Guard Pours Into Gulf Region, Engineers Focus on Draining New Orleans
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 2, 2005 As National Guard vehicles forded floodwaters in downtown New Orleans today delivering critical relief supplies and helping law enforcement officials restore order, workers from the Army Corps of Engineers were focused on draining the city and repairing gaps in its levee system.
At the same time, Corps of Engineers planners are looking at plans to create a city of temporary housing for as many as 50,000 displaced people, the chief of engineers told Pentagon reporters today.
Army Lt. Gen. Carl Strock said this city is likely to be similar to the trailer parks the Corps built in Florida after last year's devastating string of hurricanes.
Today, more than 5,000 National Guard troops are flowing into the hurricane-struck region to augment the 15,000 already on the ground, Army Maj. Gen. Ronald Young from the National Guard Bureau's Joint Staff told reporters during a Department of Homeland Security conference call.
By the day's end, almost 12,000 National Guard troops will be on duty in Louisiana and almost 8,000 in Mississippi, he said. An additional 2,500 Guard members are supporting relief efforts in Florida and Alabama.
Another 4,000 Guard troops will move into the area Sept. 3, and by late Sept. 4, 26,500 troops will be on duty in Louisiana and Mississippi, he said.
Acting under their state governors' authority, the guardsmen are focusing on law enforcement support and general security, Young said, while carrying out other missions to say lives and relieve suffering: search-and-rescue missions, medical support, shelter support and logistical delivery among them.
Two divisional headquarters are moving into the region to work for the state adjutants general and facilitate the response effort, he said.
While the National Guard continues to funnel additional forces and equipment into the region, its leaders are looking at plans to sustain that support, probably through troop rotations and replacements after about three weeks, Young said.
Meanwhile, about 400 Army Corps of Engineers employees are in New Orleans, working with other authorities to drain water trapped in the city while helping to repair gaps in the levee system that partially gave way during Hurricane Katrina, Strock said.
"The task at hand now is to drain the city and create the conditions where recovery can begin to take place," he said.
Water levels in the city have stabilized, the general said, and except for tidal fluctuations, aren't expected to rise. However, he stressed the importance of repairing two breaches in the levees along Lake Pontchartrain to protect the city from any follow-on storms.
"As we look down the line here, we see storms forming in the Atlantic," he said. "We want to make sure that we don't catch ourselves with levees open and other storm fronts moving on us."
The Corps is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies to move construction equipment to the sites, building causeways from dry land to the breach sites, and by water, despite challenges posed by bridges that can't be lifted due to power outages.
In addition, the Corps is using helicopters to drop 300-pound sandbags at the breech sites, although Strock said this mission has become "something of a second priority" for helicopters playing a critical role in search-and-rescue missions.
New Orleans' more than 300 miles of levees were built to withstand a Category 3 hurricane, but Hurricane Katrina's intensity exceeded the system's designed capacity, Strock said. When it became clear that a Category 4 or 5 hurricane was about to strike the city, the mayor and governor, recognizing the levees could not be relied on to survive it, ordered an evacuation, he said.
When the levee system was designed about 30 years ago, planners were confident it would protect the city for 200 or 300 years before a storm overwhelmed its capability - an event with only a one-half of 1 percent chance of happening, he said.
"So we had (a) 99.5 percent (assurance) this would be OK," Stock said. "Unfortunately, we have that that .5 percent likelihood."
Studies to reinforce the levee system to Category 4 or 5 hurricane standards have been under way for some time, but Stock said they "take years to accomplish and then many more years to implement."