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New Orleans levee reported weak in 1990s

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  1. N8 v2.0

    N8 v2.0 Not the sharpest tool in the shed

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    New Orleans levee reported weak in 1990s
    Records: Construction firm alerted engineers, but no action was taken
    By Lisa Myers & the NBC Investigative Unit
    NBC News


    WASHINGTON - The thin gray line of concrete floodwalls erected along drainage canals was supposed to protect New Orleans. But when Katrina hit, portions of the walls came tumbling down, flooding the city.

    Experts are just now beginning to probe why those floodwalls failed. They want to determine whether the storm surge from Katrina poured over them, or whether the walls collapsed because of a possible flaw.

    “This is fairly typical of some of the failures we've seen,” says Professor Ivor van Heerden, a hurricane expert at Louisiana State University who has examined the wreckage. “These walls underwent catastrophic structural failure.”

    But why?

    NBC News has obtained what may be a key clue, hidden in long forgotten legal documents. They reveal that when the floodwall on the 17th Street Canal was built a decade ago, there were major construction problems — problems brought to the attention of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    A 1998 ruling, by an administrative judge for the Corps' Board of Contract Appeals, shows that the contractor, Pittman Construction, told the Corps that the soil and the foundation for the walls were “not of sufficient strength, rigidity and stability” to build on.

    “That's incredibly damning evidence,” says van Heerden, “I mean, really, incredibly damning.”

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