- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

1:29 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana’s hurricane protection system was overwhelmed by Katrina because it was built disjointedly using outdated data, according to an Army Corps of Engineers report released today.

“The system did not perform as a system,” according to the report, released on the first day of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season. “The hurricane protection in New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana was a system in name only.”

The 6,000-plus page document includes details on engineering and design failures that led to the Aug. 29 storm surge overwhelming the city’s outer levees and breaking through flood walls within New Orleans.

Katrina damaged 169 miles of the 350-mile hurricane system that protects New Orleans and was blamed for more than 1,570 deaths in Louisiana alone.

The report, prepared by the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force, says the area’s hurricane protection system was inadequate and incomplete, noting it was built disjointedly over several decades using outdated elevation data.

It is contrite in tone but does not address questions raised by other agencies regarding the Corps’ organizational mind-set, focusing instead on details such as flood-wall designs, storm modeling and levee soil types in greater depth than the task force’s preliminary studies.

A report released last month by outside engineers says the Corps was dysfunctional and unreliable. The group that conducted that report, led by the University of California at Berkeley, recommended setting up an agency to oversee the Corps’ projects nationwide.

Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the Corps chief, said the agency takes responsibility for the failures.

“Words alone will not restore trust in the Corps,” Gen. Strock said, adding that it is committed “to fulfilling our important responsibilities.”

The Corps is responsible for harbors and navigable waterways. In Louisiana, it has an even broader mission of overseeing levee construction, river diversions and coastal preservation projects in the complex Mississippi River Delta.

In response to criticism after Katrina, the Corps has made fixing New Orleans’ flood protection system a top priority and tried to adapt its repair work to include new task-force findings on how to build better levees and flood defenses.

The Corps already has spent about $800 million for repairs and improvements and plans to spend $3.7 billion over the next four years to raise and strengthen levees, increase pumping capacity and install more floodgates to keep storm surge out of city canals.

A thorough assessment of the region’s flood defenses found no “glaring weaknesses,” said Col. Richard Wagenaar, the Corps’ district chief in New Orleans.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs through Nov. 30. William Gray, a leading hurricane forecaster, said yesterday that the 2006 season shouldn’t be as destructive as the 2005 season, which set records with 28 named storms and four major hurricanes making landfall. Mr. Gray’s team forecasts 17 named storms this year, nine of them hurricanes.

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