Thursday, April 20, 2006
Racing against the clock in New Orleans
There are few certainties in New Orleans. But one thing everyone here is sure of is that June first will usher in a new hurricane season. And if the experts are correct, the Gulf of Mexico is warmer than usual and could foster another very active hurricane season.

So imagine the pressure on the Army Corps of Engineers, the entity charged with rebuilding the damaged levee system that protects the city from flood waters. At the same time, the Corps is building new floodgates designed to keep Lake Pontchartrain from pouring into the city during a harsh storm.

The Corps is adamant it will finish its critical work by June 1st. But we talked to a scientist and an engineer who are just as adamant that despite a "valiant" effort the Corps will not have its job completed by the deadline. They say there is just too much to do in too short a time.

Yesterday, I toured a massive construction site at the 17th Street Canal with Col. Lewis Setliff, the man in charge of making sure the Corps meets its deadlines.

Setliff can look you right in the eye and say, "We will be ready by June 1st." He knows the world is watching, and that if New Orleans floods again, many people believe it would become a lost city, never coming anywhere near full recovery.

Setliff points out more that than 90 percent of the workers on the project are local guys who have their livelihood at stake in getting the job done.

He also says that even though the most critical work will be completed by the start of the hurricane season that does not mean construction will end. He says upgrades to levees and canals will continue.

It may seem like a huge contradiction, but Setliff says it isn't: "I think the proof will be in the pudding....At some point our work will get tested by Mother Nature."

Here's hoping that test comes later rather than sooner. The last thing anyone here needs is to find out the hard way that the rebuilt levee system would have been better if only workers had gotten just a little more time.
Posted By Sean Callebs, CNN Correspondent: 10:02 AM ET
  43 Comments
We can't believe anything the Corps says. This man-made disaster was not supposed to happen in the first place. If they (the Corps)had built the levee walls deep enough, strong enough, in the appropriate type of soil and with the correct level of technology, the people of New Orleans would not be suffering. Hopefully it will be another 40 years before a storm comes again.
Posted By Anonymous Paige B., New Orleanian in Austin : 10:49 AM ET
Levee...they are not just piles of dirt. I lost my confidence in the Corp when the 17th Street Canal broke. This shouldn't have happened and it could have been prevented. I wonder what happened to the news report of this area leaking way before Katrina. I have lived in New Orleans for 47 years and Hurricane Betsy was the last time we had a major flood...where? Lower 9th Ward where the levee was weak, also below the city. I feel we need some intervention to make the different agencies as one to protect this great city. Katrina also hit us in 3 days after it came in the gulf. This was very fast..folks should know that too. I do hope we are spared even a small storm this season.
Posted By Anonymous William, Gretna, LA : 11:04 AM ET
I guess we can only hope and pray that Mother Nature doesn't prove Col. Setliff wrong.

I would like to have faith in the Amry Corps of Engineers, but unfortunately this disaster has been bungled from the beginning and continues to be grossly mismanaged.

Many thanks to Mr. Cooper and Mr. Callebs for continuing to cover this story after everyone else has stopped. Keep on keeping them honest.
Posted By Anonymous Sarah, Baltimore, MD : 11:05 AM ET
All I can say is "Good Luck" and "God Speed" to those racing against the clock.
Posted By Anonymous Betsy Wichita, KS : 11:08 AM ET
I sincerely believe that New Orleans is a lost cause. Who in their right mind would consider living below sea level on the Gulf of Mexico. C'mon it is simple physics, water flows down hill.
Posted By Anonymous Dave Frazier, Lexington Park MD : 11:31 AM ET
I think the most obvious and permanent solution to the problems in New Orleans, and the problems in all low lying coastal areas, would be to have the federal or state government buy back property that is at high risk of flood. This would be very expensive in the short run, but a few more Katrina's would be even more expensive.

