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Despite Thousands of Deaths, Court Rules Government Not Liable for Katrina

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by Liku Zelleke

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. has dismissed the remaining lawsuits that had been filed seeking damages from the federal government over the Hurricane Katrina-related failures and the flooding of New Orleans that followed them.

On August 25th, 2005 what started as a low pressure weather system strengthened and turned into a tropical storm. Eventually, it became a hurricane as it moved west and neared the Florida coast. It left some 100,000 homes without power in the state.

On August 29th, Hurricane Katrina eventually made landfall at Grand Isle (90km south of New Orleans) and swept through the city at wind speeds of around 200 km/h. As it destroyed buildings in the city it was also creating storm surges from the sea that would ultimately cause flooding several kilometers inland.

1,836 people died and millions were left homeless.

More than 500,000 residents and businesses filed claims against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stating that it had been lax in maintaining the shipping channel that eventually led to the flooding of the city after the levee had overflowed.

The channel that was dug in the 1960s, and has been closed after the disaster, funneled Katrina’s storm surge into parts of the city.

In 2009 Judge Duval ruled that the corps was liable for the flooding of New Orleans because the agency had failed to properly maintain the channel allowing protective marshlands to wash away.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (which had initially agreed with the decision in March 2012), reversed the decision in September 2013. The three-judge panel said the ruling “completely insulates the government from liability.”

The appeals panel wrote that under federal law, the government cannot be sued if its actions were based “on considerations of public policy.”

It now appears that the ruling will make it very difficult to hold the government responsible for damages in case of future mishaps.

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  1. No surprise there. It is unimaginable that the Court of Appeals would rule in favor of the victims and set precedence by awarding them damages. That would be too much like reparations.

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