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For immediate release
December 28, 2005
Contact:
Chad Campbell, NPR:
ccampbell@npr.org | 202-513-2304

NPR NEWS INVESTIGATES CONFLICTING VIEWS ABOUT REBUILDING THE NEW ORLEANS LEVEES BEFORE THE NEXT HURRICANE SEASON IN SPECIAL REPORT AIRING ON TODAY'S ALL THINGS CONSIDERED

Daniel Zwerdling Returns to New Orleans for Interviews with Key Personnel Including Jefferson Parish's Walter Maestri, Scientist Paul Kemp and Deputy Chief of the Army Corps Walter Baumy

Washington, D.C. Can New Orleans levees be rebuilt before the next hurricane strikes? That's the question NPR Senior Correspondent Daniel Zwerdling poses to those most closely involved, in a special report airing today on NPR's All Things Considered. The answers are far from consistent or comforting, and New Orleans' residents are left wondering whether it is safe to return to their city.

Zwerdling goes back to New Orleans for a follow-up to his prescient 2002 investigation which uncovered serious problems with the levee system, well before Katrina brought the issues to forefront in a devastating way.

Though Bush Administration officials promise the levees will be repaired by June 2006, Zwerdling interviews several key personnel who believe it will take years to bring the levees back to pre-Katrina strength.

Zwerdling's report includes a tour of the levee system with Walter Maestri, who runs Jefferson Parish's emergency operations and in September provided NPR exclusive tapes of conference calls with state and federal government officials about coordination of Katrina logistics. Maestri discusses his concerns with how quickly the levee system can be repaired and if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who built the original faulty levees, can be trusted to successfully rebuild them. Originally, Maestri had complete trust in the Army Corps but now says, "Its like finding out that your mother lied to you all the years of your life, and now all of a sudden, you know, you can't trust your mother anymore." Furthermore, Maestri believes that residents who had their homes destroyed should not return to the city unless they can move to higher ground.

Zwerdling also tours another part of the levee system with scientist Paul Kemp, of the Hurricane Center at Louisiana State University, who also doubts the Army Corps can live up to their promises of rebuilding the levees by June 2006. Kemp believes the levees will take several years to be rebuilt correctly.

Despite preliminary reports from government research teams and university experts that the Army Corps made critical mistakes in the designing and building of the levee system, Walter Baumy, deputy chief of the Army Corps project to rebuild the levees, doesn't acknowledge those mistakes. He tells Zwerdling that nature destroyed New Orleans.

Zwerdling's investigation also includes interviews with Robert Bea from the National Science Foundation team studying the levees and a New Orleans family who has started to rebuild their home.

To locate local stations/times for All Things Considered, visit www.NPR.org. The investigation will also be available for audio streaming online at approximately 7:30PM (ET) at www.NPR.org.

The producer is Martina Castro and the editor is Ellen Weiss.

NPR is renowned for journalistic excellence and standard-setting news and entertainment programming. A privately supported, non-profit, membership organization, NPR serves a growing audience of 26 million Americans each week in partnership with more than 780 public radio stations. International partners in cable, satellite and short-wave services make NPR programming accessible anywhere in the world. With original online content and audio streaming, npr.org offers hourly newscasts, special features and eight years of archived audio and information.