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'First real trial' about Katrina under way

A lawsuit claiming that the Army Corps of Engineers made the flooding worse starts today.

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A landmark trial against the United States government began here today, with prosecution lawyers arguing that the Army Corps of Engineers contributed to the catastrophic flooding that hit the city after hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The civil-negligence suit could ultimately affect 400,000 New Orleanians and set the record straight on the causes of the disaster – an event from which the polyglot city, still at only two-thirds of its pre-Katrina population, has not fully recovered.

It's the only one of a series of lawsuits that Judge Stanwood Duval, Jr., has allowed to go to trial. US tort laws protect the Corps from damages directly related to flood control and levees. But the topic at the center of the case is a US navigation channel, not a flood-control project, so Judge Duval permitted the case.

The trial is expected to last at least three weeks and to focus on three main points: The cause of the damage, the potential negligence of the Corps, and the extent of damages that could be owed if the Corps is found liable.

"This is a significant case that could affect hundreds of thousands of people," said Judge Duval today at the start of what he called the "first real trial" about Katrina. "You all know what this is about: ... What did the Corps know, when did it know it, and when should it have known?"

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