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Army Corps not liable for Katrina damage, appeals panel finds

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The “actual reasons for the delay (in armoring the banks and levee) are varied and sometimes unknown, but there can be little dispute that the [Army corps'] decisions here were susceptible to policy consideration,” the ruling stated. Therefore, the corps is immune from liability under tort law, the panel found.

For advocates of the Katrina victims, the ruling does not invalidate the narrative that the corps is ultimately responsible for the breaches and that Katrina was not solely a natural disaster.

“This decision was not about the science, it was not about whether the Corps of Engineers was negligent, it was only about the law and whether the corps was immune from financial consequence,” says Sandy Rosenthal, a founder of Levees.org, an advocacy organization in New Orleans tasked with educating citizens about their rights and options after Katrina.

Survivors seeking damages from the federal government are feeling “enormous disappointment” in Monday's decision, says Ms. Rosenthal. “They lost a lot more than just items; many lost family members. There is the feeling of absolute nausea, of feeling punched in the stomach.” 

Several post-Katrina studies have concluded that engineering, design, and mechanical problems were largely to blame for the two main breach sites.

A November 2005 report jointly published by the University of California at Berkeley and the American Society of Civil Engineers found that the levees failed as a result of several factors, including the instability of certain floodwalls, differences in height between adjacent wall sections, and “considerable erosional distress” in transitional sections between earthen and concrete levees.

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