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Article in 2004 Predicted New Orleans Storm Devastation

Bush Budget Cutbacks Blamed for Flooding


Below are major excerpts from the article, "Shifting federal budget erodes protection from levees; Because of cuts, hurricane risk grows," was published on June 8, 2004 in the Times-Picayune newspaper of New Orleans, Louisiana. The reporter was Sheila Grissett.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina, a category 4 storm, hit New Orleans and and parts of southern Mississippi and Alabama, wreaking major havoc, destroying most buildings, leaving over 1 million residents homeless, and killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people.

Ultimately, the Bush Administration proposed spending less than 20% of the funds requested by New Orleans officials to provide minimum storm-safety protections for the city. The funds were instead diverted to fund the Iraq War.

The necessary work to the levees in 2004 and 2005 was never performed. The source of the post-Katrina flooding in New Orleans is failed levees.
The June 8, 2004 article......

For the first time in 37 years, federal budget cuts have all but stopped major work on the New Orleans area's east bank hurricane levees, a complex network of concrete walls, metal gates and giant earthen berms that won't be finished for at least another decade.

"I guess people look around and think there's a complete system in place, that we're just out here trying to put icing on the cake," said Mervin Morehiser, who manages the Lake Pontchartrain and vicinity levee project for the Army Corps of Engineers. "And we aren't saying that the sky is falling, but people should know that this is a work in progress, and there's more important work yet to do before there is a complete system in place."

In reality, levee building is a long-term undertaking. Section by section, earth is piled into walls as high as 20 feet to protect land on the east bank of the Mississippi River from water that a slow-moving Category 3 hurricane could shove out of Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne. But the levees gradually settle into southeast Louisiana's mucky subsoil, and every few years, the corps comes back, section by section, to pile on more dirt in what insiders call a "lift."

"It has always been part of our long-range plan to raise each section of the levee four or even five times," said Al Naomi, the corps' senior project manager. "After that, we think the levee might have stabilized and not need further raisings."

Time for next lift

It's time now for the next lifts in a number of places that have sunk 2 to 4 feet from their design elevations....

The subsidence is expected.

What's new, said Morehiser and Naomi, is that the agency has run out of money for the next round of lifts. Naomi said this is the first time a lack of money has stopped major corps work on the levees since the project began in 1967.

"I can't tell you exactly what that could mean this hurricane season if we get a major storm," Naomi said. "It would depend on the path and speed of the storm, the angle that it hits us.

"But I can tell you that we would be better off if the levees were raised, . . . and I think it's important and only fair that those people who live behind the levee know the status of these projects."

Levees on the east bank of New Orleans, as well as some in eastern St. Bernard Parish, are among the area's oldest and have had several lifts. Corps engineers said the next lift might be the last they need. But the levees on the east bank of St. Charles and Jefferson parishes are much younger, and most stretches have had only one or two lifts.

"This project isn't expected to end for another 13 to 15 years," Morehiser said. "They aren't really finished levees at this point. We don't even turn them over to their local sponsors until we consider them stable, which is years from now."...

"When levees are below grade, as ours are in many spots right now, they're more vulnerable to waves pouring over them and degrading them," Naomi said....

Bush budget falls short

The Bush administration's proposed fiscal 2005 budget includes only $3.9 million for the east bank hurricane project. Congress likely will increase that amount, although last year it bumped up the administration's $3 million proposal only to $5.5 million.

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