Rain threat has Big Easy jit­tery

Pumps still iffy af­ter del­uge


NEW OR­LEANS — With de­bris from last week­end’s flash flood still piled on side­walks and their city un­der a state of emer­gency, New Or­leans res­i­dents pre­pared Fri­day for more rain fore­cast to tax the city’s mal­func­tion­ing pump sys­tem.

The city scram­bled to re­pair fire-dam­aged equip­ment at a power plant and shore up its drainage sys­tem less than a week af­ter a flash flood from tor­ren­tial rain over­whelmed the city’s pump­ing sys­tem and in­un­dated many neigh­bor­hoods. The mu­nic­i­pal pump­ing sys­tem is sup­posed to move wa­ter out of the low-ly­ing city.

An­nie Hutchins said she’s “trau­ma­tized” ev­ery time she sees clouds in the sky since a flood last Satur­day. She had to walk through knee-high wa­ter to get to her house in the Treme neigh­bor­hood.

“It’s a lit­tle bit un­nerv­ing that we were told ev­ery­thing

was work­ing, and the next day the story was a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent, and then the next day the story was a lot dif­fer­ent,” she said. “I’m the kind of per­son that trusts any­one un­til they prove other­wise. So, I don’t feel like I have a lot of rea­son to trust what I’m be­ing told any­more.”

A bro­ken con­trol panel on a tur­bine had been fixed by Fri­day morn­ing, but the sys­tem re­mained well be­low full power, Mayor Mitch Lan­drieu said at a morn­ing news con­fer­ence. The tur­bine pow­ers some of the city’s pumps.

“We re­main at risk un­til ad­di­tional tur­bines are back up,” Lan­drieu said, adding that he hopes that will hap­pen by the end of the month. Still, he said, “panic is not where we need to be right now.”

He said the lat­est tur­bine to go off­line will be pow­ered up over 24 hours. Mean­while, Lan­drieu said, 26 gen­er­a­tors have been or­dered and will re­main through hur­ri­cane sea­son.

He also said a lo­ca­tion was be­ing set up Fri­day for res­i­dents to get sand­bags should they want to take the ex­tra pre­cau­tion of sand­bag­ging their homes.

Of­fi­cials closed schools for the week and urged res­i­dents to move their ve­hi­cles to higher ground and to stay off road­ways dur­ing rain­storms.

T.J. Pitre, 36, and his wife said they have a plan in case they need to evac­u­ate this week­end.

“We have food and wa­ter bot­tles that I keep in my top shelf in my closet,” he said. “My wife is re­ally good at be­ing on top of these things. We have two cats, and she has all of their doc­u­ments ready to go as well.”

Gov. John Bel Ed­wards de­scribed his emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion, which would al­low the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to fi­nan­cially as­sist the city in its re­cov­ery from the flood­ing, as a pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice fore­cast a 60 per­cent chance of rain Fri­day, pri­mar­ily in the late morn­ing and af­ter­noon, with a chance that heavy rain­fall could lead to more flood­ing.

The city’s in­fra­struc­ture had been crum­bling for years be­fore the dev­as­ta­tion un­leashed in 2005 by levee breaches in Hur­ri­cane Katrina’s af­ter­math. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment ear­marked bil­lions of dol­lars for re­pairs and up­grades af­ter the hur­ri­cane, but the prob­lems have per­sisted.

Streets are pock­marked with pot­holes and sink­holes. The city’s wa­ter sys­tem has been plagued by leaks from bro­ken pipes and power fail­ures lead­ing to boil-wa­ter ad­vi­sories.

Of­fi­cials feared that even a com­mon thun­der­storm would test the sys­tem’s re­duced ca­pac­ity.

The ex­tended flood risk was es­pe­cially nerve-rack­ing to New Or­leans res­i­dents, who are gear­ing up for the 12th an­niver­sary of Hur­ri­cane Katrina. The hur­ri­cane flooded 80 per­cent of the city and killed hun­dreds of res­i­dents.

“This is bring­ing back Katrina mem­o­ries,” res­i­dent Heather Wright said Fri­day. “I’m re­mem­ber­ing not to take things for granted, like get­ting in my car. It’s af­fect­ing my qual­ity of life.

“Had our pumps been work­ing I think we would have still had flood­ing but not to the ex­tent that we did.”

Shortly af­ter last week­end’s flood­ing, the lead­ers of the Sew­er­age and Wa­ter Board of New Or­leans stated that all 121 of the city’s pumps were op­er­at­ing dur­ing Satur­day’s storm. But on Tues­day, amid deep­en­ing skep­ti­cism from the pub­lic, of­fi­cials ad­mit­ted that eight pumps had been out of ser­vice when the rain be­gan. On Thurs­day, board of­fi­cials said 16 pumps were not work­ing dur­ing the floods, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports.

Un­der normal con­di­tions, the New Or­leans drainage and pump­ing sys­tem was de­signed to han­dle about an inch of rain an hour dur­ing the first hour of a storm, with the ca­pa­bil­ity of han­dling a half-inch of rain per hour af­ter that. Last Satur­day’s storm dropped as much as 9 inches of rain in four hours.

“Some parts of our sys­tem did not op­er­ate as they should have, which is dis­ap­point­ing be­cause it con­tra­dicts in­for­ma­tion that I was given to pro­vide to the pub­lic. Our staff was not forth­right, which is un­ac­cept­able,” said Cedric Grant, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Sew­er­age and Wa­ter Board.

At a hear­ing Tues­day, New Or­leans coun­cil mem­bers vowed to in­ves­ti­gate how the city could ap­pear to be so un­pre­pared for flood­ing just as the re­gion heads into the peak of hur­ri­cane sea­son.

Among the res­i­dents af­fected by the re­cent flood­ing was Pat­tye Brignac, 62, who said wa­ter lev­els rose up to 3 feet in her neigh­bor­hood. Dur­ing the storm, her cat drowned and her car got dam­aged with wa­ter.

“The wa­ter just stood there for six hours,” she said Fri­day. “We’re still clean­ing up our street.”

Brignac didn’t learn un­til a few days af­ter the flood that some drainage pumps had been off­line. For that, she said, she’s disappointed in city of­fi­cials and they should be held ac­count­able. “There’s no ex­cuse for not re­al­iz­ing that their equip­ment was not work­ing,” she said.

Wright said that as a na­tive of the coastal city, she is ac­cus­tomed to fre­quent flood­ing and con­sid­ers it a part of life. New Or­leans lies up to 10 feet be­low sea level and is mostly sur­rounded by wa­ter.

“I’ve lived in New Or­leans all my life, so wa­ter is in my DNA. I sur­vived Hur­ri­cane Katrina and lived through that, but this” — last Satur­day’s flood­ing — “was the high­est I’ve ever seen the wa­ter get since that time,” Wright said.

On Wed­nes­day, the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion in­creased its fore­cast for trop­i­cal weather sys­tems this year. It now ex­pects 14 to 19 named storms, in­clud­ing be­tween two and five ma­jor hur­ri­canes.


John Flem­ming and An­drea Dube fill sand­bags Fri­day in New Or­leans as the threat of more flood­ing from rain­storms kept the city on edge. One res­i­dent said the po­ten­tial for flood­ing and the fear that pumps could be over­whelmed are “bring­ing back Katrina mem­o­ries.”

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