"Sure. We are absolutely safer in New Orleans than we were when Katrina hit," Col. Edward Fleming, commander for the New Orleans District of the Army Corps of Engineers, declared to "Early Show" weather anchor and features reporter Dave Price" on "The Early Show on Saturday Morning."
"When Katrina hit," Fleming said, "We had a kind of a patchwork system that was a system in name only. Today, you have a resilient, integrated system. And there are features that are here that were not here then - things like flood gates and pump stations on ... canals, (a) surge barrier, larger levees. Again, it's an integrated, resilient system that wasn't here then when Katrina hit."
New Orleans, Fleming assured Price, "is absolutely a safe community and well-engineered. My family and I live behind these levees. Hundreds of the folks from the Corps of Engineers who work on these systems, who design these systems live behind the levees, having already lost lots of stuff in Hurricane Katrina. It's safe, and we live here, as well."
"By hurricane season next year," Fleming added, "we will have the hundred-year protection in place ( meant to withstand a once-in-a-century-strong storm). Obviously, there will be work that will go on in the system for years to come. However, we have committed to have the hundred-year protection in place by hurricane season next year."
Should people be going back to even the worst-hit areas of the city - places where people perhaps should never have been allowed to live to begin with?
"There's always gonna be residual risk in an instance like this," Fleming conceded. "The way you reduce risk is with multiple lines defense. You start with barrier islands, you go through a lush coastal wetland, you have levees, you have local zoning ordinances. You have a good evacuation plan and a full tank of gas. There is always gonna be some residual risk, but with multiple lines of defense, people have to listen to their local leaders and, if an evacuation is ordered, they should probably heed that advice."
What about the natural and steady erosion of the natural barriers considered part of the system of defenses?
"We have six projects that we got approved by federal officials to be able to go forward." Fleming pointed out. "We work very closely with the state of Louisiana, with the local parishes, and these six projects talk about coastal restoration. Not only is that good for the environment, not only is that so critical, but again, it leads into the multiple lines of defense. We're talking about creating marshes, diversions of fresh water and sediment from the Mississippi River, barrier islands. And again, those six projects, Louisiana coastline projects, are very critical, and we're moving forward on those."