Joe Carr heard that the pumps were manned. He heard they were working, that they were turned on. Then, along with everyone else, he heard some of them weren’t.
But he never believed what he was hearing to begin with, and his exasperation grew with news Thursday morning that a fire at the Sewerage & Water Board's power plant had made the situation even worse.
“Here’s my answer to all of it,” he said. “Since Katrina, why is all this stuff not fixed? Are these people pocketing this money, or what? Is the city branching off, using this money for other things when they should have been using it to fix pumps?”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration is still sorting out exactly what happened during Saturday’s intense rainfall and flooding. But it’s already clear what officials risked by allowing misinformation to reach the public for several days: heightening the level of cynicism in a city already conditioned to mistrust its elected and appointed leaders.
Carr has seen the projects all around town since Katrina — they dug up Napoleon Avenue for what seemed like forever, installing pipes the size of a school bus under the ground — but still his neighborhood flooded.
“You got like three pumps in this area and had water way up here on the street,” he said, putting his foot above the first step of the house.
Carr, along with his wife Pamela Duplessis and a neighbor who did not give his name, said they feel that the city has been getting away with understaffing, substandard maintenance and shoddy infrastructure and simply got exposed.
“They’re on the hot seat now,” Carr said.
“The city’s gotta get it together,” Duplessis said.
Thursday began a little earlier than usual for many, as cellphones across town lit up about 3 a.m. with emergency alerts from the city about the fire at the power plant.
Many schools canceled classes and turned students away. Storm-weary residents, meanwhile, began moving cars to high spots many didn’t know existed until last weekend’s deluge flooded homes, businesses and cars in Mid-City, Lakeview, the 7th Ward and Treme, among other neighborhoods.
Much of New Orleans is at high risk of flooding during the next 24 to 48 hours because a fire overnight damaged the power source that runs most of the city’s pumps, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said early Thursday.
“Everyone’s just gotta be extra cautious,” said Jim Dennis, who was picking up a friend on Gov. Nicholls Street on Thursday morning. “If you think that rain’s gonna come and it’s gonna come hard, you should just stay inside.”
The sounds of shovels scraping asphalt could be heard on several blocks as residents cleared catch basins and eyed the occasional low, dark clouds that skirted beneath a backdrop of vibrant blue and white.
Cars had been pulled up onto curbs, in one case with a phone number scrawled on a scrap of paper left on the dashboard.
“I’m just worried about the next few days,” said Jennifer Cook, who was using a large shovel to clear out the two drains in front of her house at Laharpe and North Dorgenois streets. “I”m just hoping that the rain isn’t as bad as it was on Saturday."
Cook has rented the house for the last two years and said she wasn’t prepared for the water that quickly rose to her front steps Saturday. Her son and his father had gotten stranded at the flooded Broad Theater, and Cook wasn’t able to travel more than a few blocks to try to rescue them before having to turn around.
Cook said she generally tries to keep the drains clear, but she has begun being even more vigilant.
“I just hope they get it under control before we have a real storm,” she said of the power failure.
Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday signed a declaration of emergency for the New Orleans area…
Several blocks away, at the intersection of Lepage and Crete streets, Beth Reinhard worked to clear her catch basins as well.
“I’m going to look up and down (the street),” she said. “We’ve got another drain on the other side adjacent to our property and I’ll just make sure everything is as clear as possible before this all starts to happen.”
Reinhard said her car survived Saturday’s flooding parked in the driveway, even though the nearby intersection was impassable. On this morning, she stowed her car behind a friend's house to make room for tenants who were out of town over the weekend.
Reinhard said it was “a little disconcerting” to think flooding from a thunderstorm is something residents have to worry about. Esplanade Ridge is high ground, after all.
A friend who has lived across the street for 17 years told her that other than Hurricane Katrina, Saturday was the only time he had ever seen the neighborhood flood.
Standing outside his house on Laharpe Street near Paul Morphy Street, Jeffery Sutton mused about the news of the water plant fire.
“I’m probably not nervous enough,” he said, noting he was out of town last weekend and seems to have a knack for avoiding misfortune. “I’m probably naively not worried.”
Hearing from a reporter about the city’s diminished pumping capacity, Sutton said he might pull his station wagon up on the sidewalk. And then what?
“I should probably pick up some beer, then,” he said.
The fallout from last weekend's New Orleans flash flood continued Thursday.