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New Orleans braces for new flooding as it copes with power outages, failed pumping system

Melissa Etehad, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Heather Wright is a New Orleans native, so she knows that flooding is a part of life in the city. New Orleans lies up to 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 flooded, city residents are bracing as a new round of heavy rain 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 because of 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," Cedric Grant, executive director of New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board, said.

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 is "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 up to 3 feet in her neighborhood. During the storm, her cat escaped and drowned and her car got damaged with 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 flood 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."

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