- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

12:26 p.m.

MIAMI — There will be four to six major hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico this season, the National Hurricane Center predicted today.

There will be up to 16 named storms, the center predicted, which would be significantly less than last year’s record 27.

Last year officials predicted 12 to 15 tropical storms, seven to nine of them becoming hurricanes, and three to five of those hurricanes being major.

But the season was the busiest Atlantic hurricane season since record keeping began in 1851. There were 15 hurricanes, seven of which were Category 3 or higher.

The Atlantic seasons were relatively mild from the 1970s through 1994. Since then, all but two years have been above normal. Experts say the world is in the midst of a 20-year-cycle that will continue to bring strong storms.

Meanwhile, an independent report released today found that the levee system in New Orleans was routinely underfunded and therefore inadequate to protect against hurricanes.

The report also called for an overhaul of the agencies that oversee flood protection. It took aim at Congress for its piecemeal funding over the past 50 years, and at state and local levee authorities for failing to properly oversee maintenance of the levees.

“You tend to get what you pay for,” Dave Rogers, a member of the team of academics who extensively studied the system, said during a news conference.

The study was performed by the independent levee investigation team, led by the University of California, Berkeley. The group has been highly critical of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which was in charge of designing and building the complicated system.

The study said floods overwhelmed levees and flood walls, both on the fringes and inside the city. Breaches were caused by weak soil in the levees, poor engineering and breakdowns in sections where different types of flood protection meet.

The Corps of Engineers has been working to repair and upgrade the levee system before the June 1 start of the hurricane season. However, officials said part of the work will not be finished by then.

Raymond Seed, a member of the study team, said that engineers must pay attention to other spots in the system that may fail if another hurricane hits New Orleans.

“The next weakest link is the one you have to be worried about,” Mr. Seed said.

While the corps is trying to upgrade the levee system, it is installing huge floodgates at key points to prevent the type of Katrina-like storm surge that entered canals and overtopped and breached levees, leading to the flooding of 80 percent of New Orleans and of surrounding areas.

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