NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Much of southern, swampy Louisiana is below sea level and levees are designed to protect residents from flooding when big storms hit.
However, there are differences in who builds and maintains those levees.
In Plaquemines Parish, a sparsely populated area south of the city, dozens of people were stranded in flooded coastal areas Wednesday when Isaac pushed water over an 18-mile levee and put so much pressure on it that authorities planned to intentionally puncture the floodwall to relieve the strain.
That floodwall and those protecting many places outside New Orleans are non-federal levees that the federal Army Corps of Engineers does not maintain. They are often a combination of private and public levees, some built by farmers or other commercial interests. These levees are not built to corps specifications. They are also lower than the big levees around New Orleans.
Plaquemines Parish has been trying to get the corps to include its non-federal levees in the federal system.
In 2005, the levees built by the Army Corps did not hold up under the Category 3 Hurricane Katrina that brought storm surge that burst through and inundated New Orleans. The corps has since poured $14 billion into improving the New Orleans levees and say they are holding up so far against Hurricane Isaac that hit the area.