Video: Levees built as designed

By Kerry Sanders Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/13/2005 7:50:32 PM ET 2005-12-14T00:50:32

NEW ORLEANS — For months, everyone from state officials to civil engineers to victims have blamed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, saying the levees were not built to the Corps' own specifications. But Tuesday, the Corps pulled 14 steel sheet pilings from the 17th Street canal levee and discovered it was built according to the blueprints.

“Our design called for this, the construction called for this” says Col. Richard Wagenaar of the Corps, “and that is what is was constructed to.”

When the pilings were in place, they were supposed to measure at least 23 feet from the top of the piling to its base underground. Actually, they were at least 23 feet, 6 inches — beyond specifications. And they were 17 feet below sea level — also according to plan.

That raises a troubling question. If the levees were built as planned, did New Orleans flood because the system was a flawed design?

“This is an area that has never, ever flooded,” says Rep. Emile “Peppi” Bruneau, a Republican in the Louisiana House of Representatives.“It didn't flood in Hurricane Betsy, when you really had a flood and most of the city of New Orleans was inundated.”

Residents, businesses and city officials say they're all paralyzed. How can they rebuild if the entire system is defective?

“The Corps of Engineers, what was your job? What was your responsibility?” asks Bernice Jones, a resident of New Orleans’ 9th Ward. “You know, we're not trying to throw the blame, but if the blame goes to you, so be it.”

The system that experts here really want, one that could protect the city from a Category 5 hurricane, would cost taxpayers more than $32 billion.

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