This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," August 31, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: The top story tonight: obviously it's chaotic in the Crescent City right now, but can New Orleans come back? Joining us from Washington, Lt. Gen. Bob Flower, former commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. And from Miami, Dr. Steve Leatherman, director of the Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University.
Now doctor, we'll begin with you because you wrote a paper three years ago that said New Orleans would not survive any hurricane above a Category 3. Why?
STEPHEN LEATHERMAN, PHD, HURRICANE RESEARCH CENTER AT FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIV.: Because here's a city below sea level, surrounded by levees that were undersized to handle anything above a Category 3 hurricane. And the city continues to sink. And so, we had a recipe for disaster.
O'REILLY: Now everybody knows that, though, right? Everybody knows that the levees are patch quilt, but I don't think that anybody thought that they were going to breach. You seem to be, you know, almost a lone wolf crying in the wind.
LEATHERMAN: No. There were a number of us who said — professionals who said it was under designed, and there was not enough money to put into them to shore them up.
And also, if you look at the Dutch, they didn't have — they don't have just one levee or dike. They have three of them. Now that comes in the wake of their great disaster in 1953, when 6,000 people drowned. Well, you know, we should have learned from the Dutch and done the things necessary to try to protect at least the main core of New Orleans.
O'REILLY: General, why did we not learn from the Dutch? The Army Corps of Engineer overall responsible for this safety situation and why did this situation not improve?
LT. GEN. BOB FLOWER, FMR. COMMANDER OF U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Well, you are protecting the city from two things. One is the flood waters of the Mississippi River. And the other is erecting levees for hurricane protection.
And what you had is a nasty combination of storm surge, high water, which overtopped the levees and caused them to breach. Those levees were designed for a Category 3. We had above a Category 3 event. And...
O'REILLY: But see, I've got to stop you. I'm not understanding this. If you know there could be a Category 5 or 4 hurricane, if the federal government and Louisiana knows it, they're saying, well if we have one, everybody dies. Is that what they're saying?
FLOWER: No, not at all. The opportunity to construct levees that would protect against a Category 5 hurricane have been investigated for quite some time. And I think people now would look back and say we wish we would have invested the money to erect those.
O'REILLY: Well, obviously.
FLOWER: So they may protect from a Category 5.
O'REILLY: Just think about it. I want everybody to think about it. I mean, I'm in my 50's. I've never seen an American city wiped out. I don't think you guys have ever seen an American city wiped out. We have one. And do you think it's going to come back, doctor? You do think you can rebuild this city the way it is here?
LEATHERMAN: Well, maybe not the way it is. I think it's going to come back as a slimmed-down version with the metropolitan area with the high rises, very valuable real estate.
Of course, it's one of the largest ports in the nation. And not to mention the tourism in the French Quarter. But that's a small part of the area they're trying to protect. And I sort of think maybe slim it down and protect the core assets.
Now that begs the question about the rest of it.
O'REILLY: All right, so you feel that the city, if it comes back, will be altered and much smaller. How about you, general? How you do see that?
FLOWER: Well, I think New Orleans will come back. It's a city with a great heart. It's the number one port in terms of tonnage throughput in the country. Most of our oil and gas comes in through the New Orleans, Baton Rouge corridor. And we have to bring it back.
O'REILLY: All right. So the — for the country to run economically now, we have to rebuild New Orleans. But if we do that, then you've got to put in, as the Dutch did, a dike system that, you know, is going to be able to withstand the worst possible storm. Correct?
FLOWER: I agree. You have to go back to the great flood of 1927 to even compare the devastation in the lower Mississippi, with what occurred on the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans.
O'REILLY: But then 1927...
FLOWER: And following that, following the 1927 flood, there was legislation and money appropriated in the Mississippi River and tributaries appropriation...
FLOWER: ...to ensure that it wouldn't happen again. And you might see the same thing happen as a result of this.
O'REILLY: Well, you have to, because our technology now, we shouldn't be looking at this kind of a thing.
I don't think, doctor. I mean, I understand that all of the money problems that we have here. We're taxed up to our eyebrows in this country, but it looks like almost a national security issue with the energy flowing through their port.
What do you see, doctor, in the next six months? Are people going to be able to get back in that town? Is that town a ghost town for six months?
LEATHERMAN: It's going to be a ghost town for months, maybe as much as six months. It's hard to say. Pumping the city dry, getting the infrastructure back and running. But certainly, it'll be a couple of months. Maybe not six months. I hope not.
O'REILLY: What do you think, general? How long is it going to take before people can get back there, resume their normal lives?
FLOWER: I think it's going to take a number of months. You have to restore the levees. The water has to be pumped out. You have to assess all of the structures. The longer the water is in the city, the more structures get undermined. It's going to be a very long, tough, hard process.
O'REILLY: All right, gentlemen, we appreciate that. Thank you very much.
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