A turbine damaged by a fire Wednesday night at the power plant that keeps New Orleans’ drainage pumps running has been repaired, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Friday. It is a key step in restoring the city’s lately dubious ability to protect its residents from flooding.
The emergency repairs did not bring the city's drainage system up to full capacity, however. The other problems that have come to light in the wake of last weekend's heavy rains and flooding — several other damaged turbines and numerous inoperable pumps — remained heading into what was expected to be another rainy weekend.
The city's Sewerage & Water Board now has two of its five turbines in working condition, bolstered by extra power from Entergy. That combination was not enough to keep parts of New Orleans from flooding for several hours last weekend, and Landrieu warned Friday that the system might not be reliable enough to see the city through hurricane season.
"We remain at risk if a major storm comes until we get more turbines up," Landrieu said.
Even with the system at full capacity, however, officials have emphasized that flooding is unavoidable if the city gets several inches of rain within a few hours.
In the meantime, crews began installing more than two dozen emergency generators the city has obtained to serve as a back-up in case power from Entergy or the turbines should falter.
The three still-damaged turbines at the Sewerage & Water Board power plant have been out of commission for anywhere from a month to four years. One of the five has been undergoing a complete overhaul, which is scheduled to wrap up in December.
The week's drama underscored longstanding deficiencies at an agency that Landrieu has spent years attempting to overhaul.
In 2013, the mayor pushed through a series of changes in the way the agency is governed, taking City Council members off the board, shortening board members' terms and requiring that members have certain relevant credentials.
He also pushed hard to get Cedric Grant, one of his top deputies, installed as the agency's executive director, despite concerns that the move might violate state ethics rules because Grant had spent years attending board meetings in the mayor's place.
This week nevertheless saw Landrieu scrambling to try to repair the agency's reputation in the middle of a crisis, with Grant and several of his subordinates ousted or announcing plans to retire after making false or misleading statements about the state of the city's pumps.
Friday also brought new information about what caused Wednesday night's fire, which left the city with only enough power to run 38 of 58 available pumps upriver of the Industrial Canal on the east bank.
A control panel on the turbine overheated and malfunctioned, Landrieu said, although it was not immediately clear why that happened.
Restoring the turbine that caught fire presumably gives the city enough power to run all 58 east bank pumps that are operational.
Officials expect that on Monday they will receive some of the parts necessary to repair a separate turbine that went offline in May, with other parts arriving in the coming weeks. And a turbine that went down in July is expected to be returned to service by the end of the month.
A presentation given by Sewerage & Water Board staff on Thursday revealed that a total of 16 pumps were out of service during both the July 22 and Aug. 5 flood events, a figure the city says could be revised still further.
Six of those pumps are expected to be repaired within the next few weeks, and the city is issuing emergency procurement orders to fix the other 10.
A declaration of emergency that Landrieu issued Thursday will remain in effect for one month, giving the city time to appoint an emergency contractor to supervise the drainage system.
That firm, which has not been chosen, could also advise the city on how much capacity it needs over the long term and how much such an overhaul might cost.
The 26 generators Landrieu ordered will remain in place through the end of hurricane season on Nov. 30.
New Orleans police have staged barricades in 20 areas that are prone to flooding as an extra precaution. They can be put in place to halt traffic in the event of actual flooding.
City Hall made sandbags available to residents Friday afternoon at Perdido and South Lopez streets.
A city website for residents to track street flooding in real time also was unveiled Friday. It is similar but not identical to "early warning systems" that city Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Hebert has said the city is exploring.
That website, streetwise.nola.gov, pulls its data from 911 calls about recent flooding, not from the sensors the city wants to install at 11 underpasses to send up-to-the-minute details about floods to residents and officials, city spokeswoman Erin Burns said.
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