Levee breach

A levee breach or levee failure (the word dike or dyke can also be used instead of levee) is a situation where a levee fails or is intentionally breached, causing the previously contained water to flood the land behind the levee.

1927 Mississippi Flood Levee Breach
A levee failure during the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.
Watersnoodramp 1953 dijkdoorbraak Den Bommel
A breach in a dike during the North Sea flood of 1953.

Causes of failure

Man-made levees can fail in a number of ways. The most frequent (and dangerous) form of levee failure is a breach. A levee breach is when part of the levee actually breaks away, leaving a large opening for water to flood the land protected by the levee.

Foundation failure

A breach can be a sudden or gradual failure that is caused either by surface erosion or by a subsurface failure of the levee. Levee breaches are often accompanied by levee boils, or sand boils. The underseepage resurfaces on the landside, in the form of a volcano-like cone of sand. Boils signal a condition of incipient instability which may lead to erosion of the levee toe or foundation or result in sinking of the levee into the liquefied foundation below. Some engineers think that boils lead to a form of internal erosion called piping which undermines the levee, but others consider them a symptom of generalized instability of the foundation.

Erosion and damage

Surface erosion of the surface of a levee is usually caused by the action of wind and water (waves but also normal flow). Erosion can be worsened by pre-existing or new damage to a levee. Areas with no surface protection are more prone to erosion. A levee grazed by certain types of animals, like sheep, can show trails used by the animals where grass does not grow.

Trees in levees are a special risk. A tree can become unstable after the soil of the levee has become saturated with water. When the tree falls the root system will likely take a chunk of the saturated soil out of the levee. This shallow hole can quickly erode and result in a breach. If the tree falls in the water and floats away it can damage the levee further downstream. Floating trees near levees should be quickly removed by the agency responsible for the maintenance of the levee.

Other forms of damage can be caused by ships or other (large) floating objects or from objects in the levee, like traffic signs or fences that are damaged or completely removed by wind or water. Barbed wire fences can collect large amounts of floating plant material, resulting in a large amount of drag from the water. Whole fences can be dragged away by the water.


Sometimes levees are said to fail when water overtops the crest of the levee. Levee overtopping can be caused when flood waters simply exceed the lowest crest of the levee system or if high winds begin to generate significant swells (a storm surge) in the ocean or river water to bring waves crashing over the levee. Overtopping can lead to significant landside erosion of the levee or even be the mechanism for complete breach. Often levees are armored or reinforced with rocks or concrete to prevent erosion and failure.

Kessel (North-Brabant, NL), soldatenwiel
A kolk lake in the Netherlands

Kolk lakes

After a levee breach a kolk lake can often be seen. This is a crater-like depression just behind the breach where soil and other material has been violently scoured out by the rushing water. After a breach, a kolk lake can sometimes remain after the water level recedes.

Intentional breaches

In some cases levees are breached intentionally. This can be done to protect other areas, to drain flooded areas, or to give back land to nature. In most cases an intentional breach is not without discussion since valuable land is given up.

During the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 a levee was blown up with dynamite to prevent the flooding of New Orleans. Again during record-breaking flooding in 2011, the US Army Corps of Engineers blew up a section of a Mississippi River levee with dynamite to open the New Madrid Floodway. The floodway was used for farming and had about 200 residents at the time. The levee at Bird's Point was designed to be removed if necessary so that Mississippi water levels would be lowered, taking pressure off levees for miles upstream in more populated areas such as Cairo, Illinois, and New Madrid, Missouri.[1]

Taking land from the cycle of flooding by putting a dike around it prevents it from being raised by silt left behind after a flood. At the same time the drained soil consolidates and peat decomposes leading to land subsidence. In this way the difference between the water level on one side and land level on the other side of the dike grows.

In some areas reclaimed land is given back to nature by breaching and removing dikes to allow flooding to occur (again). This restores the natural environment in the area. This happened in the Glory River in Iraq.

