Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton toured areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina and expressed concern Sunday that efforts to repair the city's levees might not be enough to protect New Orleans' residents from future hurricanes.
"There is a need to go back and find out what went wrong," Clinton said. "What more do we need to do to protect this area?"
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Stuart Waits told Clinton that a breach at the Industrial Canal, which contributed to the widespread flooding, should be repaired by June 1, just in time for the next hurricane season. But unless the corps is authorized to strengthen the levee's existing structure, and given enough money to do so, the levee likely won't withstand more than a Category 3 hurricane.
As Congress considers $29 billion in hurricane assistance that would pay for levee repairs and upgrades, Clinton, D-N.Y., said she hopes her colleagues in Washington understand the importance.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., guided Clinton on the tour, along with Gen. Hunt Downer of the Louisiana Army National Guard.
Landrieu said she was confident the hurricane package would pass but she worries it might not be enough to cover all the post-hurricane needs.
"It's a start," she said. "It is what we need right now."
During the tour, the senators stopped to talk with parishioners from the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church, who said they want federally issued trailers to help get residents back home so they can start rebuilding.
Most of the congregation lives in eastern New Orleans, which was heavily flooded.
Despite their losses, the congregants had not lost their sense of humor. Clinton and Landrieu posed with some parishioners outside the church near a nativity that included a manger topped by a blue tarp just like those covering many damaged homes.
Complicating matters for residents here is the "lack of a clear plan," said Sandra Williams who with her husband, Albert, listened to Clinton address a small crowd.
The Williamses currently live with their son in the Algiers neighborhood, which was spared the worst of the flooding. They aren't sure they can afford to rebuild their own home; their insurance company and government agencies have offered little direction about what to do with their property, they said.
"Everyone keeps saying, 'Come back,' but there's no one you can go to once you come back," Albert Williams said.