September 5, 2005

Major gap closed in New Orleans levee

HOUSTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has
closed a major gap in the New Orleans levees battered by
Hurricane Katrina and is pumping water from the flooded city,
an agency spokesman said Monday.

The Corps was still working to plug another major breach in
the levees built to keep out the Mississippi River and Lake
Pontchartrain, which nearly surround the city, spokesman John
Hall said.

The levees broke in several places when Katrina blew
through August 29 with a massive storm surge.

Hall said the eastern part of New Orleans was swamped by 20
feet of water in the storm. As much as 80 percent of the city
was flooded.

The city, most of which lies below sea level, has an
extensive pump system to pump out floodwaters, but the
hurricane knocked most of the pumps out of commission.

Hall said the biggest pump in the system, which can push
out 10,000 cubic feet of water per second, had been turned on
Monday, but was pumping out just 100 cubic feet per second and
would be turned up slowly to full capacity.

"We are proceeding very gently," he said. Engineers want to
make sure that the pumped out water does not further damage the
levee system and create a new breach.

In four places, the Corps has punched holes in the levee
system to allow water to drain out of the city, Hall said.

The Corps has estimated it will take as long as 80 days to
get rid of the floodwaters.