Corps Takes Blame for New Orleans Flooding
Thursday, June 1, 2006; 6:55 PM
NEW ORLEANS -- A contrite U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took responsibility Thursday 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of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and said the levees failed because they were built in a disjointed fashion using outdated data.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 Day 1 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," 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 floodwalls Aug. 29.
Many of the findings and details on floodwall design, storm modeling and soil types have been released in pieces in recent months as the Corps sought to show it was being open about what went wrong. But the final report goes into greater depth.
The Corps, 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 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," 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 headed by the Corps _ is intended to serve as a road map for engineers as they seek to design and build better levees and floodwalls.
Serious work began on New Orleans' hurricane protection system in the 1960s after Hurricane Betsy flooded the city in 1965. But over the decades, funding slackened and many parts of the system were not finished by the time Katrina hit.