Henry Schlorff spent the evening of May 21 at home with his family, frantically emptying bedroom closets and lower cabinets as water poured off the floodwall behind his house and into the three-bedroom home on Grandlake Boulevard in Kenner.
A neighbor had called an hour after it started raining to tell him it probably was a good time to move his truck.
A quick look out the windows told him everything he needed to know. Water had pooled up in the front yard and was pouring over a retaining wall in the back.
“I said, ‘Oh, we’re already done. It’s already coming in,’ ” he said.
At least this time the Schlorffs were home to do what they could.
Last year, on June 21, they returned from a Sunday afternoon birthday party and found their feet sinking into sopping wet carpet; the color of the hardwood floor in their son’s room had already begun to fade under a sheet of water.
The Schlorffs are one of a handful of Grandlake residents who say their homes have flooded during heavy rains since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the West Return Floodwall along the Duncan Canal in 2013.
They met with a committee of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East on Thursday, along with Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni and members of the Kenner and Jefferson Parish councils, to see what, if anything, can be done.
“We go to church every Sunday and pray that it does not rain,” Robert Mitchel told board members. “Katrina didn’t put any water in my house, but this last big rain did.”
Beverly Crais, who lives nearby on Zion Street, said she’s had to remove five trees from the lot she owns next door. One of them fell and damaged her fence, and she spent $2,600 on fill that has been washed away. Her driveway has shifted, and the pilings under her house are exposed, she said.
“The problem is that flood insurance does not cover anything except your home,” she said. “Even my driveway, it won’t do anything about that. It’s only my home. And you can’t claim it on homeowners (insurance), either.”
A recently completed subsurface drainage system was supposed to help, but residents and board members clashed with a representative from the Corps on Thursday over whether that system — a drainage swale on the northern end of the floodwall — is performing as it should.
Project manager Bradley Drouant said the Corps’ position is that the floods of the last two years are fundamentally different. He said last year’s flooding resulted from a blockage in the drainage system caused by the contractor, while this year’s flooding occurred because the storm was a 25-year storm and the system is designed to withstand only a 10-year storm.
He said the May 21 storm dropped three-quarters of an inch of water in five minutes and 4 inches in an hour, far exceeding what the system is designed to handle.
But board members Stephen Estopinal and Paul Tilly argued that the drainage swale is part of the entire system and the mandate for protecting homes and businesses is to design for a 100-year storm.
“Everything in that system has to be designed for a 100-year event,” Tilly said, noting that the water the drainage swale is trying and failing to contain is runoff from the Corps’ own levee.
“So it has to be designed to be taken into account,” Tilly said. “Where do you expect the water to go?”
“That is a design failure as far as I’m concerned,” Estopinal said. “I think your 10-year design missed the mark by quite a bit. There’s something else happening in that (overall) system that hasn’t been accounted for.”
“We don’t know that,” Drouant said. “We haven’t seen any evidence that it is incapable of providing the 10-year protection that it’s intended to.”
Drouant said the Corps is analyzing the situation and will propose some solutions in the coming months.
“We find the situation unacceptable, regardless of the cause, and we obviously shouldn’t be putting water into people’s backyards to where it could cause flooding in their homes,” he said.
Estopinal said he wants to have Corps officials come to the authority’s June 18 meeting and present the results of 10-, 25- and 100-year storm models.
“Unfortunately, I can’t give you any promises,” Estopinal said to the residents. “We’re the authority without the authority; we are not able to enforce anything.”
In the meantime, Grandlake residents will have to make do with crossed fingers and the sandbags that have been lined up behind their homes.
“If I can’t even withstand a Thursday afternoon rainstorm, what’s going to happen if a Category 2 hurricane comes through?” asked Schlorff, who has filed three insurance claims on four floods in the past year and a half. “That’s my fear right now.”
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.