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Mayor blasts failure to patch levee breaches

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New Orleans (Louisiana)

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- A day after Hurricane Katrina dealt a devastating blow to the Big Easy, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on Tuesday night blasted what he called a lack of coordination in relief efforts for setting behind the city's recovery.

"There is way too many fricking ... cooks in the kitchen," Nagin said in a phone interview with WAPT-TV in Jackson, Mississippi, fuming over what he said were scuttled plans to plug a 200-yard breach near the 17th Street Canal, allowing Lake Pontchartrain to spill into the central business district.

An earlier breach occurred along the Industrial Canal in the city's Lower 9th Ward. ( Watch the video featuring Nagin's complaints about delayed sandbagging -- 0:56 )

The rising flood waters overwhelmed pumping stations that would normally keep the city dry. About 80 percent of the city was flooded with water up to 20 feet deep after the two levees collapsed.

The Army Corps of Engineers is working to repair the levee breaches, the agency said Tuesday, but it gave no timetable for repairs. (See the video of water surging into the saturated city -- 1:53 )

The Corps has workers assessing damage at the two locations. The National Guard, Coast Guard and state and federal agencies are working with the agency to speed the process, it reported.

"These closures are essential so that water can be removed from the city," a statement from the Corps of Engineers' headquarters in Washington said.

Walter Baumy, the agency's engineering division chief, said the Corps is trying to line up rock, sandbags, barges, helicopters and cranes to patch the damaged levees.

Col. Kevin Wagner, a Corps official in Baton Rouge, said that engineers also were eyeing the prospect of filling shipping containers with sand and lowering them into the breaches to stanch the flooding.

The National Weather Service reported a breach along the Industrial Canal levee at Tennessee Street, in southeast New Orleans, on Monday. Local reports later said the levee was overtopped, not breached, but the Corps of Engineers reported it Tuesday afternoon as having been breached.

But Nagin said a repair attempt was supposed to have been made Tuesday.

According to the mayor, Black Hawk helicopters were scheduled to pick up and drop massive 3,000-pound sandbags in the 17th Street Canal breach, but were diverted on rescue missions. Nagin said neglecting to fix the problem has set the city behind by at least a month.

"I had laid out like an eight-week to ten-week timeline where we could get the city back in semblance of order. It's probably been pushed back another four weeks as a result of this," Nagin said.

"That four weeks is going to stop all commerce in the city of New Orleans. It also impacts the nation, because no domestic oil production will happen in southeast Louisiana."

Nagin said he expects relief efforts in the city to improve as New Orleans, the National Guard and FEMA combine their command centers for better communication, followup and accountability.

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