New Orleans Surge Barrier Put to First Test

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VIDEO: Hurricanes can do a LOT of damage – but can they do any good?

The Lake Borgne Surge Barrier intended to protect New Orleans was completed fairly recently by the Army Corps of Engineers. Hurricane Isaac just forced its gates to close against floodwaters. This marks the barrier's first real test. Here's how it's faring.

BIG VID: Hurricane Isaac Timelapse

Construction on a $1.1 billion surge barrier stretching nearly two miles along Lake Borgne to the northeast of New Orleans began in 2008. Made of concrete and steel, the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal-Lake Borgne Surge Barrier is designed to protect the eastern part of the city, including the Lower Ninth Ward, from surging stormwater that did so much harm during Hurricane Katrina.

Yesterday the Times-Picayune reported that the Army Corps of Engineers had shut a sector gate to the 26-foot-high structure, effectively closing the barrier as Hurricane Isaac approached. New York Times national correspondent John Schwartz was there and tweeted updates from the barrier:

The butterfly gates close "like slices of pie coming together," says Col. Fleming. twitter.com/jswatz/status/… — John Schwartz — NYT (@jswatz) August 28, 2012
Lake Borgne sector gate almost closed; moves the first line of protection 13 miles out from the city. twitter.com/jswatz/status/… — John Schwartz — NYT (@jswatz) August 28, 2012

Alex Lamers, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Tallahassee, tweeted Hurricane Isaac updates, including this impressive one about conditions near the barrier:

Surge at Shell Beach gauge (Lake Borgne) peaked at 11.07ft at 12:36am CDT. Still running over 9ft with gusts to 70mph. #Isaac — Alex Lamers (@ajlamers) August 29, 2012

And then USA Today's New Orleans-based Gulf Coast correspondent Rick Jervis reported just how well the barrier was faring in the midst of all that:

Lake Borgne surge barrier stopped a 15-foot storm surge during #Isaac, saving Lower 9th ward — Rick Jervis (@RJervisUSAToday) August 29, 2012

Fastest Wind: Hurricane Isaac vs. Mt. Washington

For now it seems to be passing the test. However, the Lake Borgne Surge Barrier is just one part in a ring of $14.5 billion structures and systems created by the Army Corps of Engineers post-Katrina to protect the city. Even though Hurricane Isaac is far less powerful than Katrina, the flood risk remains intense. So much so that an evacuation of 3,000 people in a southeastern parish was ordered today.

Photo: The gates of the Lake Borgne Surge Barrier close against Hurricane Isaac on Tuesday. Credit: John Schwartz via Twitter.

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