Eye Opening. Visitors sobered by devastation.

A group of Japanese civil engineers who toured hurricane damage in New Orleans May 18 say the widespread devastation is a warning for them to look to their own nation’s flood defenses.

The Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development’s Bridge Design Dept. led Japanese bridge, geotechnical and seismic engineers on a tour of fixed and moveable bridges in the New Orleans area to show them damage from Hurricane Katrina’s high winds, flooding and waves.

Tadahiko Sakamoto, chief ex-ecutive of Japan’s Public Works Research Institute, says he was amazed at the devastation. “We thought the American people already had a full defense system,” Sakamoto says.  

Japan has an elaborate system of levees, dams, gates and pumps to protect population concentrations, but the engineers say they fear they are equally as vulnerable as New Orleans. “In Tokyo, almost one million people live below sea level,” says Osamu Matsuo, leader of the earthquake engineering group. “We have to learn from this disaster.”

The tour marked the 38th U.S. visit of the technology transfer program.

(Photo by Angelle Bergeron for ENR)