Examples of levee breaches

New Orleans

The words levee and levee breach were brought heavily into the public consciousness after the levee failures in metro New Orleans on August 29, 2005 when Hurricane Katrina passed east of the city. Levees breached in over 50 different places submerging 80 percent of the city. Most levees failed due to water overtopping them but some failed when water passed underneath the levee foundations causing the levee wall to shift and resulting in catastrophic sudden breaching. The sudden breaching released water at a high velocity that moved houses off their foundations and tossed cars into trees. This happened in the Lower Ninth Ward when the Industrial Canal breached and also in the Lakeview neighborhood when the 17th Street Canal breached. At least 1,464 people perished. In New Orleans, the United States Army Corps of Engineers is the Federal agency responsible for levee design and construction as defined in the Flood Control Act of 1965 and subject to local participation requirements, some of which were later waived. Fault has been aimed at the Corps of Engineers, their local contractors, and local levee boards.[2]

North Sea

The St. Elizabeth's flood of 1421 was caused by a surge of seawater being forced upriver during a storm, overflowing the river dikes and submerging approximately 300 square kilometres (100 sq mi) of land in the Netherlands. Estimates of people having died range from 2,000 to 10,000. Parts of the submerged lands have still not been reclaimed resulting in the Biesbosch wetlands.

During the North Sea flood of 1953, in the night of 31 January – 1 February 1953, many dikes in the provinces of Zeeland, Zuid-Holland and Noord-Brabant in the Netherlands were unable to withstand the combination of spring tide and a northwesterly storm. The resulting flood killed 1,835 people. A further 307 people were killed by dike breaches in the United Kingdom, in the counties of Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. In the Netherlands this flood was a main reason for the construction of the Delta Works, probably the most innovative and extensive levee system in the world.[3]

Other breaches

  • 1421 – The St. Elizabeth's flood of 1421 in the Netherlands was caused when dikes were breached in a number of places during a heavy storm near the North Sea coast and the lower lying polder land was flooded. A number of villages were swallowed by the flood and were lost, causing between 2,000 and 10,000 casualties.
  • 1570 – The All Saints' Flood caused dike breaches on the west coast of the Netherlands. The total number of dead, including in foreign countries, must have been above 20,000, but exact data is not available. Tens of thousands of people became homeless. Livestock was lost in huge numbers. Winter stocks of food and fodder were destroyed.
  • 1651 – During the St. Peter's Flood the city of Amsterdam was flooded after several breaches of the dikes, the coasts of Netherlands and Northern Germany were heavily battered.
  • 1686 – The St. Martin's flood flooded large parts of the province of Groningen in the Netherlands. 1558 people, 1387 horses and 7861 cows died. 631 houses were swept away and 616 houses damaged.[4]
  • 1703 – The Great Storm of 1703 caused havoc between Wales and Friesland, it was the most severe storm or natural disaster ever recorded in the southern part of Great Britain.[5] Several dikes were breached in the Netherlands. Between 8,000–15,000 lives were lost overall.
  • 1717 – The Christmas flood of 1717 was the result of a northwesterly storm, which hit the coast area of the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia on Christmas night of 1717. In total, approximately 14,000 people drowned. It was the last large flood in the north of the Netherlands.
  • 1809 – When De Biesbosch in the Netherlands froze, ice dams caused a rapid rise in waterlevels in the Meuse, Waal and Merwede, which resulted in dike breaches.
  • 1820 – The Alblasserwaard in the Netherlands flooded after a dike breach
  • 1825 – Parts of Groningen, Friesland and Overijssel in the Netherlands were flooded after dike breaches
  • 1855 – Large parts of the central Netherlands were flooded after the Lower Rhine was dammed by ice and dikes were breached
  • 1916 – A storm surge on the Zuiderzee coincided with a large volume of water flowing down the Rhine and Meuse rivers causing dozens of dike breaches
  • 1927 – The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 occurred when the Mississippi River breached levees and flooded 27,000 square miles (70,000 km2), killing 246 people in seven states and displacing 700,000 people.[6]
  • September 1928: Storm surge from the Okeechobee Hurricane breaches levees surrounding Lake Okeechobee, killing an estimated 2500 people.
  • 1938 Yellow River flood, voluntary destruction during the Second Sino-Japanese War, around 500,000 deaths.
  • Dec 24, 1955 – Just after midnight, a levee on the west bank of the Feather River collapsed just south of Yuba City, Ca., resulting in the drowning of 38 residents.[7]
  • Jan 3, 1976 – A dike failed on the Vliet, a tributuary of the Rupel in Belgium. The village of Ruisbroek was flooded to a depth of 3m and over 2000 people had to be evacuated. This disaster prompted the drafting of Belgium's Sigma Plan as a counterpart to the Dutch Delta Plan.[8]
  • Feb 20, 1986 – A levee on the south bank of the Yuba River collapsed at the northern Sacramento Valley community of Linda, California in Yuba County, inundating 36 square miles (93 km2) and destroying 600 homes.
  • Jan 31, 1995 – 250,000 people were evacuated from central parts of the Netherlands after river dikes had become dangerously unstable. The dikes were not breached after intensive works to stabilize the embankments, aided by military engineers.[9]
  • Jan 2, 1997 – A levee on the east bank of the Feather River collapsed at the northern Sacramento Valley community of Arboga, California in Yuba County, killing three people. More than 100,000 people in Yuba and Sutter counties were evacuated.
  • 26 Aug 2003 – A dike near Wilnis in the Netherlands failed and flooded that town due to the dike not having enough weight to withstand the water pressure of the canal after a long drought. 1,500 inhabitants were evacuated with no loss of life.[10]
  • 3 June 2004 – Jones Tract, an inland island that is protected by a series of levees located in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, failed.[11]
  • January 5, 2008 – A levee in Fernley, Nevada burst, flooding portions of the town and forcing the evacuations of 3,500 residents.
  • September 14, 2008 – a levee in Munster, Indiana broke on the Little Calumet River resulting in flooding in most of Munster.
  • August 8, 2009 – Levees fail in Southern Taiwan due to Typhoon Morakot causing widespread flooding in many regions.
  • February 26, 2010 – Levees were submerged by wind and a huge tide in Vendée, in Western France because of the Xynthia storm.
  • April 26, 2011 – A levee on the Black River in Poplar Bluff, Missouri failed, sending water rushing into rural Butler County, Missouri.[12]


