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Did Termites Contribute To The Devastation Caused By Hurricane Katrina?

Did Termites Contribute To The Devastation Caused By Hurricane Katrina?

Over a decade has passed since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, displacing large amounts of the southern population. Since then, there has been much speculation concerning the failure of the city’s floodwall system. Now, much to the surprise of many, it looks as though the dreaded Formosan termite may be largely responsible for the ruin of the city’s floodwalls.

Gregg Henderson, a professor at the Louisiana State University AgCenter, said he found termites within the seams of floodwalls back in 2000. Not only that, but Henderson also discovered that these seams were made from waste residue containing sugarcane. This sugary waste residue is known as bagasse and it attracts Formosan termites.

During 2005, the year that Katrina hit the coast, Henderson and his colleagues inspected one hundred seams for a termite presence, which included three areas where major breakage occurred. Seventy percent of the seams at the London Street Canal showed signs of a heavy termite presence, and this is where three separate and major breaks to the dyke occurred. Also, twenty seven percent of the seams at the 17th Street Canal showed signs of a clear termite influence.

In addition to the areas that were heavy in bagasse seams, termites could have caused further damage to the dykes by building tunnels within the material. In fact, termites could have been building tunnels within the dykes for decades, which would have made parts of the dyke flood with water. This termite activity would have undermined the structural integrity of the dykes, causing them to eventually give into the weight of the water from the other side. Henderson believes that Formosan termites may still be causing damage to newly built dykes as well as long-standing dykes. Henderson goes onto say that monitoring dykes for Formosan termite activity is not too difficult and regulatory inspections are necessary.

Do you believe that Formosan termites are solely to blame for the collapse of some of New Orleans dykes?

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