NEW REPORT: New Orleans storm defenses "dangerously weak"

In September of last year, President Bush declared from Jackson Square in New Orleans that this country would "do what it takes" and "stay as long as it takes" to revive the city.

But with June 1 marking the start of the 2006 hurricane season, lack of federal leadership has left New Orleans' storm defense system in shambles, leaving thousands at risk if another storm where to arrive.

That's the conclusion of "Storm Cloud over New Orleans" (pdf), new report from Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch, the Institute's spin-off project to watchdog the post-Katrina rebuilding process.

Many media accounts are putting a positive spin on the city's progress in repairing levees and preparing for another storm. But the ground-breaking report by Watch editor Sue Sturgis finds a more alarming reality:

* Due to delays in funding and construction, nearly 20% of New Orleans levees and floodwalls destroyed by Katrina have not been repaired. What's more, the Army Corps of Engineers has no mandate to protect the city from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, even though climate trends show storms are growing in intensity.

* The city's pump system, designed to prevent flooding in low-lying areas, has not been tested and repaired after being corroded after Katrina. Three pumps failed during a light rain in April, and doubts about oversight and evacuation plans have added to the chaos.

* Federal leaders have done little to restore Louisiana's fast-disappearing coastal wetlands. Despite being an excellent natural "buffer" against storm surges, Congress rejected a $2 billion proposal to restore the wetlands this spring.

* Over the concerns of community leaders, officials have failed to take action to close the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet -- 40-year-old relic which during Katrina breached its levees in 20 places, and is responsible for destroying over 20,000 acres of key wetlands.
Go read the full report here (pdf). Hopefully it will be a wake-up call to Washington to act -- thousands of lives are in the balance.

Coming soon: Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch is getting a major facelift! Stay tuned ...