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Hurricane Katrina Levee Failure Victims Seek Billions from Army Corps of Engineers

Jan 10, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Hurricane Katrina lawsuits filed against the Army Corps of Engineers could cost the Corps big.  So far, just shy of a half million claims have been filed against the Army Corps of Engineers for the damages caused by the breeching of levees it maintained in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.  Of those, 247 are seeking damages of $1 billion or more, and one claimant is seeking more than $3 quadrillion from the Army Corps of Engineers over its poorly maintained levees.

On June 1, 2006, the Army Corps of Engineers took responsibility for the flooding in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina. A 6,000 page-plus report on the tragedy, prepared by the 150-member Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force assembled and headed by the Corps, said the flooding was a result of failed levees which were built in a disjointed fashion using outdated methods. The report concluded that the levees were inconsistent in quality, materials and design and that the inconsistencies left gaps that were exploited by the storm. Engineers did not take into account the poor soil quality underneath New Orleans, the report said, and their failure to account for the sinking of land caused some sections to be as much as two feet lower than other parts. The report also blamed four breaches in canals that run through New Orleans on foundation failures that were not considered in the original design of these structures. These breaches caused two-thirds of the flooding in New Orleans.

Since then, thousands of lawsuits have been filed against the Corps for the tremendous damage brought on by the levee failures that caused the flooding of New Orleans.  Katrina, which is blamed for more than 1,600 deaths in Louisiana and Mississippi, is considered the most destructive storm to ever hit the U.S. It caused at least $60 billion in insured losses and could cost Gulf Coast states up to $125 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Earlier this week, the Army Corps of Engineers released a list of the 247 Hurricane Katrina claims seeking damages of $1 billion or more.  Most claims were filed by individuals. Fourteen of them included compensation requests for "wrongful deaths."  The list includes a $77 billion claim filed by the city of New Orleans, as well as three claims by unnamed insurance companies.

By far the largest levee failure claim was one for $3 quadrillion filed by a resident of Baker, Louisiana.  Although Baker is far from any of the levee breaches, many of those made homeless by Hurricane Katrina still live in temporary trailers there. It is an understatement to say that $3 quadrillion is a lot of money.  Such an amount would far exceed the 2007 U.S. gross domestic product of $13.7 trillion.   A stack of 1 quadrillion pennies would reach Saturn.

The extremely large damage claims are indicative of the type of damage the Hurricane Katrina levee failure left in its wake.   Many victims lost everything they owned and more.  In most cases, after the flooding they were left abandoned in New Orleans without food or water for days.   Years later, many of have yet to put their lives back together.  The huge dollar amounts that levee failure victims are seeking from the Corps are simply a reflection of the anger that many of them feel as a result of their destroyed lives.

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