Hot words after New Orleans flood, pump problems revealed

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By STACEY PLAISANCE and JANET McCONNAUGHEY

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – As volunteers hauled soggy insulation out of a flooded store that belongs to a prominent New Orleans social club Wednesday, the group’s president said city pumping problems implicated in weekend flooding were unacceptable.

“It just doesn’t make sense. We are too close to help, supposed to be, for us to flood this way,” Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club president Naaman Stewart said.

He’s part of a mounting chorus of critics outraged about the city’s failures that contributed to flooding that deluged many neighborhoods after torrential rainfall. As a result, some city workers are now out of a job.

The club’s headquarters and store, only blocks from one of the city’s 24 pumping stations, got about 2 to 3 feet (0.61 meters to 1 meter) of water Saturday.

That’s like having your house burn down across the street from a fire station, Stewart said.

New Orleans’ municipal pumping system is supposed to move water out of the low-lying city.

Sewerage and Water Board officials told the City Council on Tuesday that pumping stations in two of the hardest-hit areas went down to half- to two-thirds capacity on Saturday, news outlets reported.

The statement came in sharp contrast to assertions over the weekend from board officials and spokespeople, who said repeatedly that all 24 pumping stations were working at full capacity.

Part of the problem was that eight of the huge pumps meant to move floodwaters weren’t working. Six smaller “constant duty” pumps also were out, general superintendent Joseph Becker said Tuesday.

“I was upset about that because everything that they had represented to the community indicated that all of the pumps were working, everything was fine, we were in great shape, we were prepared for hurricane season,” Stewart said. “And come to find out, in a typical rainstorm, the pumps could not do their job.”

The storm was unusually heavy, with 9.4 inches (24 centimeters) in three hours. National Weather Service meteorologists told local news outlets that’s the sort of storm with a 1 to 2 percent chance of happening in a year.

Another problem was that the board’s own power plant wasn’t at full steam, and the plants had to ration power from Entergy, The Advocate reported.

It reported that capacity at the Lakeview plant dropped to 52 percent at one point because of the power problems, and in Mid-City, pumps were about 63 percent of total capacity throughout the storm.

Elected city officials were among those expressing dissatisfaction.

“It is unacceptable that the public was not only uninformed, but misinformed as to our drainage system functionality during the flood,” Council Member LaToya Cantrell said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

Cedric Grant, one of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s top deputies and the head of the Sewerage & Water Board, told the council at the start of Tuesday’s meeting that he would retire at the end of hurricane season, which lasts through November.

Public Works Director Mark Jernigan submitted his resignation shortly after the meeting, when he was asked whether his agency had done enough to clean the catch basins that feed the drainage system. Landrieu said he also wanted the board to fire Becker and the board’s communications director.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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