Hearings - Testimony
Full Committee
Evaluate the Degree to which the Preliminary Findings on the Failure of the Levees are Being Incorporated into the Restoration of Hurricane Protection
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Mr. Thomas F. Zimmie, PhD
Professor and Acting Chairperson, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, National Science Foundation Investigative Team

My name is Thomas Zimmie, and I am a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Acting Chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY. I have a PhD in Civil Engineering, am a licensed professional engineer, and my specialty area of practice is geotechnical engineering. I have about 40 years of professional experience.

I was a member of a National Science Foundation sponsored investigative team that was formed to investigate the levee failures in the New Orleans area, caused by Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. As a result of the investigation a report was produced containing the observations and findings of a joint investigation between independent teams of professional engineers with a wide array of expertise.

Any opinions I express here today are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or any other group or agency.

The report “Preliminary Report on the Performance of the New Orleans Levee Systems in Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005” was dated November 2, 2005 and was presented to the Senate Homeland Security Committee. A second version of the report is being finalized. However there are only minor changes from the original report.

The investigative teams spent much of October, 2005 in the New Orleans area visiting the levee system. I was in the New Orleans area for about a week in the middle of October, visiting miles of levees, including the highly publicized levee breaches such as the 17th Street Canal, London Avenue Canal and the Industrial Canal.

There is not one simple answer as to why the levees failed. Field observations indicated various causes: overtopping of the levees, erosion, failure in foundation soils underlying the levees, seepage through the soils under the levees causing piping failures, and this is not a complete list.

It was a pleasure and an honor to be a member of the investigative team, although at the same time it was a sobering and sad experience to see the damage to life and property caused by Katrina.

Hopefully the results of our study will lead to a clear appreciation of what happened in Katrina, and that the lessons learned from this event will lead to improved protection in the future, not just in the New Orleans area, but throughout the nation and around the world.

I consider it an honor and a privilege to appear before this committee, and hope I can be of assistance.

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