Why people are allowed to get federal flood insurance for buildings that lie in areas that are perpetually in danger of flooding is yet another sign of the incompetance of our government. Furthermore it is we, the taxpayers, who will inevitably foot the bill. I don't blame those who live on the shoreline. I personally would love to live on the gulf coast. It is the responsibility of the government not to offer incentives (flood insurance) to those who do so.
Posted By Anonymous Michael Williams Lowell, MA : 11:35 AM ET
What would be cheaper?

Buy the land back and give it back to the river? Or continuously fix the Levees?

Is going to happen again..!!
Posted By Anonymous Walter Pittsburgh : 11:48 AM ET
Either way the corps is doomed. If they finish it on or before June 1, and another storm hits and the levee doesnt hold they will get blamed for finishing it too quickly. If they don't finish by the start of the hurricane season and N.O. gets flooded again, they will get blamed for not having it finished in time.
I can also see 20-30 years down the road when another huge storm hits and the levees fail, they will once again get blamed for building them poorly or not up to standards.
Posted By Anonymous Brian Belleville, IL : 12:23 PM ET
New Orleans is not a lost cause as another comment read. N.O. is a vital part of this nation, look at the oil prices right now. For someone to say we are a lost cause evidently hasn't gone through a "natural" disaster. Did they think that about Florida? This is our home just like MD is his. I'm glad we have more people that are optimistic and helpful than those who sit back and criticize our city and they've probably never been here. Thanks to all that care and help! We will be back better than ever and so will our levees.
Posted By Anonymous Gina Mays, New Orleans, LA : 12:52 PM ET
How about this. Evacuate the city, remove the levees, re-name it New Atlantis and re-open it as a water theme park.
Bill ORourke Bay City, Michigan
Posted By Anonymous Bill ORourke Bay City, Michigan : 12:55 PM ET
When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers talks no New Orleanian in their right mind listens. There incompetence has resulted in damages to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars while a half-million people were displaced and lives were lost. Scientists, scholars and the media have known in recent years that New Orleans was vulnerable to a major catastrophic event. This was based on scientific research and computer simulations. Every level of government was informed and nothing was done. Shoring up levees is critical in the short term but the long term solution needs to be addressed. That solution is the restoration of the wetlands. For two hundred million years our shoreline were built up due to the outflow of the Mississippi River. Man made changes like levee systems on the Mississippi River courteous of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have caused a decrease in sediment resulting in the erosion of wetlands. The wetlands serve as a buffer to protect the city from storm surges while at the same time diminishing the strength of hurricanes. The eroding wetlands have become a very serious problem. The realization of this problem caused a group of experts including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop the Louisiana Coastal Area Project a year ago. The project's goal was to protect the remaining wetlands increasing flood protection. The initial estimated cost was about 14 billion dollars over 30 years. The Bush Administration thought the price was way too much. In retrospect what a bargain that would be today.
Posted By Anonymous Louie Bonnecarre, New Orleans Louisiana : 12:57 PM ET
I think New Orleans should just give it up. If you look at the history of Earth and the evolution of our planet, has anyone thought that just maybe, that part of the U.S. is supposed to go under water?
Posted By Anonymous Lynn, Columbia, SC : 1:04 PM ET
That's a lot of money to spend so people can live below sea level. What if no one wants to come back?
Posted By Anonymous Mike Youngstown, Ohio : 1:05 PM ET
So people can criticize the Corps of Engineers for what they perceive as being a substandard job, but people can't criticize those who make a conscious choice to live below sea level? I understand that these are peoples' homes that we are dealing with but really, let's keep it a two way street here. I personally believe that I'd have an attachment to a particular area, e.g. if I was born there, but a few natural disasters might change my mind really quick about going back, no matter what the sentiment.

As an engineer, I resent some of the comments about shoddy construction, etc. Nothing is an exact science and levees that were designed many years ago were done so when New Orleans was several feet higher and with a totally different landscape (the wetlands are eroding). You can overdesign all you want, but in the end the most safe option may also be too expensive for the government - and taxpayers - to support. That's what everything boils down to - money. So you make a compromise...a fairly safe design at a cost that makes everyone happy. And who pays the Corps' salaries...the government. I ask those who criticize the design and engineering this...would they be willing to pay extra taxes to live in New Orleans if it meant that the levees could be more thoroughly built against hurricanes? Or would you complain about this as well?

