progress," Poche said. "We’re looking at it, we’re measuring the levee heights. We’re determining where they may need to be raised to maintain that level of risk reduction that we need.”

Poche pointed to improvements made after the 2011 floods, that he said, worked.

“Now was actually worse than the 2011 flood, but we had half as many inspection points that needed attention. That’s just a testament to those dollars invested in the system and the return on that investment,” Poche said.

Catalina Rubiana, an earth science student at UNO, said she understands it’s a complex issue. While she feels safe inside the city limits, Rubiana said other areas are more at risk.

“There’s no one simple solution. I think adaptation is going to be the best thing. It seems like New Orleans is very well protected, but all the communities outside of here I’m definitely more worried about,” she said. "Houma, the bayou communities. They seem to be way more at risk and I mean even if we are safe in New Orleans it would be a very different place without everything around it.”

Poche said the communication during the storm was improved due to the threat. Emergency Management in each parish requested a representative from the Corps, which allowed for instant communication with people on the ground. He said that is a practice they plan to repeat.

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