New Orleans-area residents have been "vindicated" after a historic ruling that found the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers negligent in failing to prevent devastating Hurricane Katrina flooding, an attorney in the case said Thursday.
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the corps' failure to properly maintain a navigation channel led to massive floods when Katrina hit in August 2005.
Lawyer Joe Bruno, who represented plaintiffs in the case against the Corps of Engineers, praised the decision at a news conference Thursday. He said those affected by the monster storm — which at its peak was a Category 5 hurricane — have been "vindicated."
"We're seeking compensation," Bruno said.
Lawyers said residents are finally seeing justice served and vowed that the decision will stand.
Those whose lives were turned upside down after Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005, said it's important to hold the corps responsible for its part in the catastrophe.
"It's just about holding the corps accountable for what they did," one woman who lived through the hurricane said at the news conference. "They knew there were problems. I think the Corps of Engineers failed us."
"There's things we all lost. I lost things that are unreplaceable," she said through tears. "It was a long and hard road."
U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval sided with five residents and one business who argued the Army Corps' shoddy oversight of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet led to the flooding of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward and neighboring St. Bernard Parish.
He said, however, that the corps couldn't be held liable for the flooding of eastern New Orleans, where one of the plaintiffs lived.
"The failure of the Corps to recognize the destruction that the MRGO had caused and the potential hazard that it created is clearly negligent on the part of the Corps," Duval said in his ruling.
"Furthermore, the corps not only knew, but admitted by 1988, that the MRGO threatened human life and yet it did not act in time to prevent the catastrophic disaster that ensued with the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina."
Duval awarded the plaintiffs $720,000, or about $170,000 each, but the decision could eventually make the government vulnerable to a much larger payout.
The ruling should give more than 100,000 other people, businesses and government entities a better shot at claiming billions of dollars in damages.
Bruno said the ruling underscored the Army Corps' long history of failure to properly protect the New Orleans region.
"It's high time we look at the way these guys do business and do a full re-evaluation of the way it does business," Bruno said Wednesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.