Video: Will they hold?

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 6/1/2006 7:36:01 PM ET 2006-06-01T23:36:01

In light of the new 6,000-page report on what went wrong in Katrina , and its conclusion that it was people and not an act of God at the root of all this, we met Thursday with the man in charge of the effort to rebuild these levees and floodwalls, Col. Lewis Setliff, the commander of Task Force Guardian with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Brian Williams: The question of the day also pertains to a report out today about the work of the past. It, in plain English, says that the damage from Katrina is the work of people and not God. How does the Corps react to that?

Col. Lewis Setliff: Well, no city is safe. There's always a level of risk in each and every city and I think the Corps’ responsibility, working with elected officials, is to minimize that risk as much as we can, but we'll never eliminate it. And what we need to do is keep people, keep businesses informed, so they're making these very important decisions. We understand that this summer a lot of people are going to be on the edge of their seats and be making some very tough decisions. We want those decisions to be informed. The second part of that is that the administration and Congress is committed to continuing not only through this summer, but through the next several years to make this protection system better and better.

Williams: Some of the steel you're driving goes down 60 feet and we learn now that some of the levees that went in Katrina only went down 15 — did the folks in New Orleans get a bum deal from the old workmanship?

Setliff: I don't think they did. As simple as it looks — sheet pile filled with concrete or an earthen levee — they are all engineered and designed to withstand certain forces. These particular sheet piles, this is the equivalent of building a 12-story house or building and jamming 10 stories of that into the ground. We're after stability as opposed to the driving of the sheet pile to prevent seepage of water underneath and that's associated with the soils and soil stratification. So two different purposes, but deeper is better. These are very deep and that's why we continue to say this is a better and stronger system.

Williams: How proud are you of the work we've seen here?

Setliff: I'm proud of the work. I'm more proud of the workers — very dedicated individuals. These individuals out here live behind these same levees. Their lives have been put on hold themselves. They came out here.

Williams: The impact of today's report is that the people of New Orleans, who lost everything over here, say, "We trusted you. We thought that wall was going to hold." You're saying, "Trust us this time."

Setliff: I'm saying you can hold the Corps accountable. You can hold the Corps accountable for our work. And I am also very confident that this will perform as it is designed to withstand.

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