NEW ORLEANS – President Bush, under increasing pressure to demonstrate his determination to rebuild New Orleans, asked Congress on Thursday for an additional $1.5 billion to make the city’s protective levees stronger than they were before they burst during Hurricane Katrina.
Donald Powell, Bush’s coordinator for Gulf Coast rebuilding, said the money would pay to line the levees with concrete and stone and close off three canals that were the source of nearly half of the flooding.
“The levee system will be better and stronger than it ever has been in the history of New Orleans,” Powell said. “If a hurricane such as Katrina ever visited New Orleans again … there will be some flooding, but no catastrophic flooding.”
Yet officials at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the levees, said that even with the improvements described by the White House to strengthen the system, it could not withstand hurricanes as powerful as Katrina.
The levees failed as Katrina sent a massive storm surge coursing through the low-lying city’s drainage and shipping canals.
The levees are seen in New Orleans as a linchpin to recovery. The city’s efforts to repopulate have stagnated as thousands of families and business owners have decided that they cannot begin the process of rebuilding until they hear assurances that the levees will be stronger than they were before the storm.
Until Thursday, Bush had committed only to plugging holes in the levees and bringing them, effectively, back to their condition before the storm.
Louisiana officials will continue to fight for more extensive federal funding to strengthen the region’s storm protection. Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco called the $1.5 billion a “down payment” and one displaced resident said she would have to be “stone crazy” to believe that the pledge was enough for her to move home.
Federal engineers cautioned that the Bush package was only enough to make the levees as strong as they were supposed to be before Katrina struck. Preliminary investigations show that design and construction flaws appear to have contributed to their collapse.