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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Judge Blames Army Corps Of Engineers For Katrina Flooding

NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Army Corps of Engineers' failure to properly maintain a navigation channel led to massive flooding in Hurricane Katrina, a decision that could make the federal government vulnerable to billions of dollars in claims.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval sided with six residents and one business who argued the Army Corps' shoddy oversight of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet led to the flooding of New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward and neighboring St. Bernard Parish. He said, however, the corps couldn't be held liable for the flooding of eastern New Orleans, where two of the plaintiffs lived.

Duval awarded the plaintiffs $720,000, but the government could eventually be forced to pay much more in damages. The ruling should give more than 100,000 other individuals, businesses and government entities a better shot at claiming billions of dollars in damages.

The ruling is also emotionally resonant for south Louisiana. Many in New Orleans have argued that Katrina, which struck the region Aug. 29, 2005, was a manmade disaster caused by the Army Corps' failure to maintain the levee system protecting the city.

"Total devastation could possibly have been avoided if something had been done," said Tanya Smith, one of the plaintiffs. "A lot of this stuff was preventable and they turned a deaf ear to it."

The 36-year-old registered nurse anesthetist lived in Chalmette close to the channel when Katrina hit. She was awarded $317,000 in property damages, the most of any of the plaintiffs.

Duval referred to the corps' approach to maintaining the channel as "monumental negligence."

Joe Bruno, one of the lead lawyers for the plaintiffs, said the ruling underscored the Army Corps' long history of not properly protecting the New Orleans region.


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