Stalled Levee Repairs in New Orleans

A flawed repair at one of New Orleans' most vulnerable levees has raised questions about the city's ability to withstand a storm, one year after Katrina's floodwaters inundated the city.

The 17th Street canal, which holds back the waters of Lake Ponchartrain, was one of the most catastrophic failures after the storm.

Since then, new pumps have been added to keep storm surges and floodwaters from reaching the heart of the city's levee system. But last week, the new pumps nearly shook apart when engineers tried to turn them on, and they may have to be rebuilt

"As soon as we identify the problem and the solution, we can determine how long it's going to take to implement that solution," said Jim St. Germain of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The government promised the pumps would be in working order by the beginning of the hurricane season, but there are few residents who believe that the levees have been adequately repaired.

Janet Geerken and her daughter Elizabeth live near the 17th Street canal, and like so many residents, they say this new pump failure is the same old story.

For now, they're living on the second floor of their flooded home, refusing to rebuild downstairs until after the hurricane season.

"This is the way it will stay until January," Geerken said.

'Huge Volume of Work'

In the year since Katrina hit, the Army Corps of Engineers has received more than $5.7 billion to fix Lousiana's levee system. Homeowners now need about $1 billion worth of repairs that the agency hasn't even started.

The corps now admits it needs at least another year to finish the job.

"There's a couple of different things that caused the delays in the work," said Dan Hitchings, regional director of the Army Corps of Engineers. "One of them is the magnitude. It's just a huge volume of work to try to get accomplished."

But they say they've already shored up nearly 220 miles of broken levees and raised most of them by at least 5 feet.

Still, according to Louisiana structural engineer Ivor Van Heerden, "It's not ready."

"I wouldn't live here, and as you see, all these houses are empty," Heerden said. "All these people feel the same way."

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said another flood would kill the region's recovery.

"The corps, quite frankly, is a dysfunctional bureaucracy, and we need a major overhaul of the corps," he said.

For the rest of the year, residents will have to hope the storms blow somewhere else, and that that buys the government enough time to complete repairs to the levees.