BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated
New Orleans, James N. Jensen, PhD, University at Buffalo professor
of civil, structural and environmental engineering, says that
probably the biggest lesson learned from that disaster was that
municipalities and citizens now take orders to evacuate much more
Jensen was one of six UB researchers that visited the Gulf Coast
soon after Katrina hit, as part of a National Science
Foundation-funded reconnaissance mission organized by UB's
Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research.
Research into "extreme events" and disaster mitigation/ response is
a strategic strength of the university identified in the UB 2020
"By the time Hurricane Rita hit not long after Katrina, there
was something like a 95 percent evacuation rate," Jensen recalls.
"People had really gotten the message."
During his visit to New Orleans in October 2005, Jensen and
colleague Pavani Ram, MD, UB assistant professor of social and
preventive medicine, met with public-health officials and with
managers from wastewater treatment plants.
While he said that drinking water was restored by about 10 weeks
after Katrina, one major problem persisted as a result of the loss
of pressure of water distribution systems, due to shifting,
waterlogged houses and empty cars on flooded streets that knocked
down fire hydrants.
"They estimated that as many as 1,000 or more breaks occurred in
the water distribution pipes due to the damaged fire hydrants,"
says Jensen, "and the loss of pressure that resulted lead to
contaminating the water in those pipes."
Another issue, one that could complicate hurricanes this season,
is the problem posed by the potential loss of vegetation in
wetlands due to the Gulf oil spill.
"If oil kills the vegetation in those wetlands, then you lose
the buffer that that vegetation provided," Jensen explains.
One thing really surprised Jensen about his visit to New Orleans
after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"Pretty much to a person, once people found out I was from
Buffalo, they all expressed the same sentiment," he says: "Even
though they were living through the aftermath of these two horrible
hurricanes, they told me they could never live in a place that has
Members of the media who wish to speak to Jensen for stories
about the five-year anniversary of Katrina can contact him at
716-645-4007 or firstname.lastname@example.org. A listing of other UB experts
available to comment on the news of the day is available
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive
public university, a flagship institution in the State University
of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus.
UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests
through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional
degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a
member of the Association of American Universities.