New Orleans grows tired of this tune
Heavy rain damages city’s pumps, causing flooding and angering weary residents.
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.”
LEAH PERRY and her husband, Scott, fill sandbags. The city was deluged last weekend, and another storm is expected this weekend.