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Missippi River to New Orleans Open to Traffic

The Lower Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans is now open to deep draft traffic during daylight hours, reported Corps of Engineers representative Barry Kennedy, who is in charge of navigation in the area affected by Hurricane Katrina. The U.S. Coast Guard declared the river open as of September 11 at 5 p.m., he said.

Speaking in a phone-in press conference on Monday, September 12, Kennedy said that the Coast Guard had replaced all necessary aids to navigation and that hydrographic surveys indicated no shoaling in the channel.

Surveys are continuing in all channels in the affected area, and the Intracoastal Waterway from New Orleans to Alabama has been restricted to a 9.5-foot depth. That channel has an authorized depth of 12 feet.

“There doesn’t appear to be as much shoaling in the navigation channels as we anticipated,” said Kennedy.

Col. Duane Gapinski, commander of the Rock Island District deployed to New Orleans to oversee the unwatering of the city, said that his mission is to remove the surface water from New Orleans and Plaquemines Parish so conditions will be right for reclamation of the area.

This happens in three phases, he said: repair of the breaches (complete), draining the water through gravity and pumps, and making repairs to the levees and floodwalls.

The water is being removed at the rate of 13,000 cubic feet per second or 6.5 billion gallons per day.

The New Orleans District and many other districts are represented in the unwatering effort, including 94 Germans and five Dutch engineers.

Mike Logue reported the there are 400 Corps personnel focused on recovery in Mississippi River, the Gulf Coast and north, and that the number would peak at 1000. There are 18 to 20 million cubic yards of debris to remove, equivalent to 300 football fields piled 50 feet high, said Logue. It will take eight months to remove the debris and a year and a half to dispose of it.

While the New Orleans District headquarters sustained some damage, there are 300-plus folks there now, continuing with the unwatering and re-constituting of the New Orleans district, said John Rickey, Chief of Public Affairs of the Mississippi Valley Division. The re-constituting effort will include providing sewer, water and housing for Corps personnel at various locations, he said.

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