Because New Orleans was fully surrounded by swamps and marshes (with a sea level of nearly six feet at its greatest point), people erected levees, or earth embankments, to protect the city from the spring rise of the Mississippi River level and hurricane tidal surges. The raising and lowering of the river and sea levels has been a constant concern for everyone living in the vicinity of New Orleans.
The word "levee" comes from French and means "leveling tool." Levees have always played an important role in New Orleans' history: as protection against floods, but also as military defenses and even as urban planning tools. For example, after Hurricane Betsy damaged much of the city's waterfront infrastructure in 1965, local officials decided to remove the remaining flood-prone buildings to create a more parklike atmosphere.
In fact, most cities around the world used to be completely submerged by water during high tides. Amsterdam, London, Venice, Rio de Janeiro, and Sydney are just a few examples. As they began to be settled, some form of land elevation was needed to allow for transportation and commerce of all kinds to be conducted safely. This is why you will often find that old cities were located on top of hills or mountains where houses would not be flooded by rising waters. But it is also true that many modern cities have been founded directly on top of bodies of water, which can't be avoided if you want your house to remain dry.
The city of New Orleans is situated on a portion of the Mississippi River delta complex. Because man-made levees have prevented sediments from accumulating in the region, much of the city is now below sea level. New Orleans is surrounded by water on three sides: the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Pontchartrain, and the Mississippi River.
New Orleans was founded in 1718 by French colonists who named it after their king, Louis XIV. The city became part of the United States in 1804 after it was captured by General Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812. New Orleans is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the United States and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981. It is also the largest European-based culture in North America.
New Orleans has a rich African American history that includes many notable figures such as Booker T. Washington, W. C. Handy, and Louis Armstrong. Black Americans made up approximately 70% of New Orleans's population before the hurricane destroyed much of the city.
After the hurricane, many poor people moved to New Orleans from other parts of the country looking for work. In addition, many tourists visit New Orleans every year because of its music scene, famous restaurants, and historic sites.
New Orleans has significant flood defenses, including 350 miles of floodgates and levees. A levee is an earthen embankment or wall that frequently runs parallel to a river. In severe weather, levees are constructed to hold back surging waters. When the water recedes, they provide some protection against further flooding.
Floods are one of Louisiana's most damaging natural disasters. Hurricane Katrina was responsible for destroying much of the coastal infrastructure in 2005. The storm left 1,833 people dead in the United States and 60,000 people displaced from their homes. Flooding caused by hurricanes and heavy rain combined with inadequate drainage systems led to a large-scale public health emergency after Katrina hit. Many residents were forced to live in shelters for several months because they had no home security during the hurricane or its aftermath.
Levees play an important role in protecting cities like New Orleans against rising sea levels and catastrophic storms. They work by preventing water from flowing into areas where it can cause damage, such as neighborhoods and businesses. If a levee fails, this protective barrier is lost; now anyone living in its path could be at risk of being flooded out of their home.
In addition to losing their homes, people who experience a levee failure often report poor communication between officials and residents before the disaster strikes.