West Bank Levees May Not Be High Enough to Handle Storm Surge.--

It seems that the levees in towns adjacent to New Orleans are not prepared to handle a big storm surge:

Flood control experts said Hurricane Gustav's surge may deliver the worst-case scenario for the West Bank because the hurricane protection system there remains incomplete and severely vulnerable in some spots, despite accelerated levee work in the past three years.

With predictions of storm surge topping 10 feet when the storm passes Grand Isle, West Bank officials admited privately that they are preparing for widespread flooding and for rescuing people after the storm passes.

Jerry Spohrer, executive director of the West Jefferson Levee District, said there's still a chance that levees may keep storm surge out of the West Bank's most populated areas. But those chances diminish the higher the surge goes as it approaches the West Bank hurricane protection system.

"At 7 feet, we're iffy," Spohrer said Sunday morning. "It's not so much that we don't have the elevation. When you talk about the pressure of that water, the waves of that water pressing against what's there, we're keeping our fingers crossed."

David Bindewald, president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - West, called Gustav the storm they have always feared. He said he's confident the system can withstand a 7-foot surge with some wave action.

"Beyond that, based on the numbers I'm hearing now, we lose the fight," he said. "We have to wait and see what we get."

The Army Corps of Engineers has not released storm surge predictions, but Jefferson Parish officials who have seen another set of models said a wall of water higher than the levee system could barrel toward the West Bank on Monday. . . .

Weak spots stretch across the system, from earthen levees at the back of Lake Cataouatche to floodwalls near Westwego to the Harvey Canal in the middle of the West Bank and to earthen levees guarding the Intracoastal Canal at the back of Algiers.

On the Harvey Canal, parish officials are questioning whether 8-foot-high sand baskets protecting the southeast bank can withstand any wave action, let alone overtopping.

A Harvey Canal gate at Lapalco Boulevard is designed to stop a storm surge of up to 11 feet above sea level from entering the northern half of the canal. Corps officials were preparing to close the mechanical structure Sunday evening or overnight. They will also start pumping water out of the northern portion of the canal when the tide is at 2 feet above sea level and rising.

If there's any comfort to be had for West Bank residents, it's that the area's levee system has undergone an unprecedented amount of improvements since Hurricane Katrina. That storm gave local leaders the urgency to demand that Congress fund levee work that has been more than 30 years in the making.

UPDATE: At WeatherNerd, they are quoting experts who say that the levees will probably hold (tip to Instapundit).