Video: Is New Orleans ready?

By Martin Savidge Correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/31/2006 7:57:28 PM ET 2006-05-31T23:57:28

One New Orleans work site may look like routine construction, but it's something potentially more ominous: a partial collapse just this week of a 400-foot section of a hurricane protection levee. It was being repaired when the ground beneath simply gave way.

"We're looking at contingency plans to flood-fight if we had to,” says Col. Lewis Setliff of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Despite the setback, the corps is confident New Orleans will have the same level of protection it had before Hurricane Katrina.

But for residents like David Lomax of Lakeview, the incident only adds new concerns over how well the corps fixed 169 miles of failed levees, not to mention the 181 additional miles of potentially weakened levees the corps didn't touch.

He, along with tens of thousands of other residents, face the new hurricane season in nothing but an aluminum box.

"Whenever there's something in the gulf coming, we're going to be watching it very closely, and just get the heck out of Dodge," Lomax says.

Emergency responders have their own worries. New Orleans has fewer police officers, hospital beds and even weaker water pressure than a year ago. It's no wonder officials are adamant.

"When the mayor declares that they need to evacuate the city, you need to evacuate the city," says Jerry Sneed, director of New Orleans Homeland Security.

But the city's plan for that evacuation still has potential problems.

The public transit system that's expected to move an estimated 10,000 residents is scheduled to run out of money just 30 days into the hurricane season.

The city's also counting on Amtrak to move the most vulnerable — an estimated 5,000 sick and elderly. But there is still no official agreement, and Amtrak officials admit they don't know which trains will be used, where they will come from or even where they will go.

Just how well any evacuation goes really depends on something no one has control over: Nature and the speed of the storm. The city would like to think it can evacuate all its dependents in 24 hours. Experts say it will take three times that.

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