Government Ruled Blameless in Hurricane Katrina Flooding

Article excerpt

NEW ORLEANS - A surprise ruling by a federal appeals court that lets the Army Corps of Engineers off the hook for paying compensation for Hurricane Katrina's catastrophic flooding isn't going over well on the streets of New Orleans.

People in southern Louisiana have long taken for granted that the flooding in the wake of the 2005 storm was a man-made disaster - one caused specifically by the corps - and they have wanted the agency to pay up for lost homes and property.

But on Monday, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed its earlier opinion and shot down the only argument that had succeeded so far in holding the corps accountable. The ruling also could make it extremely difficult to force the government to pay damages for future mishaps.

In March, the appellate court panel upheld a 2009 ruling by U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval that had found the corps liable for the flooding of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood and St. Bernard Parish because the agency failed to properly maintain a shipping channel. That channel, dug in the 1960s, funneled Katrina's storm surge into the city. Thousands of homes were destroyed, about 1,400 people died in the flood, and much of the city was left under water.

On Monday, the same panel did a legal backflip. …