Image: Levee repairs
Mario Tama  /  Getty Images file
Workers rebuild the levee breached by Hurricane Katrina along the Industrial Canal in the Lower Ninth Ward on Tuesday in New Orleans, La. Repair work on the New Orleans levees is scheduled to be finished in time for the start of hurricane season, June 1.
By Martin Savidge Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/27/2006 8:01:23 PM ET 2006-04-28T00:01:23

It's a race New Orleans can't afford to lose — repair its hurricane protection system before the next storm season starts. The job is 73 percent finished, with 36 days to go, and the man in charge says it will be done June 1.

"Some people might consider that almost impossible, but we've been working 24-hour shifts, seven days a week, for the last eight months," says Brig. Gen. Robert Crear with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Three-thousand contract workers are repairing 169 miles of levees and flood walls at a cost of $798 million. Among the improvements: Three giant flood gates designed to stop storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain and newly designed walls where levees fell down. They are bigger, with deeper supports. South of the city, earthen levees are being rebuilt using better soil brought in from Mississippi.

Like many in New Orleans, Bob Thomas watches the work and wonders.

“[It’s] better than nothing,” the Loyola University professor says, “but not enough. People are just very nervous that the fixes that are going on and the repairs and things like that are going to be only on those areas, and other places are going to be weak.”

Army Corps crews only recently started inspecting more than 200 additional miles of levees that Katrina may have weakened. Upgrading the entire system to withstand a storm even stronger than Katrina is still years and billions of dollars off.

And there are other red flags. The New Orleans protection system relies on a complex network of pumping stations, many of which were submerged by Katrina. On Tuesday, an inch of rain fell on the city and three of its largest pumps broke down.

The 17th Street Canal is Mike Terranova's backyard. As the Corps rebuilds it, he rebuilds his home. His plight is New Orleans’ plight.

“It's good to see some things being done,” he says. “I don't have any choice but to have faith in it, you know. You just roll the dice, I guess.”

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Video: Rebuilding levees and trust


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