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BUOYANT FOUNDATIONS WOULD ALLOWS HOMES TO FLOAT OUT OF HARM'S WAY DURING FLOODS, LSU ENGINEER SAYS

A Louisiana State University engineering professor made the rounds of congressional staff and Bush administration officials this week to push a system she says could protect many homes from the kind of disastrous flooding that occurred in Hurricane Katrina.

Elizabeth English, who is affiliated with the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, hopes to borrow an idea from the Dutch, who use "buoyant foundations" in some flood-prone communities to reduce flood damage.

In effect, the system works like a floating dock. When flooding occurs, the house is lifted above the water by flotation blocks beneath the home. The house settles to ground level when the flooding recedes. The concept, she said, is designed especially for wood-frame homes, such as the shotguns common in New Orleans. It would not work, at least as now conceived, for brick or concrete slab homes.

English said she heard about the idea last year during a symposium with counterparts from the Netherlands.

"I thought this could work in New Orleans," English said. "If the Dutch can do it, we should be able to do it in Louisiana."

A less sophisticated version has been used for years along some waterways in South Louisiana, she said.

The concept is relatively simple.

The flotation blocks, made of expanded polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam, are held together by steel frames and attached to the underside of a house, according to a description of her proposal. Four vertical guidance poles are attached not far from the corners of the house.

When flooding occurs, the flotation blocks lift the house.

Collars are attached around the poles to ensure that the house doesn't go anywhere but up when the water rises and down when it falls, English said. The homes would be strengthened with steel channels attached to the bottom beams to ensure they are strong enough to withstand being lifted and dropped.