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Katrina flood victim: "Somebody has to be accountable"

Published: Sep. 26, 2012 at 1:48 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 3, 2012 at 1:48 AM CDT
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Schlumbrecht home, still not complete, seven years after Katrina (Jessica Holly)
Schlumbrecht home, still not complete, seven years after Katrina (Jessica Holly)

Arabi, La -  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is off the hook when it comes to the billions of dollars in damages from Hurricane Katrina's catastrophic flooding.  A day after that decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, flood victims in St. Bernard Parish and the 9th Ward, and those who represent them, are trying to make sense of it all.

Maria Schlumbrecht's Katrina nightmare still isn't over.  "Paycheck to paycheck, every week we buy something, a fan or a light fixture," she said as she stood in her home, still unfinished after seven years of work.

Maria, her husband and two children are living with her parents.  Every year they hope this is the year they will be home for Christmas.

"When both of us are working a full-time job to be able to put money into the house, that limits your time," she explained.  "So it limits us to about an hour or two in the evening and weekends when we can."

They still have a long road ahead to recover from a disaster that she says should have been avoided.

"When hurricanes come into the Gulf, we plan and we prepare and we do what needs to be done to protect what's ours," she said.  "The disaster that Katrina caused was not nature-made.  It was a man-made disaster."

It's a disaster many flood victims blame on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  They allege the Corps' poor maintenance of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Shipping Channel resulted in the catastrophic flooding.

Monday, the same three-judge panel that ruled against the Corps earlier this year changed its ruling.  The panel now says federal law protects the Corps from a liability lawsuit on this issue.

Attorney Joe Bruno represents thousands of homeowners.  "Devastated, outraged, confused" were the words he used to describe his reaction to the reversal.

"It's a sad day for the people of this country," Bruno said.  "It is a slap in the face for the people of the city of New Orleans and it is a rubber stamp to continue the Corps' reckless engineering practices which constantly, it seems to me, puts cost over safety."

Bruno says the battle isn't over yet.  "We will continue to fight until there is nothing else we can do."

Bruno says he has options he can pursue at this point. He can ask the court to reconsider.  In that case, the matter could go before the entire 5th Circuit bench instead of a three-judge panel.  Bruno says his other option would be to go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court and request a hearing.

Meantime, families such as the Schlumbrechts will continue their fight on the home front.  "We spend every waking moment and every extra dollar we have here," said Schlumbrecht.  At this point she is counting only on time and hard work to finally bring her family home.