The flooding which nearly wiped the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish, La., off the map after Hurricane Katrina was caused by the Army Corps of Engineers failing to maintain a navigation channel through the city, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
District court judge Stanwood R. Duval, Jr. wrote that the Corps’ negligence in failing to maintain the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet canal “was not policy, but insouciance, myopia and shortsightedness.
“For over 40 years, the Corps was aware that the Reach II levee protecting Chalmette and the Lower Ninth Ward was going to be compromised by the continued deterioration of the MRGO . . . The Corps had an opportunity to take a myriad of actions to alleviate this deterioration or rehabilitate this deterioration and failed to do so. Clearly, the expression ‘talk is cheap’ applies here.”
The ruling awarded the six plaintiffs in the case $750,000 in damages, and opens up the possibility of class-action lawsuits, plaintiffs’ attorneys said. Lead attorney Pierce O’Donnell said the government’s liability could come to “billions” of dollars.
“It has been proven in a court of law that the drowning of New Orleans was not a natural disaster, but a preventable man-made travesty,” the attorneys said in a statement. “The government has always had a moral obligation to rebuild New Orleans. This decision makes that obligation a matter of legal responsibility.”
“The judge’s ruling today validates the feelings and beliefs that many citizens have held for four years,” New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin said in a statement. “Although the ruling is liberating for thousands impacted by the devastation and tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, it is my hope that justice will prevail to help families make their lives whole again.”
The government is expected to appeal the ruling.
Katrina struck New Orleans on the morning of Aug. 29, 2005, as a Category 3 hurricane. By the time it was over, 1,800 people had died and over 300,000 were displaced. The flooding caused by levee breaches destroyed large parts of the city and neighboring St. Bernard Parish.
View previous coverage of Hurricane Katrina here.