Thank you Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Jeffords for holding this hearing today. I requested that the Environment and Public Works Committee hold this hearing because it is very important to understand what caused the levee system to fail during Hurricane Katrina so that these factors can be incorporated in making the levees better and stronger so they will withstand future storms. This time we need to not just rebuild the levees and floodwalls, but rebuild them right so they provide a solid foundation of protection for the next hurricane season.
Before Hurricane Katrina, an estimated two-thirds of the population of Louisiana lived in the areas now declared disaster areas. Louisianans are still deciding whether or not to return home. Restoration of hurricane protection that incorporates better, smarter designs is a key factor for people and businesses when deciding whether or not to return to Louisiana.
The City of New Orleans and the surrounding parishes are below sea level. Once the storm surge overwhelmed the levee and floodwalls system, the Greater New Orleans area had extensive flooding. For several weeks, the areas remained flooded. Many Louisianans lost their homes and over 1,100 lives were lost. This is why stronger hurricane protection must be put in place by the next hurricane season to ensure it is safe for Louisianans to return home and as they rebuild their lives in Louisiana.
Today, I look forward to hearing from the Army Corps of Engineers and other independent teams about the preliminary findings from their investigations of the levee system’s performance during Hurricane Katrina. I would like to thank the witnesses for testifying before the Committee today and providing critical information from their investigations that will be important toward the effort in restoring stronger hurricane protection in Louisiana.
From hearing the witness’s testimony today, we will have a better understanding of whether the failure in our protection system was due to geological considerations, overtopping, other design problems, or other causes. In order to provide a stronger level and smarter design for hurricane protection in Louisiana, it is important that we understand how faults occurred in the system and what designs need improvement. It is also important to recognize that these failures in the system could happen in other areas along the hurricane protection system too. We need to be certain that those areas of the system that did not fail during Hurricane Katrina are not at risk of failing during future storms.
Preliminary findings show that there is a problem when rebuilding the levees and floodwalls with different designs. The transition points in the protection system between different types of designs for levees and floodwalls actually weaken the structure. For this reason, we should not rebuild only areas of the system that had a failure because it will not address the fundamental design problem within the entire hurricane protection system. There needs to be consistency in the design of the levees and floodwalls otherwise if only the levees that failed are rebuilt with better designs for stronger protection, the rest of the levee and floodwall system will just weaken the entire structure and protection system. Obviously, it is necessary that all of these areas of the system are upgraded with better designs that guarantee stronger hurricane protection.
We must make sure this devastation never happens again. We need stronger, improved hurricane protection now. Rebuilding to just “pre-Katrina” conditions is not an option. When we say to Louisianans that we have a category 3 hurricane protection system in place, we need to be certain that we truly mean we have a true category 3 protection system in place. We need a strong foundation on which to build upon in the future. Therefore, we need a true standard of hurricane protection now that provides a solid, consistent, strong level of protection throughout the entire system.