I think eventually we'll have to be more creative in solving a situation like New Orleans. Just like it will take a creative solution (and some sacrifice) to transition to a new source of energy.
Posted By Anonymous Tony, Ann Arbor, MI : 1:43 PM ET
The citizens of New Orleans need to take a step back and realize that they are criticizing the same group of people that are diligently working to restore their lives to what it was previous to Katrina. The Army Corps of Engineers cannot be blamed forever for building a levee system that failed after being in place for 40 years when the government of New Orleans was aware that problems existed and refused to do anything to alleviate the issues. Maybe it is time for the government in New Orleans and Louisiana to stand up and take some responsibility for not repairing the levees that they knew were failing. Had it not been for all of the corruption in the government and the politicians there padding their pockets at the taxpayers expense over the last 20 years, maybe the levees would have been repaired and none of this would have happened. It is time to stop blaming the people that helped to make your 'wonderful' city what it was and are giving their highest effort to restore it to it's previous glory!
Posted By Anonymous Greg, Richmond, VA : 2:09 PM ET
I can't believe the nature of a lot of the comments on here. New Orleans should give up? Why should they? Would YOU be so willing to give up on your home? Maybe you shouldn't criticize what these people are going through until you've gone through something of equal magnitude. New Orleans and surrounding areas are places that a lot of people know as home, and the only home they've ever had. Don't we at least owe them some respect, good wishes in repairs, and whatever support we have that could help them remedy the problems with the levees? Some of you may think New Orleans should be under water because of "the history of the earth", but it's the history of the people that created the city, and that shouldn't be a fact that lies worthless.
Posted By Anonymous Holly, Moncton, New Brunswick CA : 2:11 PM ET
Mr. Bonnecarre has it right. It is not the levees, but the coastal erosion and destruction of wetlands that is doing us in. A study published last spring in the Times Picayune showed that the area was susceptible to a Cat 2 hurricane due to subsidence and the factors named earlier. We can go on and rebuild the levees; unless something is done and pronto about coastal restoration, we will continue to build those levees higher and higher.

Octavio Hernandez
Posted By Anonymous Octavio Hernandez, Metairie, LA : 2:13 PM ET
After the hurricane which destroyed Galveston, they dregged the bay and built the island up with the spoils. Why aren't they building New Orleans up rather than rebuilding the dam around it to hold the water in?

David Reynolds
Porter, Texas
Posted By Anonymous David Reynolds, Porter, Texas : 2:17 PM ET
People who live in the gulf coast region are citizens of this country, just like anyone else. They pay taxes too and are allowed to live anywhere they want. The answer is not to abandon New Orleans or anywhere else along the gulf coast because someone in Maryland, Massachusetts, or Michigan thinks that would be easier. How about allowing the state of Louisiana to keep some of the profits of its offshore oil refineries and use the money to rebuild itself?
Posted By Anonymous Cindy H, New Orleans, LA : 2:18 PM ET
Ya know, the Army Corps of Engineers is the only one doing anything, so why are they getting so much flack? We should be thankful to them that they are trying, and instead of criticizing the Corps, criticize the government. I was down there on a mission trip for Spring Break cleaning up, and the ONLY people working were volunteers... the LA government had nothing to do with anything.
Posted By Anonymous AP, Houston TX : 2:18 PM ET
I have no Idea why we are rebuilding those walls, Millions and Millions of dollars of tax payers money is going into this and for what?? There are no good paying jobs left in the city and do you think a company will build or move in there for the walls to give again and turn that town into a septic tank again. Flood it and use it as a fishing ground. It was never a good city with all the corruption and crime.
Posted By Anonymous Brian Freedom pa : 2:18 PM ET
What do you mean if the experts are correct? I am not an expert and I can tell you that the gulf waters are already very warm and ripe for a very active season. Shall I say the words no one wants to hear... GLOBAL WARMING? Do you drive a big SUV? Do you live in a northern state that burns fuel? You are contributing to our demise and yet you sit back and complain about your tax dollars being "wasted" on the rebuilding of a city?
Why is that everyone wants to criticize people that live below sea level and deny them the opportunity to live in a place they call home? My neighborhood had 10' of water in it - it's flooded ONCE in the last 10 years. Why is that I should be denied my legal rights?
If the past has proved anything we cannot depend on the government or any of it's subsidiaries (especially the Corps) - we have to protect ourselves and what we hold sacred. I hope what Col. Setliff says holds true, if we have another big one the city may never bounce back (no matter how much we would like it to).
Posted By Anonymous Gretchen Schneider, New Orleans Louisiana : 2:18 PM ET
To the people who would 'abandon' the city, you do realize that you're talking about giving up one of the most vital ports in the country. It wasn't just a fluke that when Katrina came through gas prices went through the roof as the pipelines were damaged - a significant portion of the nations oil and gas flows through the city. A significant portion of the nations food flows through the city. There is a reason why a city was built at the mouth of the Mississippi to begin with! But lets seriously remember these discussions and concerns the next time an earthquake happens on the west coast, or drought happens in the midwest, or a major blizzard happens in the northeast.

