General: It’ll take weeks to drain New Orleans
ARLINGTON, Va. — The commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Friday that he could not say how long it would take to drain the city of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
“We’re certainly talking weeks,” Lt. Gen. Carl Strock told reporters at the Pentagon.
Nor could he offer many specifics on other relief efforts.
Strock said the corps was preparing temporary housing for 50,000. The corps is searching for green space to place the housing and looking for available housing for storm refugees, he said.
But he could not say where the housing would be located, who would live there or when it would available.
Strock also said water levels in New Orleans have stabilized and the military was working to seal off canals and fix broken levees.
He could not say how long it would take to repair the levees or pump the city dry.
Strock said a reason authorities have been unable to get supplies to people stranded in New Orleans is communications in the area are down.
Another problem is authorities often do not know where the people who need food, water and medical supplies are located, he said.
Strock said authorities were considering getting supplies to people via water, rail and air but could not comment on which option was most likely to be employed.
Asked why authorities cannot airdrop supplies to people concentrated in areas like the New Orleans Convention Center, Strock deferred comment to Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, commander of Joint Task Force Katrina.
Strock declined to comment when asked how long it would to rebuild New Orleans.
Also Friday, Strock explained why the New Orleans levee system failed during Hurricane Katrina.
He dismissed the notion that not enough money had been spent on the city’s flood defenses, saying said $300 million has been spent on the levees and other flood protection measures since 2002.
The problem is the levees were designed to withstand a category-3 hurricane, he said.
“The intensity of the storm simply exceeded the design capacity of this levee,” Strock said.
When the levees were designed 30 years ago, it was anticipated that they were vulnerable only to a storm that would come along once every 200 or 300 years and they could withstand 99.5 percent of storms, he said.
“Unfortunately, we had that 0.5 percent activity here,” he said.
Strock also praised city and state officials for realizing the storm would be too much for the levee system and ordering an evacuation of New Orleans ahead of the hurricane.
“If they had not done that, the losses could have been much more significant,” he said.
Studies are under way that look into enhancing the levee system, Strock said.
Asked why the city’s levees were not designed to withstand stronger storms, he replied, “The city of New Orleans is what it is.”
Military hot lines
Army Reserve family members and soldiers affected by Hurricane Katrina now have a way to contact the Army Reserve through a call center.
The number is (877) 464-9330. Phones will be manned 24 hours a day. Operators will take down information to aid deployed Army Reserve Soldiers in determining the status and whereabouts of their families affected by Hurricane Katrina.
The U.S. Navy has established a 24-hour help line for family members seeking information about sailors caught up in Katrina, a Navy spokesman said.
The number also will allow sailors who had to evacuate to let their command know where they are, said Navy Lt. Herb Josey.
The number is (877) 414-5358.
— Stars and Stripes