After Katrina: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moves forward in disaster recovery efforts

As FEMA chief resigns, Corps details breadth of recovery efforts to date. With over $2.9 billion in missions active in support of relief efforts, it's working with local, state and federal partners to not only drain New Orleans but assist in recovery across the Gulf. It's expected the city will be fully drained by mid-October. More concerns were expressed on the "toxic stew" being drained from the city into Lake Pontchartrain...

WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 12, 2005 (U.S. Newswire with WaterWorld staff reports) -- In support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers has been working with local, state and federal partners, to bring relief to the Gulf following Hurricane Katrina. More than 1,600 Corps employees are actively engaged in recovery efforts, and the numbers are increasing daily.

With more than $2.9 billion in missions, the Corps is working closely with its government and contracting partners to meet the most urgent needs, including providing ice and water, temporary roofing, temporary housing, power assessment, and debris removal across the area impacted by Hurricane Katrina. Additionally, work continues to repair the levees around New Orleans and pump floodwater out of the city.

In other news, FEMA director Michael Brown, who was relieved of command of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts Friday by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, resigned Monday following two weeks of criticism on the government's slow response.

Meanwhile, earlier reports Monday indicated 50% of New Orleans was still inundated, down from 80% last week. Regarding questions on the quality of the floodwater being pumped from New Orleans and any potential adverse environmental impact on Lake Pontchartrain and other waterways that may be affected, an Army Corps representative mirrored comments of USEPA Administrator Stephen Johnson on Friday.

"The Corps is concerned about the quality of water being moved from New Orleans to Lake Ponchratrain," said Amanda Ellison on Monday. "However, our first priority is the health and safety of residents of New Orleans and all responders as we move the water out of the city. We are currently working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ensure human health and safety as we drain the water and have received approval from EPA to move the water following the agency's normal practices in emergencies."

She added, "EPA is monitoring and testing the water and has the lead. FEMA and EPA are working together to address the issues of water quality."

These drainage missions are being performed in the affected areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The following is a synopsis of the activities underway:

• Un-watering and breach repair:
Working with the city of New Orleans and private contractors, the Army Corps of Engineers continues to make steady progress on pumping out floodwaters from the city of New Orleans and immediate vicinity.

Through a system of existing and temporary pumps floodwaters are being pumped into Lake Ponchartrain. The number of pumps that are operational at any given time is continually changing. As an average, this system is pumping water at about one million gallons per day, which is equalvant to approximately 432 Olympic-size swimming pools per day.

Original estimates for completing the un-watering of the city have recently been revised. Several factors, such as no significant rainfall, strong easterly winds that have allowed the Lake Ponchartrain levels to recede lower than expected, the deliberate un-watering breaches or 'notches' have allowed flooded areas to drain faster and thus have improved the ability to acquire more pump capacity. As of today, it is estimated the overall un-watering effort will be completed in early to mid-October.

A breakdown by parish is provided:
-- Orleans Parish: Week of Oct. 2
-- Orleans East: Week of Oct. 8
-- Chalmette: Week of Oct. 8
-- Plaquemines Parish: Week of Oct. 18
The estimates are based on normal seasonal rainfall.

It's important to note that the un-watering effort will remove most, but not all the water. There will be some isolated pockets of water the will remain. However, these pockets of water should not hamper recovery efforts such as debris removal, structural assessments and restoration of critical services.

The fourth of four critical breaches at the 17th Street Canal and London Avenue Canal was closed Sept. 10. Auxiliary pumps and generators are operating at both locations.

• Water and ice:
In Mississippi, more than 18,000 tons of ice and 8 million liters of water have been delivered to staging areas. In Louisiana, more than 15,000 tons of ice and 15 million liters of water have been delivered In Alabama, more than 6,000 tons of ice and 5 million liters of drinking water has been delivered.

• Debris removal:
More than 270,000 cubic yards of debris has been removed thus far from areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. These numbers continue to increase daily.

• Operation Blue Roof:
In Mississippi and Louisiana "Operation Blue Roof" is underway in several counties. The Operation Blue Roof program provides temporary plastic sheeting for roofs that were damaged during Hurricane Katrina. Over 3,000 requests for assistance have been received thus far. The program is underway and plastic sheeting is being placed on damaged roofs in the affected areas. It is estimated over 40,000 homes will need plastic sheeting.

