Progress, more work ahead on Herbert Hoover Dike

BELLE GLADE, Fla. -- Considerable progress has been made to shore up the Herbert Hoover Dike along a 21-mile stretch of Lake Okeechobee, but work to reduce the risk of a breach elsewhere will take until 2020 or longer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said on Wednesday.

The dike, which circles the lake for 143 miles, was built after strong hurricanes in the 1920s flooded streets and killed thousands of people.

The 21-mile stretch from Port Mayaca to Belle Glade was deemed the most critical for an immediate repair because 23,000 people live in the area where the dike appeared to be at its weakest.

The Army Corps said the construction of a wall -- as high as 33 feet in some sections -- had been completed ahead of what forecasters said would be an active hurricane season.

"I'm a lot more confident on the basis of what I've heard," U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said after being briefed by an Army Corps commander at the South Florida Water Management District. "But, I also know that the Army Corps was confident of those pumps in New Orleans that didn't work. And, of course, you know the mess it made when the waters flooded the city of New Orleans."

Since 2007, more than $300 million in repairs have been made on the dike.

Army Corps engineers cautioned millions more would be needed to shore up its entire length.

Still, for all of the progress, Colin Walkes raised concerns.

Walkes is the Mayor of Pahokee -- a small city that sits at the edge of the lake.

"We don't have an actual drainage system [in Pahokee], so when we're talking about emergency evacuations and things of that nature, if we were to have a massive dumping of water in the city limits itself, evacuation would nearly be impossible," Walkes said.

In nearby Belle Glade, Keisha Hodges said she worried about the possibility of a breach.

"We're already under sea level," Hodges said. "If we get flooded, it's going to be really bad."

The Army Corps said a comprehensive safety study of the dike should be completed by 2015.

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