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U.S. government liable for some Katrina damage: judge

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A U.S. judge ruled on Wednesday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was negligent in maintaining a key navigational channel in New Orleans and was liable for some damage caused by massive flooding from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

It was the first time a U.S. court has found the federal government directly responsible for some of the damage caused on August 29, 2005, when Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and caused some $80 billion in damage.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval said the Corps, responsible for the upkeep of a system of canals and earthen works that protect New Orleans from storm surges, was guilty of "negligent failure" to maintain the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, or the MR-GO.

"It is the court's opinion that the negligence of the Corps, in this instance by failing to maintain the MR-GO properly, was not policy, but insouciance, myopia and shortsightedness," Duval wrote in a 189-page decision.

"The Corps' failure to provide timely foreshore protection doomed the channel to grow to two to three times its design width" which flooded the city's Lower Ninth Ward and neighboring St. Bernard Parish, Duval wrote.

Judge Duval awarded $720,000 to six residents and one plaintiff who sued the Corps for damages from the flooding.

If upheld, the ruling could set a precedent for thousands of other plaintiffs to sue the government for billions of dollars in damages.

A spokesman for the Corps told the New Orleans Times-Picayune the government will appeal the decision.

"Until such time as the litigation is completed, including the appellate process up to and through the U.S. Supreme Court, no activity is expected to be taken on any of these claims," Corps spokesman Ken Holder told the newspaper.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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