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LA Report: Feds Responsible for New Orleans Disaster

In a state report investigating the cause of the New Orleans disaster, Louisiana officials have concluded that the cause was levees that were allowed to fall into disrepair by the federal agencies that were entrusted with their care.
December 5, 2005

---Report Blames The Army Corp of Engineers For Levy

New Orleans Levee Was Doomed; Report Blames Army Corps
of Engineers

c.2005 Newhouse News Service

NEW ORLEANS -- The floodwall on New Orleans' 17th
Street Canal levee was destined to fail long before it
reached its maximum design load of 14 feet of water
because the Army Corps of Engineers underestimated the
weak soil layers 10 to 25 feet below the levee,
Louisiana's forensic levee investigation team
concluded in a draft copy of a report expected to be
released next week.

That miscalculation was so obvious and fundamental,
investigators said, they "could not fathom" how the
design team of engineers from the corps, local firm
Eustis Engineering and the national firm Modjeski and
Masters could have missed what is being termed the
costliest engineering mistake in American history.

The failure of the wall and other breaches in the
city's levee system flooded much of New Orleans when
Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore Aug. 29, prompting
investigations that have raised questions about the
basic design and construction of the floodwalls.

"It's simply beyond me," said Billy Prochaska, a
consulting engineer in the forensic group known as
Team Louisiana. "This wasn't a complicated problem.
This is something the corps, Eustis, and Modjeski and
Masters do all the time. Yet everyone missed it --
everyone from the local offices all the way up to

Team Louisiana, which consists of six Louisiana State
University professors and three independent engineers,
reached its conclusions by plugging soil strength data
available to the corps into the engineering equations
used to determine whether a wall is strong enough to
withstand the force of rising water caused by a

"Using the data we have available from the corps, we
did our own calculations on how much water that design
could take in these soils before failure," said LSU
professor Ivor van Heerden, a team member. "Our
research shows it would fail at water levels between
11 and 12 feet -- which is just what happened" in

Several high-level academic and professional
investigations have found that the sheet piling used
in the design to support the floodwalls was too short
for the 18.5-foot depth of the canal. In addition to
holding up the concrete "cap" on the walls, the sheet
piling is supposed to serve as a barrier preventing
the migration of water from the canal through the
porous soils to the land side of the levee, an event
that rapidly weakens the soils supporting a wall and
can cause it to shift substantially.

The corps has long claimed the sheet piling was driven
to 17.5 feet deep, but Team Louisiana recently used
sophisticated ground sonar to prove it was only 10
feet deep.

Van Heerden said Team Louisiana's latest calculations
prove investigators' claims that a depth of 17 feet
would have made little difference. He said the team
ran the calculations for sheet piles at 17 feet and 16
feet below sea level, and the wall still would have
failed at an increased load of 11 to 12 feet of water.

Investigators have been puzzled by the corps' design
since it was made public in news reports. They said it
was obvious the weak soils in the former swampland
upon which the canal and levee were built called for
sheet piles driven much deeper than the canal bottom.
It was not a challenging engineering problem,
investigators said.

Prochaska said a rule of thumb is that the length of
sheet piling below a canal bottom should be two to
three times longer than the length extending above the
canal bottom.

"That's if you have uniform soils, and we certainly
don't have that in the New Orleans area," he said. "It
kind of boggles the mind that they missed this,
because it's so basic, and there were so many
qualified engineers working on this."

According to records, Eustis Engineering provided the
detailed analyses of the ability of soils along the
path of the levee to withstand water pressure once the
wall was built on top. The information was provided to
Modjeski and Masters, the contractor that designed the
wall for the corps. If the project followed normal
procedures, the engineers with those firms were using
design criteria spelled out in various corps
handbooks. "You use the corps cookbook, and you
usually have to work it out using corps (computer)
programs," Prochaska said.

Private-sector engineering work must be reviewed by
corps personnel in relevant sections. In this case,
legal documents show, the work was reviewed by
engineers in the corps' geotechnical and structural
engineering branches, as well as the flood control
structures section. It was approved and accepted by
the district's chief engineer at the time, Chester
Ashley, according to the documents.

Robert Bea, a University of California at Berkeley
professor who led a National Science Foundation
investigation of the levee failures, said the mistakes
made by the engineers on the project were hard to
accept because the project was so "straightforward."

"It's hard to understand, because it seemed so simple,
and because the failure has become so large," Bea

"This is the largest civil engineering disaster in the
history of the United States. Nothing has come close
to the $300 billion in damages and half-million people
out of their homes and the lives lost," he said.
"Nothing this big has ever happened before in civil

Dec. 1, 2005

(Bob Marshall is a staff writer for The Times-Picayune
of New Orleans. He can be contacted at
bmarshall (at)

Many Coast renters face new eviction
Low-income Katrina victims unable to afford higher

December 3, 2005
By Ana Radelat
Clarion-Ledger Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Greg Dedeaux is one of thousands of
Hurricane Katrina victims about to be made homeless
twice by the storm.

Dedeaux, a 52-year-old truck driver, was forced to
leave his apartment in Gulfport on the night of the
storm when he was hit on the head by a piece of his
Sheetrock ceiling.
"I knew it was no longer safe," he said

He spent two weeks living in his car before returning
to his unit at the Tonya Apartments with his mother,
also displaced by the storm, once repairs were made to
the roof of the complex.
But like many low-income tenants on the Gulf Coast and
in New Orleans, Dedeaux now faces eviction for
nonpayment of rent.

