Army Engineers Focus on Helping South Recover from Hurricanes
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
"The city is essentially dry now," Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the Army's chief of engineers and commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said. "There may be some small pockets (of water) here and there."
The recent dewatering was an effort necessitated by the Sept. 23 reflooding of the city as a storm surge created as Hurricane Rita spun through the Gulf of Mexico toward Texas topped New Orleans' already compromised levee system.
With the majority of the city dry, the Corps of Engineers can once again focus on another of their responsibilities: debris removal.
Strock said that 40 million to 70 million cubic yards of debris needs to be cleared. Exactly how much depends on whether the corps is charged with clearing private individuals' debris in addition to that from public areas. They will take private citizens' debris if they it is moved to a public area.
"If you can all remember Hurricane Andrew, (there were) about 18 million (cubic) yards of debris then," Strock said. "It took about nine months to clean up. So it's a huge effort on this."
In 30 days, about 8 million cubic yards of debris has been moved in the areas affected by the hurricanes. This was achieved by putting large contracts in place. Strock said that getting people access back into their homes and towns is a way to set conditions for recovery.
The engineering corps has $2 billion available for funding debris removal.
The corps is also looking at a significant "reroofing" mission in both affected areas, Strock said. About 70,000 homes in Louisiana, 35,000 in Mississippi and 5,000 in Texas are in need of new roofs. Getting those roofs replaces is a step to getting people back into their homes and a step toward recovery. These fixes will be temporary but are critical to solving some of the housing shortages, he said.
Power production is also an issue. He said that much of the affected areas in Texas are still using generators.
"There is some significant damage to the fixed power production in Texas," Strock said.
One of the corps' biggest responsibilities is the rebuilding of the levee system meant to protect the city from most hurricanes. The engineers are conducting surveys to assess what needs to be done to return the structures to their original condition.
"We also need to make sure the decision makers are aware of the level of risk associated with the condition of the projects," Strock said, referring to the flood and hurricane protections systems.
As it stands, the Army engineers will rebuild the system to withstand a Category 3 storm. Hurricane Katrina was once a Category 5 storm, the strongest on the Safir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. It hit land as a deadly Category 4 storm. The corps would need Congressional direction to rebuild a system to withstand a storm that strong in the future.
Though the efforts in the South are a massive undertaking, Strock said, the engineers are confident that they can tackle this and any other events that may require their response.
"We feel like we're certainly adequately resourced through (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to carry out what we need to do our ... responsibilities," he said. "We're also now standing up and reconstituting our capability to respond to any other ... natural disaster or terrorist attack that might be looming on the horizon."
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