A federal judge in New Orleans has ruled that the U.S. government owes damages to residents whose homes were swamped by Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters in 2005.
In a sometimes scathing critique of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval found "monumental negligence" in the operation and maintenance of a shipping channel called the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.
He rejected the government's argument that the Corps is immune from liability and had properly maintained the navigation channel, known locally as MRGO.
Flood victims had sued, arguing that the widening of the channel and subsequent loss of protective wetlands turned MRGO into a speedway for Katrina's storm surge.
The channel was dug in the 1960s as a shortcut between the Gulf of Mexico and New Orleans. Duval found that the Corps knew widening the channel would endanger levees and protective wetlands, and blamed government engineers for letting the channel "run amok."
The Corps closed MRGO with rocks in July.
Duval awarded damages of about $720,000 to four people and a business. The case has been closely watched by other Katrina victims seeking compensation from the government.