  1. ^ Sulzberger, A. G. (May 2, 2011). "Officials Blow Up Mississippi River Levee". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Schwartz, John (May 22, 2006). "New Study of Levees Faults Design and Construction - New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-12.
  3. ^ [1] Accessed August 16, 2010
  4. ^ Staatkundige historie van Holland: Benevens de Maandelijksche Nederlandsche Mercurius ... 24–27. 1768.
  5. ^ BBC article – The Great Storm of 1703
  6. ^ Man v. Nature, National Geographic, May 2001 Accessed June 14, 2008
  7. ^ Howard Yune, August 05, 2009. "'55 flood project attracts 33 so far". Appeal Democrat, Retrieved on August 12, 2009
  8. ^ http://www.sigmaplan.be/nl/sigmaplan/hoe-is-het-sigmaplan-ontstaan 20 June 2013
  9. ^ Regional archive Bommelerwaard: evacuation 1995 ‹See Tfd›(in Dutch)
  10. ^ "Evaluation dike breach Wilnis" (PDF). Gemeente De Ronde Venen (in Dutch). 3 June 2004.
  11. ^ Meehan, Richard (2009). "Delata Levee Blog". Delta Levees. Retrieved 2011-07-12.
  12. ^ "Missouri levee fails; prompting more evacuations". CNN. April 27, 2011.
17th Street Canal

The 17th Street Canal is the largest and most important drainage canal in the city of New Orleans. Operating with Pump Station 6, it moves water into Lake Pontchartrain. The canal, along with the Orleans Canal and the London Avenue Canal, form the New Orleans Outfall Canals. The 17th Street Canal forms a significant portion of the boundary between the city of New Orleans and Metairie, Louisiana. The canal has also been known as the Metairie Outlet Canal and the Upperline Canal.

Audubon Place

Audubon Place is a privately gated street in New Orleans, adjacent to Tulane University, and across St. Charles Avenue from Audubon Park.

It was developed starting in the 1890s as an exclusive luxury development where only homes above a certain size and price could be constructed.