• Power Assessments:
In Mississippi, almost 200 power assessments have been completed, and 35 sites have power restored. Power assessment teams continue to work in New Orleans with 223 of 256 assessments completed.

• Temporary Housing:
Housing needs continue to be identified daily. As of today, eight units have been leased, 80 units are ready for occupants, and 130 units have been identified. Other missions:

In support of FEMA, the Corps of Engineers will be assessing and repairing public facilities (schools, libraries, fire stations, etc.) for the state of Louisiana. This mission is estimated at $200 million dollars.

The priority of the Corps is to support efforts to save lives and find people, sustain lives, and set conditions for recovery. The Army Corps of Engineers, in support of FEMA, provides disaster response assistance to the nation, working in concert with 30 federal departments, as well as, state and local governments. For more information on the Army Corps of Engineers response to Hurricane Katrina, visit the web site at www.usace.army.mil.

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Additional government information on this subject can be found at:
-- For the latest news from the USEPA on Hurricane Katrina (including results of ongoing water quality testing), see: www.epa.gov/katrina/
-- Daily updates on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention's Katrina response team are available at: www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/hurricanes/
-- Before and after photos of the hurricane's devastation along the Gulf Coast can be viewed at the U.S. Geological Survey website: http://coastal.er.usgs.gov/hurricanes/katrina/
-- Department of Homeland Security includes the following information on the federal emergency response: www.dhs.gov/interweb/assetlibrary/katrina.htm
-- And from FirstGov, the U.S. Government's official website, see the following on Katrina recovery & relief efforts in English and Spanish: www.firstgov.gov

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In other Hurricane Katrina news, see:
BUGS Offers Patented Technology to Katrina-Impacted State Agencies; Technology Could Help Clean Up Soil and Groundwater Contamination -- CARLSBAD, CA, Sept. 12, 2005 -- U.S. Microbics Inc. announced its subsidiary, Sub Surface Waste Management of Delaware Inc., has contacted the environmental State agencies for Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi offering to donate the use of its patented water treatment technology, Bio-GAC™ for the treatment of toxic waste streams such as those caused by Hurricane Katrina....

HydroFlo to Donate Water and Filtering Systems for Hurricane Katrina Survivors -- RALEIGH, NC, Sept. 12, 2005 -- HydroFlo Inc. announced its portfolio company Metals & Arsenic Removal Technology Inc. (MARTI) has agreed to donate water filtering systems along with consulting services to aid in the Hurricane Katrina disaster relief effort. The initial commitment for distribution of water pitchers and filters is for 5,000 units. The first shipment is expected the go out this week to DOD and other shipments will follow to FEMA as units are produced by our Chinese manufacturer...

UPDATED: Toxic Stew: What's in the Water in New Orleans?
WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2005 (U.S. Newswire) -- Today, the National Environmental Trust (NET) posted new details about toxic chemicals present in New Orleans and the surrounding parishes before Hurricane Katrina that may pose serious threats to public health if they have leaked from numerous oil and chemical facilities. These industrial chemicals range from formaldehyde to benzene to cyanide compounds and include neurotoxins, carcinogens and reproductive and developmental toxins. All chemicals listed were present in significant quantities and could pose serious short- and long-term public health risks if they have leaked. NET also hosted an extensive briefing on this subject, with experts discussing the public health and long-term environmental effects from the flood waters. NET and former EPA officials called for a careful assessment of possible leaks and health threats before residents are allowed to return to the area. A briefing is available at the organization's website: www.net.org.

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For earlier "After Katrina" reports and links to related releases dating to Aug. 31, see:
After Katrina: As FEMA chief exits, engineers dig in for long haul of hurricane recovery (Sept. 9, 2005) -- With criticism mounting, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff dismisses FEMA director. President signs bill for more aid to region, as squabbles erupt over investigating federal reaction to disaster. New Orleans newspaper reviews "Hurricane Pam," an emergency preparedness exercise whose Sept. 20, 2004 report predicted a worse scenario than Katrina. Projected tab of destruction rises to $125 billion. ABB, JEA, AMWA, CH2M Hill, Fluor, Bechtel and ASFE among latest gearing up for long term rebuilding of region...

If you would like to assist financially, to contribute directly through the American Red Cross and for the latest news on Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, see: www.redcross.org/news/.

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