New Orleans Is Sinking

New Orleans May Sit In The Gulf Of Mexico In 90 Years


Vera Fulton has lived most of her 81 years on Lizardi Street and returned to her home recently for the first time since being evacuated.

"When they say 'storm,' I leave. I can't swim and I can't drink it. So what I do, I leave," says Vera, who has lost her home to two hurricanes.

Vera is intent on coming back. "I don't have no other home, where I'm going?"

Three generations of Fultons, Vera's son Irvin Jr., his wife Gay and their son Irvin, 3rd, live around Lizardi Street.

Irvin says his house is "just flat" and he didn't have insurance.

That's the dilemma. The only thing they have left is land prone to disaster. They want to rebuild, and the city plans to let them.

At Vera's house, Mike Centenio, the city's top building official, told 60 Minutes homes can go up as long as they meet what is called the "100-year flood level."

The federal government had set a flood-level, but didn't figure on a levee failure that would flood parts of the city.

The official level is several feet off the ground. If people meet the requirement, they can rebuild their homes, despite the fact that we saw, for example, a refrigerator lifted to the top of a carport by the floodwaters.

Asked whether allowing people to rebuild makes sense, Centenio says it is "going to take some studying."

Right now, he says the flood level requirement is the law.

Twelve weeks after the storm hit, no one has an answer to where people should go. An estimated 80,000 homes had no insurance, and for now, the biggest grant a family can get from the federal government is $26,200.

Those without flood insurance face an uncertain road ahead, trying to piece their lives and homes back together.

"I don't think any of us get to be made whole. I don't know of anybody that's even getting back to where they were. It's just a matter of how much you lost," says Meffert.

No one wants to risk more losses until the levees are fixed but there is not a lot of confidence in that. There's evidence some of the levee walls may have failed from bad design or lousy workmanship.

Fixing them is up to Colonel Richard Wagenaar, who told 60 Minutes, that by next summer, the levees will withstand a Category 3 storm. But for a Category 5 storm, Congress would have to double the levee height to 30 feet.

Col. Wagenaar says building a 30-foot flood control system around the city could take five to ten years, and cost billions of dollars.

Asked whether he would live in New Orleans if the levees were restored to pre-Katrina levels, Col. Wagenaar said he would, after a long pause.

"There's a lot of long pauses in things I think about these days," Wagenaar added.