NSF Supports Profs. Robertson and Riggs to Survey Damage from Hurricane Katrina

Prof. Ian Robertson has received funds from the National Science Foundation
to lead a team to survey hurricane damage in the Biloxi”“Gulfport”“Bay
St. Louis area of Mississippi. Other members of the team are Prof. Ron
Riggs, as well as Prof. Solomon Yim from Oregon State University and
Prof. Julie Young from Princeton University. The team will focus on structural
damage from the storm surge caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina wreaked massive damage along the Gulf Coast of Alabama,
Mississippi and Louisiana. While much of the damage associated with hurricanes
is related to wind and flooding, damage as a result of storm surge in
coastal areas in particular can be significant, and this damage mechanism
is very similar to what can happen during a tsunami. This is clearly
the case for Katrina.

Development of design guidelines for coastal construction to resist storm
surge and tsunami wave loading has been hampered by the lack of experimental
research and field data. Although excellent records are often collected
of coastal run-up, either via field surveys or satellite imagery, the
effects of storm surge and tsunami loading on the built infrastructure
is often not well documented. This survey will supplement the team”s
work under a recently-received NEES-R grant to develop Performance Based
Tsunami Engineering (PBTE).

Although significant amount of the damage to the Biloxi coast area appears
to have resulted from the storm surge and waves, it appears that large
engineered buildings withstood these forces well. Damage to these types
of buildings appears to be primarily from debris, either water-borne
or wind-borne. The former appears to have caused the most significant
structural damage, including partial collapse of several large structures.

A first hand assessment of the storm surge and impact damage from Katrina
will help the investigators focus their subsequent work more clearly
on the damage mechanisms that occur in both hurricane storm surge and
tsunami conditions. The survey represents a rare opportunity to document
the damage in an industrialized country resulting from a tsunami-like event.