- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A contrite U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took responsibility yesterday for the flooding of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and said the levees failed because they were built in a disjointed fashion using outdated data.

“This is the first time that the corps has had to stand up and say, ‘We’ve had a catastrophic failure,’” Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the corps chief, said as the agency issued a 6,000-page-plus report on the disaster on the first day of the new hurricane season.

The corps said it will use the lessons it has learned to build better flood defenses.

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

The $19.7 million report includes details on the engineering-and-design failures that allowed the storm surge to overwhelm New Orleans’ levees and flood walls Aug. 29.

The corps, Gen. Strock said, has undergone a period of intense introspection and is “deeply saddened and enormously troubled by the suffering of so many.”

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.

Robert Bea, a University of California at Berkeley engineer and corps critic, called Gen. Strock’s comments and the report signs of “a leadership in growth.”

“They’re catching up with the 1,000 years of progress of the Dutch,” Mr. Bea said, referring to the Netherlands’ long, and mostly successful, history of battling the North Sea.

The much-anticipated report — prepared by the 150-member Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force, assembled and led by the corps — is intended to serve as a road map for engineers as they seek to design and build better levees and flood walls.

Serious work on New Orleans’ hurricane protection system began in the 1960s after Hurricane Betsy flooded the city in 1965. But funding slackened over the decades, and many parts of the system were not finished by the time Katrina hit.

The result was a disjointed system of levees, inconsistent in quality, materials and design, that left gaps exploited by the storm, the report said.

Also, engineers did not take into account the poor soil quality underneath New Orleans, the report said, and failed to account for the sinking of land, which caused some sections to be as much as 2 feet lower than other parts.

Four breaches in canals that run through New Orleans were caused by foundation failures that were “not considered in the original design of these structures,” the report said. Those breaches caused two-thirds of the city’s flooding.

The report urged the corps to shift its formulaic cost-benefit approach on how it decides which projects are worthwhile. The agency was urged to look at potential environmental, societal and cultural losses, “without reducing everything to one measure, such as dollars.”

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