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Water May Linger for Months

[note: here's a quick review of facts that refute what President
Bush said this morning, that he/people hadn't known beforehand that the
levees might fail. By the way, the Bush admin has been dismantling FEMA. I
hope what's happening now will prompt a nationwide focus on the purpose of
government, and a national refresher course on what the terms homeland
security and national defense should mean. And while I'm on this rant, I
have not yet heard the President ask us all to conserve fuel. Let's see
what sort of leadership emerges now.]

Los Angeles Times

Water May Linger for Months
City pumps themselves are submerged, so officials must await nature's help.
Delays already have local officials on edge.
By Ralph Vartabedian
Times Staff Writer

September 1, 2005

Draining the billions of gallons of water that have inundated New Orleans
could take three to six months, substantially longer than some experts have
expected, the Army Corps of Engineers said late Wednesday.

Col. Richard Wagenaar, the corps' senior official in New Orleans, said that
the estimate was based on planning done as Hurricane Katrina approached and
that it remained the corps' best estimate. He is directing the agency's
recovery efforts.

The estimate depends on favorable weather. Additional rain or other problems
could cause more delays, Wagenaar warned.

"There is a lot of water here," he said. "The news cameras do not do it
justice. And I'm worried the worst is yet to come."

[note: I deleted the middle section here, that talks of what's
going on today]

New Orleans relies on the complex plumbing and flood control system to
protect a city that is as much as 10 feet below sea level but surrounded by
two lakes and a massive coastal flood plain as well as bisected by North
America's largest river. In much of the city, the Mississippi River flows in
an elevated levee above the city and above Lake Pontchartrain.

The city has two major levee systems, one that controls periodic flooding of
the Mississippi River and a second to protect against storm surges.

The river levees are nearly 100 years old, and corps officials are confident
they could handle any flood the Midwest could send its way. But the
hurricane barriers are another matter.

The storm wall system was begun in earnest 40 years ago, after Hurricane
Betsy pummeled New Orleans. After that storm, Congress passed the Flood
Control Act of 1965 and provided funds to increase the height of levees. But
the work was based on hurricane surge estimates created by the National
Weather Service. In recent years, it has become increasingly clear those
calculations vastly underestimated the city's vulnerability.

A mathematical model on storm surges pioneered by Notre Dame University
professor Joannes Westerink increased concern that the levee system was
exposing New Orleans to a major catastrophe in the case of any storm bigger
than a Category 3.

"In a slow-moving Category 5 hurricane, the levees are not going to hold,"
Westerink said.

As Katrina demonstrated, a Category 4 storm would also cause a massive
public works failure. And the problems facing the Louisiana coast are
growing more serious.

The levees and channels built to control the Mississippi River have diverted
sediments that would normally replenish the Mississippi Delta and allow the
region to slowly recover. At the same time, ocean levels are rising each
year, making the area more vulnerable to storm surges.

The vast coastal wetlands that once protected New Orleans have also
undergone development and environmental degradation.

The Bush administration last year downscaled a Louisiana request to upgrade
its storm protection system.

Naomi said the corps could build a system that would protect the entire city
without any natural barriers against even a Category 5 storm.

A $2-billion levee system, currently under study, could protect the
coastline east to the Mississippi state line, Naomi said. Depending on the
rate of spending, the system could take 30 years to build.

"We have far exceeded that amount of money in damages in just one storm
surge," he said.

Professor Joseph Suhayda, a Louisiana State University engineer, has in the
past advocated building a haven in the core of New Orleans with a high wall
to protect the central business district and key hospitals.

In this case, it would have given tens of thousands of residents access to a
dry island in the flood.

Suhayda's proposal was met with criticism.


Times staff writer Ellen Barry contributed to this report.

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