On the cusp of a busy weekend, New Orleans tourism officials were scrambling to accommodate guests late Thursday as water pressure in some hotels — particularly high-rises — dropped so low that toilets and showers stopped working.
Though inured to frequent boil-water advisories, restaurateurs around town, meanwhile, were trying to deal with the added difficulty of trying to stay open with only a trickle of water coming from their faucets. Many opted to close for a second straight day.
After three days in winter’s icy grip, southeast Louisiana began to thaw out on Thursday, leaving behind busted pipes and broken mains that co…
Temperatures in New Orleans warmed gradually over the day Thursday, but water pressure remained dicey thanks to a combination of burst pipes and the demands placed on the system by residents dripping water to try to keep pipes from freezing.
David Teich, general manager at the Windsor Court, said water pressure at his luxury hotel was 15 pounds per square inch, down from its usual 50. But that was high enough to meet a key threshold.
“Our toilets are still flushing,” Teich said. “But our pumps are working hard.”
He noted that his property is just half the height of some of the city’s tallest hotels, and said he had fielded calls from other hotel managers asking him to put up some of their guests.
“I politely declined,” Teich said, adding, “We don’t need any more stress” on our system.
Representatives of some of the city’s largest hotels, including the Sheraton and the Hyatt, didn’t return calls seeking comment. But an agent at the Sheraton’s front desk said the hotel was not taking reservations Thursday evening, instead “sending people to other hotels because of the water situation.”
Likewise, at the Saint Hotel farther up Canal Street, a desk agent said the hotel had no water and was “not taking any guests right now.”
Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, called the water pressure crisis “an extremely difficult situation” for New Orleans’ tourism industry, the linchpin of the city’s economy.
He said Friday would prove a critical day as officials expect to have better information about when the water pressure might improve. That will help guide decisions about how to handle the crush of visitors expected for the weekend.
“We have hotels that are moving visitors to properties that have adequate water pressure,” Perry said. “We have some visitors who have chosen to return home. We are having to relocate some visitors.”
If the cold is too much for you in New Orleans right now, don’t look for sympathy in Syracuse, New York.
While the water crisis was especially stressful for hoteliers, who were forced to scramble to accommodate overnight guests, it also presented challenges for restaurateurs.
The pressure problem meant some couldn’t operate their restrooms or even supply their kitchens with enough boiled water to start cooking.
“It’s really a shame with the amount of money we pay for the water bills, especially in New Orleans, to have to put up with this,” said Greg Reggio, a partner in the management company behind the local Zea Rotisserie & Bar chain. “When you consider how much water we use and the way we rely on it, this puts people in our business in an unfair position.”
Zea’s locations in New Orleans and on the east bank of Jefferson Parish were closed for lunch on Thursday, leaving managers to wait and hope for improved water pressure to allow them to open for dinner service.
The restaurants were fully staffed and were preparing for the day when the water advisories came in, adding a higher labor cost to the lost revenue from closing their doors. But Reggio said that when water service is unreliable, restaurants have no choice but to close.
“In some businesses, if there’s no water, people have dirty hands but otherwise life is normal,” Reggio said. “For us, this kills us.”
The impact of the water crisis has been inconsistent, even within the same neighborhood. For instance, on Thursday afternoon, managers with the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group were dealing with different levels of disruption across the company’s properties.
In the French Quarter, Brennan’s Restaurant and the nearby Napoleon House had enough water pressure to operate. A few blocks away, however, the company’s Red Fish Grill did not. It closed for the lunch shift, pending a decision on whether to open for dinner.
“For a boil water advisory, we have our plan, unfortunately,” said proprietor Ralph Brennan. “You know how to cook, how to wash, because it happens so often. But no water pressure is more difficult.”
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These unexpected closures can also affect a restaurant's perishable inventory and interrupt in-house production.
Still, some operations may be inherently, if unintentionally, better equipped to roll with it. Jason Seither, proprietor of Seither’s Seafood in Harahan, found some levity in the boil water advisories for his own business, which is based in large part on boiled seafood.
“I’m in the boil business; that’s what I do anyway,” he said.
While the city’s hospitality industry was focused Thursday on making it through the next few days without disastrous consequences, some were already talking about the long-term damage that such a breakdown could cause to the city’s image — and what could be done to prevent similar problems in the future.
“This is an absolute disaster,” Teich said. “It’s disgusting. It makes us look like a Third World country. That’s not who we are.”
Perry said business, tourism and city leaders need to “bring all of our resources and best strategies and thinking to bear on remedying this for the future.”
Staff writers Jessica Williams, Helen Freund and Martha Carr contributed to this report.
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