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General:  New Orleans Should be Dry by October 2


A senior U.S. military officer working on the recovery effort in New Orleans says all the floodwater should be drained from the city by October 2, but he could not predict when people might be able to move back in, due to massive destruction, pollution and possible dangers from a weakened flood control system.

The head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lieutenant General Carl Strock, says the pumping effort is going well in New Orleans. Large sections of the city are already dry, and the floodwater is being pumped out of more neighborhoods every day.

Now, his staff of soldiers and civilians is beginning to assess the status of the city's system of earthen dams called levees, and to repair them where necessary, to protect the city from future storms. Most of New Orleans sits below sea level, and the levees are crucial to keeping the city safe. Two major breaks in the levees, and several smaller ones, resulted in the flooding of the city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina early this month.

"If the mayor and the governor have made the decision that New Orleans will be brought back, then, certainly we need to make sure we have the appropriate level of protection for the citizens there," said General Strock.

General Strock says it is still impossible to predict when it might be safe to end the mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. He says a complex and highly technical analysis is needed, involving not only the levees, but also the structural safety of the city's remaining buildings, the huge amount of debris and mud in the city, and potential dangers from a variety of environmental pollutants, including chemicals and the dead bodies of people and animals.

General Strock says, for now, he believes New Orleans would have trouble remaining safe and dry, if another strong storm were to hit it before the levees can be surveyed and brought back to their pre-Katrina levels. And, he says, he and other officials have already begun looking at how to further enhance the levee system to protect the city from any future storm as strong as Katrina, or even stronger.

"I'd be reluctant to say it's simply a matter of raising levees or flood walls. We're going to look at all sorts of things," he said. "And we'll get a lot of help in that too, I'm sure. There'll be a lot of discussion about the state of the art."

The Army Corps of Engineers is only one part of the broad U.S. government response to the Katrina disaster, with $60 billion allocated for the effort. General Strock reports that plans drawn up 40 years ago that might have protected New Orleans more effectively, but were blocked due to environmental concerns, would have cost $2.5 billion.

He says decisions on future enhancements of the city's flood protection system will likely come fairly soon, and could include elements of that 40-year-old plan.

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