Last weekend, New Orleans saw some of the most intense rain and flooding it’s had in a decade, testing the limits of the city’s pumping system. Things are about to get even worse — a fire that broke out Wednesday night has crippled the main pumping station. That leaves most of the city open to further flooding, and more storms are on the way. Many residents of the city were woken up at 3am by an Amber-alert type of siren going off on their phones warning them about what had happened.
In anticipation of more rain, NOLA officials are already “urging residents in the affected area to move their vehicles to higher ground, take necessary actions to protect personal property, and stay off of roadways during rainstorms unless an emergency makes it absolutely necessary to do so.”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu spoke at an early morning press conference:
“The event that we had last week actually poured more water on the city than Hurricane Katrina. That is a catastrophic event — five to nine inches, which is almost impossible to handle for almost any pumping system in the world within a reasonable period of time, although the lower capacity of the pumps made it stay a little longer. We would not be able to handle that level of capacity right now with the power that we have, which is why it is really important not only to get this turbine back up, but for the rest of hurricane season, backup generators so that we’re not in this position again.”
Some of the only parishes not affected by the damaged Claiborne Avenue station are New Orleans East, the Lower Ninth Ward, and Algiers. All areas west of the Industrial Canal in Orleans Parish should be on high alert. Part of the problem was that, as officials have now acknowledged, the system wasn’t at full capacity to begin with. Eight pumps weren’t even on because they needed repairs or maintenance, and others went down when the power went out. Numerous schools are closing in anticipation of more storms and the Sewerage and Water Board’s current low functionality.
It should be noted that this flooding followed a bad thunderstorm — not even a hurricane or tropical storm. Hurricane season started June 1st, and some experts are predicting this year could see more and more severe hurricanes than usual. That’s worrying New Orleans residents for whom Hurricane Katrina is still a fresh memory. “I came home because I believed what they said about the new system and that it was supposed to be the best in the world,” said Ronald Williams, who waited over a decade after Katrina to return to the city he loves. “But now it seems if we get hit by another Katrina, the city will be gone.” To add insult to injury, the head of the city’s Sewage and Water Board resigned in the wake of the recent flooding, but he’ll receive an annual pension of $175,000 per year for the rest of life. As you can imagine, some people are not very happy about this.