By Brenda Ryan

Survivors of Hurricane Katrina are finally getting their day in court. In a trial currently under way in New Orleans, a group of residents is holding the Army Corps of Engineers responsible for the flooding that occurred in the wake of Katrina.

They say the Corps failed to properly build and maintain the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a channel opened in 1963 to provide a shorter route for ships between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. As a result of these MR-GO failings, problems with the waterway caused environmental damage that allowed water to break through the levees.

A report released two years ago found the agency culpable for the flooding that occurred when Katrina hit in 2005. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported in March 2007 that an investigative team, including Louisiana State University engineering and storm researchers, concluded that the Army Corps of Engineers had knowingly built levees and floodwalls lower than mandated by Congress, failed to detect or ignored errors, and failed to properly maintain the system.

The residents filed suit in 2006 to recover damages caused by the flooding. The United States sought to get the case thrown out or, alternatively, a ruling in its favor. It argued that the plans for MR-GO excluded surge barriers and bank protections and that adding them would not have promoted the purpose of MR-GO, which was to provide an aid to navigation. The government also contended that “the addition of these features would have invalidated the cost-benefit calculations that were an essential underpinning” of the recommendation for authorization of the channel’s construction.

But in a March 20 ruling, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. denied the government’s request. He said the plaintiffs “demonstrated that there are material questions of fact that the Corps itself had found that the environmental damage caused by the maintenance and operation of the MRGO was significant, such that it had no choice but to file the appropriate mandated reports.”

The trial offers a chance for a sliver of justice for the survivors of Katrina. Not only did they face racist neglect by local and federal officials and agencies after the hurricane, but vigilantes and cops killed many Black residents of New Orleans. In August a judge dismissed on technicalities charges against six police officers in the killing of two unarmed survivors who were trying to cross the Danzinger Bridge in New Orleans to reach a grocery store. And in December The Nation magazine published an investigation of racist violence, “Katrina’s Hidden Race War,” which found that bands of whites shot and killed a reported 11 Black men.

Only the continued struggle of the people of New Orleans and their supporters will bring justice for the genocidal actions of the government and other racists.


Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011