Task Force Looks for New Orleans Flood Witnesses In Houston

An inter-agency task force that's looking for the causes of levee failures in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina is asking for some help here in Houston. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, eyewitness accounts of just how high the water got could prove invaluable as hurricane protection systems are rebuilt.

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IPET Contact Information:

Phone: 1-866-502-2570

E-mail: Katrina.accounts@usace.army.mil

Link: IPET Web site

Mailing Address:
U.S Army Engineer Research and Development Center,
ATTN: IPET-Katrina Accounts,
3909 Halls Ferry Road,
Vicksburg, MS 39180ξ

The Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force, known at IPET, was hard at work even before the flood waters had receded last August, inspecting the broken levees and interviewing 600 New Orleans residents who were there when the water began to rise. Dr. John Jaeger is IPET's technical director and says investigators are still looking for more information.

"What we're doing now is reaching out to the public in an effort to try to obtain as much additional information to add on to what we currently have. It's another piece of all the parts that we're looking at and accessing in putting together our report."

The final version of that report is due out June 1st, in time for this year's hurricane system. In the meantime, investigators are reaching out to evacuees who now live here in Houston and may have crucial information that could lead to better answers.

"Any information that they would have with regards to photographs, video, information that would help us understand from their perspective what they saw, what they remember in terms of breeches and the directions that water was inundating the area, the amount of time it was taking, some indication of the rate of fill of the water. That type of information would be helpful for our consideration in the other work that we have going on."

Steve Fitzgerald is the chief engineer at the Harris County Flood Control District and is one of 150 engineers, scientists and academic experts to make-up the IPET team. He says photos and videos are nice, but eyewitness accounts are just as valuable.

"We're just as interested in more of the time frame of what happened, when did the water enter your home or apartment? How high did it get? From what direction did it come from? If you were there while it peaked and then started going back down, how high did it get in your house and then about how fast did it recede until you actually left your house."

Fitzgerald says even though Katrina wasn't a Houston event, the information investigators are collecting could be applied here.

"There are lots of lessons learned after an event like this. Yes, you can read books about what you need to do after an event or how to respond and how to recover, but you really need to go through it yourself, because each one is different. You have different organizations and people to work with each time. So this is really beneficial to me and to our organization for future events that could occur here in Houston."

If you have eyewitness information that might be useful to IPET investigators, you can go to our website, KUHF.org, for ways to contact them.

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