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Homeland Security

02 September 2005

Army Engineer Corps Working To Assist Recovery from Katrina

Hurricane and flood relief effort draws on federal, private resources

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington File Security Affairs Writer

Washington -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is seized with a sense of urgency as it fans out across the U.S. Gulf Coast area devastated by Hurricane Katrina to do whatever it can to help the area recover from the one-two punch of a Category 4 hurricane and the ensuing flooding.

Hurricane Katrina struck the southeastern United States August 29, causing widespread damage and prompting the largest domestic relief effort in U.S. history. (See related article.)

Lieutenant General Carl Strock, commander of the Corps of Engineers told reporters at the Pentagon September 2 that his work force – which is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency under the National Response Plan – has “a sense of urgency to get in [there] and make things right, to help create the conditions for a recovery.”

The corps’ work is part of a broader government process known as Catastrophic Disaster Response Planning.  The Corps of Engineers, composed primarily of civilians, is providing emergency support in public and civil works, as well as helicopters for search-and-rescue operations and for critical survey work on ports.  Strock pointed out that in some of the disaster-stricken regions the only access may be by air.

Strock said priorities in this broad disaster include removing debris so that other emergency response employees can do their jobs, delivering emergency electricity and temporary shelter, fixing roofs, providing ice and water and setting up command-and-control facilities.

“The real focus right now is saving … and sustaining lives and then creating the conditions for the beginning of a recovery here,” he said. 

The corps’ mandate also includes flood control and restoring navigation on key waterways.  Strock said the water levels have stabilized now in New Orleans, enabling engineers to tackle the process of draining off the floodwaters.  This will involve, in part, breaching the levees on Lake Pontchartrain and using gravity to carry the water back out to sea.  After that, pumping stations will be brought back on line to pump out any remaining water.

The corps commander said ships can move in and out of New Orleans, but transportation is hampered by the absence of navigational aides.  Strock said the corps is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Navigation Response Team and the Coast Guard to ameliorate the situation by putting in buoys.  The corps also is setting up lights to aid night navigation, but Strock said it would be some time before night operations are safe.

Even as the engineers work on these tasks, they are looking over their shoulders because there is the risk of additional storms brewing in the Atlantic Ocean.  “We want to make sure that we don’t catch ourselves with levees open and another storm front moving on us,” Strock said.  “So, we’re going to go ahead and proceed to close … canals, although that’s not vital to our recovery effort at the moment.”

The engineers are also facing a confounding communications problem.  Although they have working telephones, as does the military, Strock said the civilian communications infrastructure has been washed away.  This means there is no way to communicate with victims.  That has hampered relief efforts, he said, making it difficult to coordinate activities and know where resources are needed most.

Strock also said the corps is working closely with private industry in the national emergency, including with both the construction and navigation industries.

The engineers might also work with other federal agencies as they have in the past, including the Bureau of Reclamation and the Forest Service.   “So we will draw on the full federal family to help us on this,” Strock said.

The transcript of Strock’s briefing is available on Defense Department Web site.

For more information on the Army Corps’ work in the wake of Hurricane Katrina see Corps Hurricane Response.


The commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, Lieutenant General Russel Honore, described the challenges FEMA and the military are facing in the aftermath of the hurricane and flooding.   “It is a trying situation at best,” he told reporters at the Pentagon September 1 during a satellite telephone link-up from his task force headquarters in Gulfport, Mississippi.

In Mississippi, emergency response workers are facing a dry environment and are trying to reach people who are dispersed widely over a large geographic area.  But in Louisiana, Honore said, the situation is the opposite: a concentration of people in a small, flooded area.  In New Orleans, he said, the operation is focused on “sustaining life and taking care of the critically injured and wounded.”

A transcript with more information about Joint Task Force Katrina is available at Defense Department Web site.

For additional information, see Hurricane Katrina.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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