New Orleans council to look at drainage after flooding

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As New Orleans dried out Monday from torrential rains that flooded areas for the second time in two weeks, the City Council called a special meeting to review the drainage system and warning processes.

Council President Jason Williams said he plans the Tuesday meeting "not to make any presumptions or cast any aspersions, but to really do an autopsy of every single thing that happened between Saturday and Sunday."

Williams said he wants to learn whether drainage work in other parts of the city is causing backups in areas that typically have not flooded and why messages about flood danger weren't sent out sooner.

Some people have told him that "if they had gotten word sooner ... they could have gotten out and moved their car onto the sidewalk and saved their car," he said.

Williams and Councilmembers LaToya Cantrell and Susan Guidry said in separate phone interviews that none had a dollar value for damage, but it probably wouldn't reach the threshold for federal and state disaster aid.

"It doesn't look hopeful that we're going to get that," Williams said.

Cantrell said about 15 businesses flooded for the second time in two weeks.

"The Broad Street Theater had maybe a foot (0.3 meters) of water a couple weeks ago. This time, it was more than 3 feet (0.9 meters) of water," she said.

Cantrell and Williams said that area has stayed dry in previous storms that were just as bad.

"If we can't handle that amount of rain, we certainly can't handle a hurricane," Williams said. "We've got some capacity issues, got some serious preparedness issues. That's a longer conversation, but it'll certainly start tomorrow."

This is far from the first time heavy rains have flooded the city, hurricane season or not. In May 1995, floods did more than $3 billion in damage and killed six people in the New Orleans metro area.

"The May 1995 event affected a much larger area and lasted longer," National Weather Service meteorologist Danielle Manning said Monday.

Sewerage and Water Board General Superintendent Joe Becker told a news conference Monday that seven of the system's 121 pumps were out for maintenance, but that didn't contribute to the flood, WWL-TV reported .

"There was simply just too much rain for the largest drainage system in the world to handle," he said.

The system's 24 pumping stations can move out an inch (2.5 centimeters) of rain in the first hour and ½ inch (1.3 centimeters) each hour after that — figures board spokesmen have been providing for decades.

One pumping station got 9.4 inches (23.8 centimeters) in three hours Saturday, board spokeswoman Lisa Jackson said.

The water rose amazingly fast, Guidry said. She said she'd spent Saturday at work in City Hall and drove down Broad Street on her way home. It was fine.

"I wasn't in my house 20 minutes when I looked out my front door and there was a river running down the street," she said.

Flooded cars were being towed to R&S Auto Service, where several cars flooded Saturday.

"We tried to move as much stuff as possible ... but there weren't enough high spots," co-owner Gloria St. Pierre said Monday.

One sight in particular struck her Saturday: The water in the street along Bayou St. John was higher than that in the bayou, which runs out into Lake Pontchartrain.

Saturday's three-hour total was similar to 1995, when three-hour totals hit 9.7 inches (24.6 centimeters) at the New Orleans airport in suburban Kenner, and 10.3 inches (26.2 centimeters) at Audubon Park. But there were three days of rain that year.


This story has been corrected to change a reference to 24 pumps to 24 pumping stations.

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