There is no location that is 'safe' from natural disasters or mother nature. If we want the benefits that come with living in these areas, we have to deal with the fact that there are downsides - sometimes significant.

I think it is also important to point out that New Orleans wasn't always in this situation. New Orleans has ended up in this situation to facilitate shell dredging, channels through the city, and pipeline growth many things that resulted in the change of georgraphy around the city to produce cheaper methodologies of delivering goods and services for those of you so happy to abandon the city.

Personally I favor Louisiana imposing a special Katrina tax so you can feel just how 'unimportant' and easy to replace New Orleans is.
Posted By Anonymous Gregory Pierce, Atlanta GA : 2:20 PM ET
You folks are blaming the WRONG people! The Corps did the best it could with the LACK OF FUNDING it has been given for public works over the years. It wasn't just this administration either. The Corps has been underfunded for levee upkeep for years. And its not just the feds fault either. I am not certian about the levees in NO, but I KNOW the other levees along the MS River were built by the CORPS with the intent that the STATES and CITIES would start paying for their upkeep too (didn't happen their either, and when those levees go, I'm sure the Corps will be the bad guys again). Never was the Corps supposed to keep them forever. But hey..thats life. Blame the one group who HAS tried to keep the up over the years, and not the ones who have been silent. The state of Louisiana is at fault in this situation as well.

I know some Corp folks pretty well who are working on this problem. And they are putting their hearts and souls into fixing this mess. Its not their fault there wasn't enough money in the past, and its not their fault that they may run out of time before June. But they are doing the best they can in the situation.
Posted By Anonymous Vicki, Jackson MS : 2:22 PM ET
Those of you concerened over the Corps did this and that in the past and so forth...you need to remember who tells the CORPS what to do. They are given their marching orders by YOUR elected officals. YOUR Congressmen, your senators, your president. You voted 'em in, and they tell the CORPS what projects are to be done. Its not like an Engineer sits around and says hmmm, what to screw up next. Sheesh people!!
Posted By Anonymous Sarah, Pearl, MS : 2:26 PM ET
Ahhh, yesss! The "folly of man" once again. We are fools/foolish to re-build New Orleans (at the parts that are below sea level). How stupid! And, if you have read this blog the past few months like I have, the rest of the country/America does NOT think NO should be re-built, period! There's plenty of land out west, folks. Nice and "high and dry." And, the mosquitoes don't sound like a flock of ducks when they fly by! hahaha!
Posted By Anonymous Stanley, New Orleans, LA : 2:39 PM ET
Mankind foolishly tries to beat Mother Nature. Give it up, count your losses and your blessings, and give the land back to the sea from whence we foolishly tried to steal it. How many more human lives will be lost before we "get it" and quit being so stubborn and egotistical in trying to beat good ol' Mother Nature?!? For all those fools who do decide to move back into the below-sea-level neighborhoods: I could care less if you die or suffer in the next bad hurricane/storm--it's your choice, fools!
Posted By Anonymous Sadie, Shreveport, LA : 2:41 PM ET
Foolish, stupid waste of money! I can't believe this foolishness! Duhhh!!...with a triple-capital DDD!!!

