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Making Waves

Engineer Bill Seabergh stands in the middle of a 1:50 scale model of the 17th Street canal. The bug-like contraptions around him measure waves that engineers direct at a miniature floodwall. David Kestenbaum hide caption

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David Kestenbaum

Sure, making models may be the province of a small geek subculture involving pouring months of one's life into an exact replica of the USS Kitty Hawk. But better yet is getting the feds to pay for it... to the tune of a cool $325k.

NPR's David Kestenbaum pointed me to this model that's being used in an experiment today to try to figure out why the levees on the 17th Street Canal failed in New Orleans.

The Army Corps of Engineers is pummeling a scale model of the levees with waves to see what role the rush of water from Lake Pontchartain may have played in breaching a floodwall during Katrina. Kestenbaum says these engineers got down on their hands and knees to make sure the model was accurate in scale down to one-half of one-thousandth of a foot. The real walls are 18 feet high. Here, they're just a couple of inches.

Pewter figures of Orcs were not used, but engineer Bill Seabergh does say he feels like the Jolly Green Giant walking through the pint-sized canal.