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The Pumps Of New Orleans
Most of New Orleans is below sea level, and a good rainfall used to submerge it—until A. Baldwin Wood designed and installed a massive system of pumps to drain 20 million gallons a minute
Fall 1992 | Volume 8, Issue 2
The linchpin of the entire system—pumps, spillways, the works—is the levee. Most levees are made of earth and carefully calculated to withstand the force of the river. Engineers must take into account everything from the stability of different soil types to the centrifugal force of water at river bends to build a safe levee. Taken with the control structures upstream, the levee system around New Orleans could protect the city from virtually any river flood possible. The levees are also built to take a direct hit from a Category 3 hurricane, the other major natural disaster that the city might have to face. A Category 3 generates twelve-foot tides and 130-miles-perhour winds. In 1969 Hurricane Camille, with twenty-six-foot tides and 190-mph winds, missed New Orleans by sixty miles. It smacked Gulfport, Mississippi, instead, leaving bodies hanging from trees and floating in the gulf. Hundreds of people were killed, and 200,000 had to evacuate. If Camille had hit the more densely populated New Orleans area, the toll would have been much worse. At this point a Camille-type hurricane is about the only thing that could overwhelm New Orleans. Although the pumping system wouldn’t be able to save the city from flooding, it would speed drainage and help bring things back to normal. People would die, but the city would not.
A year before his death Wood was presented with a plaque commemorating his fifty-five years of service with the Sewerage and Water Board. Mayor deLesseps Morrison handed it to him, saying, “Mr. Wood, it’s practically impossible for the city of New Orleans to compensate you for what you’ve done.” Thanks to A. Baldwin Wood, New Orleans will always be able to re-emerge from the swamp that nature wants it to be.