Fageddabouditt!!! Stop the nonsense!
Posted By Anonymous Kruger, New York, New York : 2:43 PM ET
Most people expect the government to "do something" to mitigate people's problems. How about we take some responsibility for our own actions. Locally, residents in some low lying areas want the government to buy out their houses because of repeated flooding. What these people don't realize is that the river was there when the bought their homes. They should have known that the river floods! Now, they expect the taxpayers (you and me) to bail them out because of their poor decisions. The smae is true on the Gulf Coast. People who have homes their (such as Trent Lott) should assume the risks and not depend on bailouts when the inevitable happens. This is going to bankrupt us, folks.
Posted By Anonymous Jack Klapprodt, Apalachin, NY : 2:45 PM ET
I believe if you have read all the Katrina-New Orleans-related blogs here on AC 360 Blog the past six months, you would come to the conclusion that 90+% of the United States (at least as represented by the bloggers here) DID NOT WANT TO REBUILD NEW ORLEANS, especially the below-sea-level areas.

So why is it being done? Who is making these stupid decisions against our will???
Posted By Anonymous Cynthia, Salem, OR : 2:46 PM ET
Instead of just shoring up the levees and hoping they'll hold, how about starting some wetlands restoration? A good part of the reason that Katrina and Rita were such devastating storms is because the wetlands weren't there to absorb the brunt of the impact. Yes, restoring the wetlands will take more than one season, but let's think long-term here.
Posted By Anonymous Linnea Sommer, Bloomington, MN : 2:47 PM ET
Why is that New Orleans has 1 terrible storm in the past 50 years and the rest of the country thinks that it is "insane" to rebuild, when the people in California, Florida, and the "tornado alley" states etc.. have 3 times the natural disasters yearly that we do. Has anyone told those residents that their city's should not be rebuilt? What if New York was destroyed? Would we then NOT rebuild just in case another storm may hit? I THINK NOT
Posted By Anonymous Jen, NEW Orleans Louisiana : 2:48 PM ET
FEMA Trailers, should be a concern also.

Just a Cat 2 can damage these or even start the domino effect.

Global Warming is here and no turning back, look at this year already compared to the rest of history.

Each year we will see the doubling of extremes. This year say we are at 2, next year 4 then 8, 16, 32 etc... Its here and its going to hurt.

Central Plains - drought!! dust bowl!!

Midwest- too wet very windy

South - Hurricanes, dry to wet no medium

West - Flooding, fires, mudslides, and many tornadoes.

Are you ready ???
Posted By Anonymous Mike, Zephyrhills, FL : 2:50 PM ET
I'm not sure I'd let the Corp anywhere near any water management project again. They haven't exactly been too successful in the past. What they've done to the Missouri River is a crime that many states are paying for. Hire the good folks that built the seawall in Holland - they know water management.
Posted By Anonymous Mae, Omaha, NE : 2:51 PM ET
When I was in New Orleans in late February the flooded areas were still ghost town like. How much damage could more flooding do? It seems that letting the levees breach at the points that failed last time would reduce pressure on the rest of the system. The evacuation would be a lot easier in that the folks living in New Orleans for the most part own autos and have credit cards. And with only about 1/3 of the population having returned traffic out of town would be light compared to last time. There wouldn't be a Super Dome or Convention Center scenario. Since there doesn't seem to be a plan for restoring commerce, rebuilding and repopulating, and the pseudo debate didn't enlighten us any, what's the difference? I probably wouldn't feel this way if I was a New Orleanian.
Posted By Anonymous Marty, Melbourne Florida : 2:56 PM ET
Here's a thought. Everybody in New York should get out now and relocate to other cities because there could be another terrorist attack! Statistically it is more likely for another terrorist attack in NYC than another major hurricane in NOLA.
So what about that?
Posted By Anonymous Paige B., NOLA forever : 4:01 PM ET
If we should give up NOLA because it may flood again, here's some more areas then:

