Testimony begins in civil trial over Katrina flooding in Jefferson Parish



Posted on January 16, 2014 at 6:22 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 16 at 6:41 PM

Thanh Truong / Eyewitness News
Email: ttruong@wwltv.com | Twitter: @thanh412

JEFFERSON, La. -- Testimony began Thursday in a civil trial that could determine whether a decision by Jefferson Parish officials to evacuate pump station workers in advance of Hurricane Katrina caused the catastrophic flooding that followed in 2005.

Darleen Jacobs, one attorney representing the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against Jefferson Parish, painted a picture of a parish government that was unaware and incompetent in the face of a pending natural disaster.

"The big one was coming and Jefferson Parish was not prepared at all," Jacobs told jurors.

Jacobs criticized the parish's so-called "Doomsday Plan," which called for the evacuation of pump station workers ahead of a category four or five hurricane. Plaintiff attorneys said the evacuation of 200 pump station workers ahead of Hurricane Katrina caused catastrophic flooding for 40,000 homes and businesses.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs will focus a good portion of their attention on Aaron Broussard, the parish president during that time who is currently serving time in federal prison for corruption.

Due to that fact, the first witness presented to jurors was Broussard, but via a 2007 video deposition of Broussard answering questions about the emergency actions he took in 2005.

In that video deposition, Broussard said he had "no knowledge" who ordered the evacuation of the pump workers or when that decision was made.

Among the witnesses scheduled to take the stand during the trial will be Walter Maestri, who was the director of emergency operations during Katrina. He's expected to explain what he knew about the Doomsday Plan and who pulled the trigger on evacuations of the pump stations.

An attorney defending Jefferson Parish in the civil trial argued in his opening statements the evacuation was a necessary action to protect Parish workers.

"If you want to save these people's lives you got to get them out of there," said defense attorney Dennis Phayer.

Saving lives or saving property, it's a heavy question the jury will have to weigh. Testimony resumes Friday morning.