Crescent City sinking faster than expected

New Orleans, like Venice, Italy, is sinking, and scientists writing in Nature, a science journal, said the drop is happening faster than first thought. Measurements, they said, were based on radar data of the city from the three-year period before Hurricane Katrina.

According to an article on, the scientists found New Orleans is sinking on average about 6 millimeters per year, but as much as 29 mm a year in those areas near the city’s levees.

Tim Dixon, of the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, said: “What we found is that some of the levee failures in New Orleans were places where subsidence was highest.”

Scientists said the rate at which the city is settling explains why some parts of New Orleans were so heavily damaged by the hurricane, because as the ground sinks the amount of protection from the levees decreases.

The report said the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet has sunk more than 3 feet since it was built 30 years ago, and that explains why water flowed over the levee, and part of it buckled.

Dixon, speaking of badly damaged areas like the 9th Ward, said: “I think those areas are death traps. I don’t think those areas should be rebuilt.”

Scientists say it isn’t clear why the rate of subsidence has climbed so sharply. Some said it could be the result of natural seismic shifts, and others think it is the result of overdevelopment and drainage of the wetlands near the city.

No matter what the causes, scientists urged that civic authorities overseeing the rebuilding of the city should take into account the increasing rate of subsidence.

More than 1,300 people died, and billions of dollars of damage resulted when Katrina slammed into the city last August. The latest study comes just as U.S. Army Engineers are preparing to release a report on the engineering and design shortcomings that contributed to the disaster.

The report, some 6,000 pages prepared by the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET), spelled out its findings about engineering details and failures by the Corps before the storm.

A group of forensic professors and experts from the University of California at Berkeley already has released a 738-page report dealing with levee failures. The group found a “pervasively flawed” system and said there was failure at all levels of government, federal, state and local (including the levee board) and to a lesser extent, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

As a new hurricane season began June 1, the Chicago Tribune reports the city’s lower 9th Ward remains a ghost town. Destruction is everywhere on street after street.

No human voices are heard, and there is no sign of life. Little or nothing has been done to clear away the collapsed or partly destroyed houses, the hundreds of overturned, smashed and stalled cars and trucks littering the area, or the mounds of debris that remain from the storm.

It is still uncertain whether the area will be cleaned up and rebuilt, or if it will be leveled and abandoned. Meantime, what residents persist are keeping a wary eye toward the Gulf of Mexico.

From the June 14-20, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!