Wednesday, May 31, 2006

New Orleans Dangerously Unprepared for Hurricane Season

Report: lack of federal help has left city's storm defenses "dangerously weak"

DURHAM, North Carolina - May 31 - With June 1 marking the arrival of the 2006 hurricane season, Washington has failed to help the devastated city of New Orleans adequately prepare its defenses for another storm, leaving thousands of residents at risk.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the non-profit Institute for Southern Studies, "Storm Cloud over New Orleans" (pdf).

“Last September, President Bush pledged to ‘do what it takes’ to bring back New Orleans” says Sue Sturgis of the Institute, the report’s author. “Yet nine months later, lack of federal leadership and resources have left the city’s people dangerously vulnerable if another storm strikes.”

The study, part of the Institute’s Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch project, looks at four key elements of New Orleans’ hurricane defense system, all of which hinge on federal policy-making: the city’s levees and floodwalls, pump systems for removing floodwater, wetlands that buffer storms, and the controversial Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet.

In each area, the report finds that lack of federal leadership has left the crippled city with a patchwork system of storm protection that leaves New Orleans at serious risk:

* Due to delays in funding and construction, nearly 20% of New Orleans levees and floodwalls destroyed by Katrina have not been repaired. What’s more, the Army Corps of Engineers has no mandate to protect the city from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, even though climate trends show storms are growing in intensity.

* The city’s pump system, designed to prevent flooding in low-lying areas, has not been tested and repaired after being corroded after Katrina. Three pumps failed during a light rain in April, and doubts about oversight and evacuation plans have added to the chaos.

* Federal leaders have done little to restore Louisiana’s fast-disappearing coastal wetlands. Despite being an excellent natural “buffer” against storm surges, Congress rejected a $2 billion proposal to restore the wetlands this spring.

* Over the concerns of community leaders, officials have failed to take action to close the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet -- 40-year-old relic which during Katrina breached its levees in 20 places, and is responsible for destroying over 20,000 acres of key wetlands.

“With a consensus of experts predicting storms to grow in both the likelihood and strength, Washington’s inaction is a recipe for disaster,” says Chris Kromm, director of the Institute. “Thousands of lives are at risk – this is a national security issue.”

The Institute, a non-profit research and education center founded in 1970, launched Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch in November 2005 to document and investigate the rebuilding of the Southern Gulf in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Earlier this year, Reconstruction Watch published “The Mardi Gras Index,” which used 130 indicators to measure the progress of New Orleans six months after Katrina.

For more information:

"Storm Cloud over New Orleans" full report (pdf):


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