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.
The fire damaged one of five turbines that power the Sewerage & Water Board’s system of pumps as well as the water treatment plant. Three of the turbines were already offline for repairs, Landrieu said, leaving the city with one working turbine.
The number of pumps that were out of service in Saturday's flooding was 16, not 14 as previo…
The S&WB has backup power sources -- Entergy lines and diesel generators – but they are not robust enough to make up for the loss. The S&WB can currently power 38 of the 58 pumps that are now operational and drain the east bank west of the Industrial Canal, Landrieu said Thursday morning.
That’s far less than would be needed in a major storm and, as long as the turbine remains offline, city officials estimate that the city is at risk of major flooding from as little as 2 inches of rain in a hour.
During the storm on Saturday that led to catastrophic flooding in Mid-City, Lakeview and other parts of town, 58 pumps were operational in the main portion of the east bank. Another six major pumps and three minor pumps were out of service in the area.
In total, officials now say 16 pumps were down citywide on Saturday. That's yet another revision from officials who initially said all pumps were working, a number that increased first to eight and then to 14 over as new revelations emerged about the S&WB's operations during the storm.
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“We are at risk if we have a massive rain event that comes up at the last minute and creates the kind of flooding we had,” Landrieu said at a 3 a.m. news conference, referring to the weekends’ flooding. “The power we have available to us now will not be enough to pump the city out in the time needed.”
The power issues should not affect New Orleans East, Algiers and the Lower 9th Ward, where pumping stations are powered by Entergy rather than by the S&WB’s turbines.
"The system's capacity to drain stormwater from the streets is diminished further," Landrieu said.
Update, 8:40 a.m: All New Orleans public schools and all Roman Catholic private schools have…
An emergency alert about the situation went out about 3 a.m. Landrieu urged residents in affected areas to move vehicles to high ground and to stay off the roadways during rainstorms if possible.
Landrieu said Thursday morning that the single working turbine was enough to handle a typical rain event, but would not be enough for storms such as the one the city saw on Saturday. He said the city is making efforts to repair the damaged turbine and secure backups.
"The work is ongoing," Landrieu said. "They've been working on it all night. They're hopeful they can get it back online and operating sometime today.”
All public and Catholic schools have announced they will close due to the flooding concerns.
Beyond the lack of power to run the pumps, being down to one turbine also puts the city in an incredibly vulnerable position as it is relying on its last power source.
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“This is it,” Landrieu said. “I’m not comfortable we have the redundancy we need.”
Officials are currently working to secure backup generators and get the turbine back online. It's possible some of those fixes might be in place later today, Landrieu said.
Public safety agencies are on standby in case there is rain and Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office has been notified, Landrieu said.
The downed turbine comes days after revelations that eight of the city’s 101 major pumps were down for repairs during Saturday’s storms, which led to major flooding in Mid-City, Lakeview and other areas of the city. That news came after S&WB officials had repeatedly told the public the system was operating at its full capacity.
Those issues were exacerbated at times because the S&WB, which then had two working turbines, had to ration power and turn off additional pumps, even though Entergy provides some backup electricity.
Pumping stations serving the two New Orleans neighborhoods hit hardest by Saturday's flood w…
In the fallout from those revelations, S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant announced his retirement, Public Works Director Mark Jernigan resigned and two more S&WB employees were expected to be fired at a meeting Thursday morning.
Grant confirmed at the meeting that general superintendent Joe Becker had also submitted his retirement, effective at the end of next month. It was also made clear that Landrieu requested the resignation of Grant, which was not initially indicated in his announcement earlier this week.
"I can't tell you how extremely frustrated and angry I am that the S&WB didn't provide accurate and timely info to public," Landrieu said in the meeting.
Landrieu added that there is a "whole army" of people working to repair the damaged turbine, with the hopes of it being fixed by today.
But "I'll believe it when I see it," he said.