Bush Wants $1.5B More For Levees

A Chinook helicopter drops sandbags to repair the breach in the Industrial Canal levee, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2005, in New Orleans. The storm surge created by Hurricane Rita eroded repairs made after Katrina and sent water surging back into the already devastated Ninth Ward. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian) AP

President Bush is requesting $1.5 billion more to help make the levee system in New Orleans stronger than it was before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.

At a news briefing at the White House, officials dodged the question of whether the levees would be built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, using broader language instead to promise that the city's citizens would be safe and the levees would be "stronger and better."

"The federal government is committed to building the best levee system known in the world," Donald Powell, the top U.S. official for reconstruction, told reporters. "It's a complicated issue."

The money the president is requesting is in addition to the $1.6 billion he has already committed to repair the breeches in the levees, correct the design and construction flaws and bring the levee to a height that was authorized before the hurricane, a Category 4 storm, hit on Aug. 29, killing more than 1,300 people.

"That work is being done as we speak," Powell said.

The additional $1.5 billion — making the administration's total desired contribution to New Orleans levee rebuilding $3.1 billion — that the president is requesting would pay to armor the levee system with concrete and stone, close three interior canals and provide state-of-the art pumping systems so that the water would flow out of the canals into Lake Pontchartrain, Powell said.

Officials said the levee system would be rebuilt to its previous level of protection before the hurricane season next year, and that the process of strengthening them further would take two years.

The announcement came after Mr. Bush met in the Oval Office with Powell, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the head of the Army Corps of Engineers, and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Louisiana officials say that bringing the levees to Category 5 level is crucial to the future of New Orleans, as it would be hard otherwise to entice the many people displaced by the storm to come back.

"We understand that the people of New Orleans need to be assured that they will safe when they get back home — that their city has an infrastructure that is capable of sustaining a possible storm next season or in the seasons afterwards," Chertoff said.

CBS News Radio correspondent Mark Knoller reports that Nagin says the new funding will build levees up to 17 feet high, fortified with rock and concrete.

Mr. Bush's public schedule in recent weeks has been almost completely bare of references to Katrina or appearances related to the disaster. But Chertoff said the attention at the federal level has not faded.

"Not a day goes by that we don't think about what's going on in New Orleans and what we can do to promote the process of reconstruction and recovery for the people who have been afflicted all over the Gulf Coast," Chertoff said. "We continue to do everything we can to help communities get back on their feet."

  • Christine Lagorio

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