Five people whose homes were flooded during Hurricane Katrina sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday, accusing the agency of ignoring repeated warnings that a navigation channel it built would turn into a "hurricane highway."
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in New Orleans and several prominent trial lawyers from Louisiana, Florida and California are backing it.
"Today, my friends, the second battle of New Orleans has begun," said Pierce O'Donnell, a Los Angeles lawyer, at a news conference outside federal court.
At issue is a 76-mile shipping channel built in the early 1960s as a short-cut to New Orleans. For years, environmentalists and others have blasted the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet because it has eroded enormous tracts of wetlands and increased the threat of flooding.
During Katrina, storm surge traveled up the channel and overwhelmed levees protecting St. Bernard Parish and eastern New Orleans, according to scientists. The Corps of Engineers has acknowledged that the channel contributed to the region's flooding and the agency wants to guard against future flooding by building flood gates.
The suit claims that if the agency had acted on warnings that the channel could cause severe flooding, it would have designed it differently and "Katrina would have been an endurable event in New Orleans' history."
Corps of Engineers officials declined to comment on the suit, saying the agency never discusses pending litigation.
The plaintiffs are seeking compensation for themselves but also want Congress to set up a "Katrina Victims' Compensation Fund" similar to that set up for families of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.