The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is continuing to repair the damaged New Orleans flood levee system as Hurricane Rita approaches the US Gulf Coast.

With Rita now upgraded to a Category 5 storm, over a million people have been ordered to evacuate Texas and Louisiana. Although the storm’s predicted course is likely to miss the flood-ravaged city of New Orleans, if it shifts its path slightly it could cause further breaches in the levees.

According to a statement on the USACE website, the levee system in its present condition does not ensure that New Orleans will be protected from flooding resulting from storms or hurricanes. The system will only be able to handle up to 15cm of rain and a storm surge of up to 3.6m.

USACE’s first priority is to bring the system back to its pre-hurricane levels of protection and then determine what longer-term action is needed. It has developed a phased plan for restoring the area’s storm safeguards, working in partnership with local levee boards and contractors.

In anticipation of another hurricane, reports suggests a large metal barrier has been placed across the 17th Street Canal bed to prevent a storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain, and engineers have been working to repair the pump system, concrete floodwalls and earthern berms. USACE also has 800 sandbags weighing up to 6750kg on standby, with a further 2500 ordered.

The city is currently more than 80% dewatered, with the overall un-watering effort expected to be completed in early to mid-October.