Is New Orleans Ready for Hurricane Season?

The force of Hurricane Katrina broke the levees six months ago, flooding New Orleans with water from Lake Ponchartrain, the industrial canal and other sources.

The Army Corps of Engineers has been charged with rebuilding the levees, and it's a daunting task. Contractors are working 24-hour days, building levee walls as high as 17 feet. And this time, they're reinforcing them with concrete backings.

But hurricane season starts in just three months. Will they be done in time?

"It's a tight schedule," said Fred Young, who is Corps project manager for the levee reconstruction program. "Supplies are tight and labor's tight down here, and we're just trying to do the best we can, and 1 June is our goal."

'Impossible'

Mary Ann Collins-Smith lives down the street from the London Avenue Canal, and she doesn't believe the government will have it fixed by June 1.

"I've seen it on the news, and I've read about it," she said. "Impossible."

She's rebuilding her home anyway, but she's not buying any nice drapes or furniture in case the house is flooded again.

"It's going to be more of a dormitory, because we are always going to be on guard," she said.

Critics point out that the government is only repairing breaks in the levees that it can see.

"We're doing repairs on the breaches, but there are many, many, many miles of levee that we don't have any idea of," said Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Public Health Research Center.

There's little chance the repaired levees will protect the city from strong storms, van Heerden added, perhaps leaving New Orleans just as vulnerable as it was before Katrina -- which peaked as a category five hurricane and was a strong category three storm when it made landfall.

"The whole system is susceptible to flooding with a category two [hurricane]," said van Heerden.

Carol Maher hopes the naysayers are wrong. She grew up blocks from the levees that flooded her entire neighborhood.

"Yesterday, I tried to salvage my childhood pictures," Maher said. "I just hope people can get it. I hope the government gets it. I hope the Corps of Engineers gets it and protects us."

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