Northeast: too many snowstorms

Southeast: too many hurricanes

Midwest: Too many tornados

Southwest: too many earthquakes

Northwest: too much rain

I guess it's time to give up the US and move to Canada, eh????
Posted By Anonymous Mel- Lehigh Valley, PA : 4:39 PM ET
There is a town in Texas called Indianola. It was settled in 1846 and prospered as the busiest port in Texas for a while until it was completely destroyed by a hurricane in 1875. The people thought it was important to rebuild the town because it was so critical to the Texas economy, so they rebuilt it. In 1886, another hurricane destroyed the town and the port. Now there is little more than a sign on the road and a few paragraphs in the Texas history books. As it turns out, Indianola wasn't critical to the Texas economy after all, it was just the locals being successful at pleading their case to the Texas legislature.

The Corps of Engineers can rebuild New Orleans all they want...any progress they can make will not be acknowledged by nature.

Maybe if N.O. had another levee board and the federal govt. gave the local government hundreds of millions of our tax dollars again to maintain the levee system in N.O., then things will be more secure for the residents.
Posted By Anonymous Mike from Houston : 4:41 PM ET
So we are still discussing if NO should be rebuilt or not. Flordia has had more hurricanes than NO maybe we should move those people to hgher ground and not rebuild Flordia. After all what's in Flordia oranges? NO is a major port and oil refinnery so when your gas gets to $4.00 per gallon and you can't make it to your vacation home in Flordia are you going to blame the people of NO also?

This whole topic has goten too narrow minded, you talk about the tax dollars wasted, the loss of homes ect. but you haven't listened to we evacuees. Our homes will be rebuilt, money will be made and lost again and again that's not what hurts us the most its the loss of our culture, our neighbors and friends that no one can replace.

The other day I saw a trailer with the bumper sticker "swim me home to Orleans" on it. I stopped and talked to the guy, he was from a band in Orleans we chatted for a few minutes and I nearly cried I miss everything about those people. Orleans has something that no other large city has a feeling of togetherness that just can't be found any where else and that is why NO will be rebuilt with or without the Federal Gov't.
Posted By Anonymous Rebecca Sebring Arabai LA : 5:32 PM ET
Hi Sean,
I think all the doom and gloom talk about New Orleans is just that TALK.. I believe New Orleans should and will be rebuilt. Can we as a country be much more cautious about where we build, of course we can, and we should. But New Orleans is part of America and it's NOT going away. Period. I just prefer to find the glass half full, not half empty..Sorry.. Call me crazy..Yes, I know some will..As always, good wishes for the people of the Gulf Coast..Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif : 5:41 PM ET
The project will fail, and we can all thank the town's mayor and FEMA with all its corruption, stupidity and lack of genuine leadership. As an American, I am ashamed for the way these matters have been handled, past and present! Thank you for staying with these people and the story.
Posted By Anonymous Pat Desson, Tucson, AZ : 5:59 PM ET
Well for all of you who think we should let one of the greatest American cities and my beloved hometown die, there is another solution. We should tax every ounce of oil that passes through our oil infrastructure entrenched in the Louisiana marsh. . Thirty percent of gas supplied to the nation comes from locals working on the oil rigs and refineries. We should tax all the seafood exported from our waters. We have worked our waterways to become the leading seafood industry in the country. Any ships using our ports while heading up the Mississippi River should be taxed. We are the gateway to the Mississippi River and have one of the top ports in the country... If we could tax our cultural contributions to this country we would be the richest city in this country.
Posted By Anonymous Louie Bonnecarre, New Orleans La. : 6:35 PM ET
There is something called citizenship. If you want to be a citizen of the US, take the test and learn about our country and become a citizen.
Posted By Anonymous Steven, St. Louis, MO : 9:18 PM ET
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