June 1, 2006

Incomplete system blamed for Katrina crisis

By Russell McCulley

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - An incomplete system of defenses
built in pieces over 40 years was responsible for the flooding
that devastated New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina last year,
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said on Thursday.

A few critical links failed in the system of earthen levees
and concrete floodwalls designed to protect the city, the
report said.

The region's flood protection system, built by the Corps
over the past 40 years, was compromised by "incompleteness in
the system" and inconsistent standards of construction and
protection levels.

The eight-volume, 6,100-page report by the Interagency
Performance Evaluation Task Force is one of the most extensive
to date in the effort to find out what allowed storm damage to
spiral out of control.

About 1,500 died in Louisiana due to Katrina, which slammed
into the U.S. Gulf Coast August 29.

"It's been sobering for us, but really this is the first
time that the Corps of Engineers has had to stand up and say we
had a catastrophic failure of one of our projects," said Corps
chief Lt. Gen. Carl Strock.

The Corps has repaired and improved most of the 169 miles

of the 350-mile (565-km) storm protection system that were
damaged. But with many levees still functioning at pre-Katrina
protection levels, the region remain vulnerable to hurricanes,
Link said.

The hurricane season began June 1.

Complicating matters, a report recently published in the
journal "Nature," showed that New Orleans may be sinking at a
faster rate than previously believed. Subsidence, or settling,
has caused levees and floodwalls in many spots to drop far
below their original height.

Critics say the Corps has not adequately addressed the
issue in its flood-protection plans. Roy Dokka, a geologist at
Louisiana State University and co-author of the "Nature"
article, said he had not yet seen Thursday's Corp report but
hoped engineers would focus on the effects of subsidence.

"Somebody who knows something about levees probably ought
to be very interested in the fact that this area has been
sinking at a rate of over an inch per year," Dokka said in a
phone interview.