As of 2009, Audubon Place homes typically cost around US $5 million. A guardhouse sits at the entrance to the street, with entrance restricted to those on a pre-approved list. Following the 2005 Hurricane Katrina-related levee breach, Blackwater security personnel were helicoptered to Audubon Place to protect property; flood waters did not inundate the street, because the street is above sea level. Audubon Place is immediately across from Audubon Park. The street lies within the 70118 ZIP code.

Among recent residents of Audubon Place was Tom Benson, who owned the city's NFL and NBA teams, the Saints and Pelicans, when he died in 2018. The president of Tulane University lives on the street in a mansion donated to the university by Sam Zemurray, one-time head of United Fruit, predecessor to today's Chiquita.Audubon Place is not to be confused with Audubon Street or Audubon Boulevard, both of which are also in the neighborhood surrounding Tulane University and Audubon Park. All of the streets are named after John James Audubon, naturalist and long-time New Orleans resident.

Community resilience

Community resilience is the sustained ability of a community to utilize available resources (energy, communication, transportation, food, etc.) to respond to, withstand, and recover from adverse situations (e.g. economic collapse to global catastrophic risks). This allows for the adaptation and growth of a community after disaster strikes. Communities that are resilient are able to minimize any disaster, making the return to normal life as effortless as possible. By implementing a community resilience plan, a community can come together and overcome any disaster, while rebuilding physically and economically.


A disaster is a serious disruption occurring over a relatively short time of the functioning of a community or a society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental loss and impacts, which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources.In contemporary academia, disasters are seen as the consequence of inappropriately managed risk. These risks are the product of a combination of both hazards and vulnerability. Hazards that strike in areas with low vulnerability will never become disasters, as in the case of uninhabited regions.Developing countries suffer the greatest costs when a disaster hits – more than 95 percent of all deaths caused by hazards occur in developing countries, and losses due to natural hazards are 20 times greater (as a percentage of GDP) in developing countries than in industrialized countries.

Disaster convergence

Disaster convergence is the phenomenon of individuals or groups moving towards a disaster-stricken area. Convergers have many reasons for heading towards a disaster area. Kendra and Wachtendorf (2002) identified seven distinct categories of convergers. These categories are mourners, the anxious, returners, the curious, the helpers, the exploiters, and the supporters.

Earthquake preparedness

Earthquake preparedness is a set of measures taken at the individual, organisational and societal level to minimise the effects of an earthquake. Preparedness measures can range from securing heavy objects, structural modifications and storing supplies, to having insurance, an emergency kit, and evacuation plans.

Huai River

The Huai River, formerly romanized as the Hwai, is a major river in China. It is located about midway between the Yellow River and Yangtze, the two largest rivers in China, and like them runs from west to east. Historically draining directly into the Yellow Sea, floods have changed the course of the river such that it is now a major tributary of the Yangtze. The Huai is notoriously vulnerable to flooding.

The Huai River–Qin Mountains line is generally regarded as the geographical dividing line between Northern and southern China. This line approximates the 0 °C January isotherm and the 800 mm isohyet in China. It also reflects the boundary established in 1142 by the Treaty of Shaoxing between the Jin dynasty in North China and the Southern Song in South China.

The Huai River is 1,110 kilometres (690 mi) long with a drainage area of 174,000 square kilometres (67,000 sq mi).

Hurricane response

Hurricane response is the disaster response after a hurricane. This response encompasses assessment and repairs to buildings and infrastructure, removal of debris, and providing public health services. Hurricane responders may be exposed to many hazards such as chemical and biological contaminants, and injuries from work activities.

List of modern infrastructure failures

Infrastructure includes the basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise, or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function. This entry aggregates articles on and lists of modern infrastructure failures by category (type of infrastructure).

List of nightclub fires

This is a list of notable nightclub fires at indoor and outdoor venues. Many involve pyrotechnic failures.

Lists of disasters

The following are lists of disasters.

Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents

These are lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents.

Lists of rail accidents

This is the list of rail accident lists.

Lists of shipwrecks

This is an index of lists of shipwrecks (i.e. sunken or grounded ships whose remains have been located), sorted by region.

