Video: Huge challenges to rebuild

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Professional sports is of course utterly irrelevant in New Orleans right now, except as a barometer. 

"The New York Times" reported on Thursday that the National Basketball Association advised its franchises to prepare for the likelihood that the team in New Orleans will have to play its games elsewhere, possibly for the entire season.  Similarly, the National Football League is discussing if its New Orleans team should play its home games in Baton Rouge, San Antonio, or even Los Angeles. 

These are not rats leaving a sinking ship, nor a sinking city.  They are practical businessmen facing what a lot of people don't want to face. 

New Orleans will be closed until further notice.  And that further notice might not come until next year or later.

Mary Comerio, a professor of architecture at Cal Berkeley, and author of the book "Disaster Hits Home: New Policy For Urban Housing Recovery," appeared on 'Countdown' Thursday to discuss the rebuilding challenges and timetable ahead for New Orleans with Keith Olbermann.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

KEITH OLBERMANN:  This is the 21st century.  You can go home a week after heart surgery.  You can reopen the stock market six days after 9/11.  Do you think people are assuming the same kind of thing about New Orleans being up and running in weeks, when months or years is probably more like it? 

MARY COMERIO:  Well, I'm afraid the shock hasn't even begun to wear off yet.  It is going to take months just to assess the damage, and years before New Orleans is inhabitable. 

OLBERMANN:  I guess the wild card as to how many months or how many years is that flood water and its -- what is in it, because every day that passes, that becomes not so much water, as some sort of chemical mix that can rot away infrastructure.  And then, when you do pump it out, you're pumping it out into the lake and the gulf, where it could ravage the fishing industry. 

Is the question of how and what is done with that water the key thing here? 

COMERIO:  Well, getting rid of that water is obviously the key thing.  And repairing the levee, so that it is even possible to get rid of the water, is really the first order of business.  That's a huge engineering question.  It is something that I think we should have been better prepared for. 

People knew about weaknesses in the levees before.  And it should have been part of the emergency plan. 

OLBERMANN:  Let me focus on just one aspect of this relative to the water supply, the taps of water, the ordinary thing that we all take for granted. ... In New Orleans right now, this has basically been poisoned, correct?  How soon before it could be conceivably decontaminated and even support a neighborhood or two?

COMERIO:  I think it is going to take several months. 

First of all, the supply system is going to have to be repaired.  There are going to be breaks everywhere, pump failures.  So, just getting the system connected and back together, much less the ability to turn on your tap and have clean water coming out of the tap, is a long, long way away.  And there's a big process involved in assessing the damage to those pipe systems and supply systems.  And then decontaminating them and moving back to operations is a long period. 

OLBERMANN:  You studied the earthquake in Kobe, Japan, and Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew in your book.  And you've seen the outline on this thing.  Give me the best and worst-case scenarios on just 10 percent of the population of New Orleans living back in New Orleans?  What is the soonest?  What's the latest? 

COMERIO:  I think the best case is that, within six months, people are starting to return to a few neighborhoods, to a few businesses being open and repairs being made. 

The worst-case scenario is three to five years before anybody finds it inhabitable. 

OLBERMANN:  Do the levees have to be rebuilt differently?  If you go and look in Holland, where they have the same below-sea-level quality to the place, these extraordinary expensive, intricate, sensitive devices to protect against the incoming water inundating the land have been built in the last few years, at extraordinary public cost.  And they've been happy to do it.  Do we have to do that again or forget about New Orleans? 

COMERIO:  Well, we're not going to forget about New Orleans.

I think we have too much invested in the city and the community and the economy.  It is a big, huge urban center and it is not going to go away.  So, I think we're really going to have to think about how that center is protected and how those levees are rebuilt.  I think we need to have a public commitment to making that possible. 

OLBERMANN:  We have to get used to it.  This will be years and not months. 

Watch 'Countdown' each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET

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