BATON ROUGE, La. – Federal engineers now face the challenge of plugging a massive hole in a levee that burst on Tuesday, adding to the misery that Hurricane Katrina inflicted on New Orleans.

The 26-foot-deep, 500-foot-wide breach in the 17th Street Canal sent flood waters surging through an estimated 80 percent of the city.

With many people still stranded in the flooding, Tuesday’s break compounded the area’s problems.

Officials said fixing the breach is their top priority after saving human lives.

“You’ve got to stop the bleeding before you fix the wound,” said Mark Lambert, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Tranportation and Development.

Although the hurricane had passed, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said the water in New Orleans was still rising.

Col. Jeff Smith, Louisiana’s deputy director of emergency management, said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hoped to fix the break as soon as Tuesday night or today.

The plan is to load large metal containers resembling truck trailers with heavy sandbags and rocks and drop them into place, like a cork stopping a bottle, Col. Smith said.

He said officials were still evaluating the plan, trying to ensure that the weighted-down containers could hold back the floodwaters and would not cause more damage.

State officials said they had located two other breaches while flying over the area to survey damage.

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