your connection to The Boston Globe

Testimony reveals confusion on levees

Senate examining Katrina response

WASHINGTON -- Federal engineers trying to stop flooding in New Orleans were unsure who was in charge of fixing the levees amid the confusion of Hurricane Katrina, according to interviews with congressional investigators released yesterday by a Senate panel.

In a Nov. 15 interview with investigators, Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Richard P. Wagenaar recounted an instance after Katrina hit when federal workers attempted to fill in the breached London Avenue canal and were told to stop.

That led to a discussion of ''who is in charge?" Wagenaar said. ''I mean, where's the parish president? Where is the mayor? And then the state, well they work for DOTD," Wagenaar said in the interview, referring to the Louisiana's Department of Transportation and Development.

''At some point, you know, you've got to make some stuff happen. Because this was a bad situation," he said.

At yesterday's hearing by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, lawmakers questioned whether officials at all levels of government -- federal, state, and local -- should share in some blame.

''All of you didn't do the job that you were supposed to be doing," said Senator George V. Voinovich, Republican of Ohio.

The interviews, combined with yesterday's testimony, indicate vast confusion about who was ultimately responsible for the levees.

Regulations show that the Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for building levees and conducting annual inspections, and the state is charged with training and overseeing New Orleans levee district officials.

The Orleans Levee District, headed by a board of politically appointed commissioners, is responsible for day-to-day maintenance and repair of levees -- usually by staff engineers.

The former president of the commission described a lax inspection process.

Asked about other levee inspections that might be more thorough, Huey told investigators: ''When you say inspections -- and I don't really know and I couldn't even answer to tell you -- how do you inspect levees other than if you see seepage?"

Huey resigned from the board in October amid questions about no-bid contracts to his relatives in the days after the Aug. 29 storm.

The Senate hearing came as a House panel considered whether to subpoena the White House to get documents detailing the government's response to Katrina. The chairman of the panel, Representative Tom Davis, Republican of Virginia, asked lawmakers to wait until after a private briefing yesterday at the White House before deciding whether to go ahead.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives