As Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans, water from the Gulf of Mexico was pushed into Lake Pontchartrain, located north of the City. On August 29, 2005, Katrina passed to the east of New Orleans and the water in Lake Pontchartrain was then pushed southward towards the City. One of the primary out-flowing waterways was the Inner Harbor-Navigation Canal. The Port of New Orleans owns one highway and three railroad movable bridges that span this canal. The water reached record levels. It was so high and swift that barges were dislodged from moorings along the Canal and deposited atop one of the bridge protective cells, a dry-dock sunk against the protection system of another bridge. Three of the bridges had five feet of water over the roadways. One bridge had over 50,000 lbs of debris on the movable span. Damages to the Port in other areas of the City were extensive to docks, product storage sheds, and buildings.
The Port of New Orleans called an emergency meeting. Responsibilities were divided among the local engineering firms. Modjeski and Masters, who served as the bridge engineer for the Port’s bridges for many years, was assigned to perform an immediate in-depth inspection – structural, electrical and mechanical - for each bridge and determine the value of the damages. Meetings followed with the Port, along with FEMA and FHWA, to determine funding participation.
We assessed a staggering number of storm damages in many areas, including electrical components submerged in salt water, roadway railings damaged or destroyed, steel pipe pile fender systems badly deformed, loss of components of timber fenders, structural members bent and welds broken, loss of paint from structural components, and scour holes that had developed in the Canal bottom.
The Port has requested that, as funding becomes available, Modjeski and Masters will prepare repair plans and specifications, and monitor the construction of those repairs. It will be a number of years yet before all the repairs are complete. But as long as it takes, Modjeski and Masters will remain a trusted partner with the Port, utilizing their bridge engineering expertise and vast resources to help re-build the City of New Orleans.