McCrea, Louisiana

McCrea is an unincorporated community on the east bank of the Atchafalaya River in the northwestern portion of Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana, United States. It is located along Louisiana Highway 417, some distance north of East Krotz Springs. A post office opened here in 1902 but was discontinued in 1954. The community is named for Bob McCrea, an early settler who developed a plantation at the site prior to the Civil War.

McCrea is famous as the location of the last levee breach or "crevasse" of the Great Flood of 1927. As the high water of that year accumulated within the Atchafalaya River to unprecedented heights, authorities were concerned that the Mississippi River itself was attempting to shift its channel into that of the Atchafalaya. Some 2,000 men - free labor and state convicts - labored for weeks under government supervision to prevent a breach, but the McCrea levee broke at 3:15 a.m. on May 24, flooding much of Pointe Coupee, West Baton Rouge, Iberville and Assumption Parishes and forcing more than 10,000 residents from their homes.

After the floodwaters receded, a new levee was built inland from the old one, curving around the crater created by the break. That body of water has since been known as McCrea Lake.

In June 1971, McCrea was the site of a sort of "mini-Woodstock," rock festival. More than 50,000 rock fans from around the nation converged on the hamlet for the "Celebration of Life" rock concert held between the levee and the Atchafalaya River. The concert was billed to last for eight days. In literally a matter of hours, the rock festival more than doubled the population of Pointe Coupee Parish. Rain, the lack of accommodations and sanitary facilities and public outrage at the actions of some of the attendees resulted in the festival ending earlier than scheduled. By its conclusion on the third day over 150,000 people gathered to enjoy the music and the amusing side shows that arrived in a variety of vehicles colorful as though it were a circus parade entering the town. A sight the neighborhood would ever see in a lifetime. Two people drowned in the fast-rushing Atchafalaya River due to a tremendous unannounced current/undertow. In order for a strong swimmer to cross the river they would have been carried 1/4 mile downstream just to reach the other side. Undercover cops made more than 100 drug busts, and one person died from a drug overdose. Some of the acts that were scheduled to play at the concert included: Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Melanie, Boz Scaggs, Brownsville Station, Ike & Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Stephen Stills & Neil Young, Country Joe McDonald, and John Sebastian.

Pinhook, Missouri

Pinhook is an inactive village in Mississippi County, Missouri, United States. The population was 30 at the 2010 census.

It was settled in the 1920s by sharecroppers. The community takes its name from a nearby ridge of the same name which in turn was so named on account it having the form of a pinhook. The community was flooded in May 2011 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers breached the Bird’s Point Levee to save the town of Cairo, Illinois. The government did not assist or provide help to evacuate Pinhook. The residents were left entirely on their own before the levee breach. Afterwards, the former residents resettled in East Prairie and Sikeston.

Sergeant John F. Baker Jr. Bridge

The Sergeant John F. Baker Jr. Bridge, also known as the Baker Bridge or Interstate 280 Bridge, carries Interstate 280 (I-280) across the Mississippi River between Davenport, Iowa and Rock Island, Illinois, United States. The bridge opened in 1973 with a blue and yellow color scheme, thought to be unique in the state. In 2007, it was repainted all blue. On July 30, 2010, the bridge was officially named the Sergeant John F. Baker Jr. Bridge.On May 2nd, 2019, the bridge, along with several other bridges in the Quad Cities area, were indefinitely closed to all traffic due to severe flooding of the Mississippi River and the Rock River, and a subsequent levee breach in Davenport.

Tuindorp Oostzaan

Tuindorp Oostzaan is a neighborhood of Amsterdam, Netherlands. The neighborhood is named after the adjacent village Oostzaan. Approximately 20 minutes from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. As of January 1, 2010, the neighborhood had a population estimated at 10.380.

Typhoon Haitang (2005)

Typhoon Haitang, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Feria, was the first super typhoon of the 2005 season in the northwestern Pacific. It had winds up to 255 km/h (160 mph) at peak intensity, and caused over 18 serious injuries and 13 confirmed deaths in Taiwan and People's Republic of China. Damage totaled about $1.1 billion (2005 USD), most of which occurred in mainland China.

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