New Or­leans grows tired of this tune

Heavy rain dam­ages city’s pumps, caus­ing flood­ing and an­ger­ing weary res­i­dents.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Melissa Ete­had melissa.ete­had@la­times.com Twit­ter: @melis­saete­had

Heather Wright is a New Or­leans na­tive, so she knows that flood­ing is a part of life in the city. New Or­leans lies as much as 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,” Wright said Fri­day. “I sur­vived Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina and lived through that, but this was the high­est I’ve ever seen the wa­ter get since that time.”

By “this” she re­ferred to flood­ing un­leashed last Satur­day af­ter a heavy rain­storm over­whelmed the city’s com­pro­mised pump­ing sys­tem, and with many streets still f looded, city res­i­dents are brac­ing as a new round of heavy rain is ex­pected this week­end.

Of­fi­cials said this week that at least 14 of 120 drainage pumps lo­cated through­out the city were out of ser­vice dur­ing last week­end’s storm be­cause of power short­ages and a lack of ba­sic main­te­nance.

“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 New Or­leans Sew­er­age and Wa­ter Board.

Grant on Tues­day said that, con­trary to an ear­lier state­ment he made af­ter the storm, the pump­ing sys­tem was not op­er­at­ing at its max­i­mum ca­pac­ity.

He also ac­knowl­edged that there was “a lack of con­fi­dence from the public in the sys­tem’s abil­i­ties.”

Among the res­i­dents af­fected was Pat­tye Brignac, 62, who said wa­ter lev­els rose to 3 feet in her neigh­bor­hood. Dur­ing the storm, her cat drowned and her car was dam­aged by 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 Satur­day’s flood­ing that some drainage pumps had been off­line.

“I’m disappointed with city of­fi­cials, and I be­lieve they should be held ac­count­able,” she said. “There’s no ex­cuse for not re­al­iz­ing that their equip­ment was not work­ing.”

In an­tic­i­pa­tion of the com­ing storm, Birgnac said she and her neigh­bors had been clean­ing debris from a storm drain.

“We’re dig­ging out buck­ets of mud, and other peo­ple on our block are do­ing the same thing,” she said.

Many res­i­dents still clean­ing up debris from last week’s del­uge were shocked a sec­ond time early Thurs­day when they re­ceived an emer­gency text warn­ing them that the city’s drainage pumps were threat­ened again af­ter a fire at an en­ergy plant dam­aged power for the city’s net­work of drainage pumps.

The con­tro­versy has caused con­flicts be­tween Mayor Mitch Lan­drieu and city of­fi­cials.

Grant an­nounced Tues­day that he would re­tire in the fall.

With fore­cast­ers pre­dict­ing a 60% chance of rain and thun­der­storms through the week­end, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Ed­wards on Thurs­day de­clared a state of emer­gency in New Or­leans, which would al­low the fed­eral govern­ment to fi­nan­cially as­sist the city to re­cover from dis­as­ter un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances.

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

T.J. Pitre, 36, and his wife said they had a plan in case they needed 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.”

Of­fi­cials said Sew­er­age and Wa­ter Board elec­tri­cians and me­chan­ics were work­ing around the clock to re­pair the city’s drainage pumps and se­cure backup power.

For some res­i­dents, the city’s fail­ure in en­sur­ing its pump­ing sys­tems were work­ing at ca­pac­ity resur­faced mem­o­ries of the dev­as­ta­tion caused by Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina.

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

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

On Fri­day, Lan­drieu said a tur­bine dam­aged by the power plant fire had been re­paired and would be work­ing grad­u­ally through­out the days to come.

He said the city had also or­dered 26 gen­er­a­tors as backup sources of power and that pump­ing sta­tions in Al­giers, New Or­leans East and the Lower Ninth Ward were not af­fected be­cause they have diesel gen­er­a­tors.

But for some res­i­dents, the dam­age from last week’s flood­ing has placed doubt about the city’s abil­i­ties as the threat of an­other storm looms.

“This is ut­ter dis­re­gard for peo­ple who live here,” Wright said. “The city needs to get it right and peo­ple need to be held ac­count­able.”

Ger­ald Her­bert As­so­ci­ated Press

LEAH PERRY and her hus­band, Scott, fill sand­bags. The city was del­uged last week­end, and an­other storm is ex­pected this week­end.

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