"I really don't know what to do. There aren't many
places left to live around here," said Dedeaux, who is
on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's waiting
list for trailers.

Community activists and legal aid groups say they're
battling a wave of evictions of low-income Katrina
victims. They say landlords are eager to replace those
tenants with people who are willing, and able, to pay
much higher rents because housing is scarce in the
Katrina-wrecked region.

"We're seeing the ugliest of market forces," said
Judith Browne, co-director of the Washington-based
Advancement Project, a civil rights and legal aid

Advancement Project attorneys represented thousands of
displaced Katrina victims in Louisiana who have
returned to their homes only to find out they had been

The project represented evacuees whose only notice of
eviction was a note tacked on their door in a lawsuit
against Louisiana officials who preside over eviction
proceedings. The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in
New Orleans, argued it is unconstitutional to notify
evacuees of eviction proceedings that way.

"Some people couldn't even go back to their homes,
then they're evicting them and not even letting them
know," Browne said. "(Landlords) were pushing
evictions through because tenants were not showing up
in court."

But landlords argue that they're following existing
law, which did not take into consideration the forced
displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. They
also say they need paying tenants to meet their own
obligations and cover the costs of Katrina-related

Last week, however, the court sided with Browne and
her tenant clients. It issued an order requiring the
courts to obtain addresses from the FEMA for Katrina
evacuees facing eviction procedures. The order
requires court officers to mail eviction notices to
the evacuees and give them 45 days to respond.

But courts in Mississippi and Louisiana have decided
that most of Katrina's victims must pay rent for the
time their apartments were uninhabitable. That's what
happened to Dedeaux when he went to court to fight his

"The only thing that didn't get hurt in my apartment
was the bathtub," Dedeaux said. "But that didn't seem
to matter."

Dedeaux paid $345 a month for the apartment he's lived
in for eight years but must soon leave because his
landlord has terminated his month-to-month lease. His
apartment is expected to rent for a lot more after

"Any time you get a shortage, the price is going to go
up," said David Crittenden, Dedeaux's landlord.

Crittenden said he plans to charge new tenants 25
percent or more in rent than previous tenants.

"Higher rents are going to be the norm here,"
Crittenden said.
He said he also is willing to sell any unit "if the
price is right."

Crittenden, who bought the 14-unit Gulfport complex in
June, said he could not afford to allow tenants to
stay there without paying rent, especially since his
insurance company is unlikely to pay for all the
repair costs.

"It's a bad situation for everyone," he said.

About 52 families who live in the Edgewood Manor
Apartments in Gulfport also are worried they will be
tossed out of their apartments.

John Jopling, an attorney for the Mississippi Center
for Justice who tried to help Dedeaux, said Edgewood
Manor residents were "informed informally" in
September that they would have to leave.

"They were told their apartments were not habitable,"
Jopling said.

While some tenants were forced to leave because their
apartments were so heavily damaged, those who stayed
felt that was their best option, Jopling said.

The Mississippi Justice Center warned the Edgewood
Apartments in a letter that telling people they could
no longer live in their apartments was against the law
and that they had to follow eviction procedures.

"They immediately backed off," Jopling said.

Bill Williams, a lawyer for Edgewood Manor, said there
are no plans to evict anyone. He is scheduled to meet
with advocates Wednesday to agree on a way to find a
safer place for the tenants to live while the
apartments are repaired.

Contact Ana Radelat at aradelat (at)


1 December 2005

China: Sixty housing rights activists detained outside
UN meeting in Shanghai

Joint statement by Amnesty International, Human Rights
Watch and Realizing Rights
Around sixty activists were detained by the police
this morning in front of the Oriental Pearl building
in Shanghai after they attempted to deliver a letter
to United Nations officials attending the UN Global
Compact Summit taking place nearby. Around 40 are
still believed to be detained at Century Plaza police
station in Pudong, Shanghai. The twenty others have
reportedly been taken back to their home districts by
local district officials. Their current legal status
is unclear.

These detentions follow a pattern of arrests of
activists and petitioners in China, attempting to draw
attention to various grievances including alleged
forced evictions and land grabs in the context of
China’s economic reforms.

Click below for full Press Release...

Lincoln Place Tenants Battle To Save Home

Santa Monica Mirror - Nov 30 12:09 PM
Last week, the embattled tenants of Lincoln Place in
Venice took their long-running struggle to save their
homes to the streets, and to City Hall – in a November
21 letter to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Click below for full story...

The Last Testament of Mary Jesus
A Voice From the Past

By Lynda Carson November 28, 2005

Oakland CA -- A year ago December 10, a tragic scene
unfolded at Oakland's Tribune Tower as hundreds
gathered to watch Mary Jesus plunge to a bloody death.

There were no tickets sold for this event. No ticket
takers, no ushers, no charge.

This was street theater of the damned, and everyone
was welcome to watch the final curtain close, on the
life and times of Mary Jesus.

High above the crowd and dressed all in black, she
eyed the crowd below, before tossing down hundreds of
copies of a suicide note blaming her landlords, a
judge and an attorney for pushing her over the edge.

Click below for full story...

Roll Back The Rents

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