overall: 17 in x 9 in x 6 in; 43.18 cm x 22.86 cm x 15.24 cm
One of the signature events of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 was the failure of the levees of New Orleans. Seemingly impregnable earthen walls surmounted by concrete barricades turned out to be no match for the surging flood waters that turned Lake Pontchartrain into a force that devastated one of the nation's major cities.
From the earliest years of the city's establishment several feet below sea level, New Orleans has been at risk of catastrophic flooding. And yet the city's vital location at the mouth of the Mississippi River, taking in raw materials and finished goods and distributing them to the world, was too strong an economic force to be turned away. The threat of water inundation was nothing that good engineering and a few pumps could not overcome.
But some of the largest drainage pumps in the world were rendered useless on the morning of August 30th when some eighty percent of New Orleans became a part of Lake Pontchartrain. The great pump houses stood silent beneath many feet of flood water. The city that depended upon strong walls and the pumps behind them in order to stay dry had encountered a force of nature unlike anything it had experienced before: a large, strong hurricane sweeping vast quantities of ocean water into the lake at high tide.
Geological studies would later reveal that some of the earthen levees of New Orleans had been built on soft, peaty soils and that many of the concrete flood walls that topped the levees were poorly anchored. Several of these levees and their walls were undercut and then destroyed by the ponderous weight and power of the lake water.
To acknowledge the key role of the levees and walls in the flooding of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, the Smithsonian selected several decorative chunks of concrete from the damaged floodwall along the London Avenue Canal at Mirabeau Street.
This floodwall's attractive concrete ribbing faced houses that stood within several feet of the canal, houses later destroyed by waters the levee intended to keep at bay.