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Army Corps of Engineers Responsible For Katrina Damage

November 19, 2009

A federal judge in New Orleans has ruled that negligence by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers led to massive floods in parts of New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, BBC News reported.

Six complaints by residents and a business were upheld in court against the Corps over its maintenance of a navigational channel, which led to awarded damages totaling $720,000, and the ruling could lead to thousands more claims.

Hurricane Katrina flooded around 80 percent of New Orleans causing more than 1,800 deaths.

The U.S. Army is responsible for maintaining a system of canals and earthworks that protect New Orleans from storm surges.

However, “negligent failure” to maintain the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet – a shipping channel – led to flooding in the city’s Lower 9th Ward and nearby St Bernard Parish, according to the ruling by U.S. district judge Stanwood Duval.

But the judge ruled that the Army was not responsible for flooding in eastern New Orleans.

Attorneys representing the U.S. government argued that the system had been overwhelmed by the hurricane and that levee breaches could not be blamed on the channel alone.

Judge Duval said in his 156-page ruling that he believed it was the failure to shore up the outlet that “doomed the channel to grow to two to three times its design width” and “created a more forceful frontal wave attack on the levee”.

The ruling marks the first time that a U.S. court has found the federal government directly responsible for some of Hurricane Katrina’s costly damage.

Charles Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. justice department, said it would review the judge’s ruling before making a decision on how to proceed with any sort of appeal against the ruling.

But if the ruling is upheld, it could set a precedent for thousands more flood victims to sue the government for damages, according to some correspondents.

The ruling could also spell problems for the Obama administration, which has promised to bring more attention and care to New Orleans than the former Bush administration did.

Pierce O’Donnell, the lead plaintiff’s counsel, said some 100,000 residents and business owners in New Orleans that have filed flood-damage claims with the Army corps are now potentially eligible for payment.

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