Local officials continued Sunday to cast a wary eye toward Tropical Storm Harvey, which was still lashing the Houston area with massive amounts rain, though they said the New Orleans pumping system can handle the amount of rainfall that is now forecast.
For now, the storm that struck the Texas coast as a Category 4 hurricane late Friday night seems to pose little serious danger to New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Sunday.
But as Harvey continues to move slowly and somewhat unpredictably, Landrieu said residents should remain prepared for possible heavy storms and flash flooding in the middle of the week.
“We’re going to be in complete and total ready mode until this storm passes us by,” he said.
At the same time, Landrieu said he has reached out to the mayors of Houston, San Antonio and Austin, Texas, to offer support and advice.
“In the coming days we’re going to continue to share more details on how we can return the support Houston gave us” after Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago this week, Landrieu said. “For those of you that remember, a lot of our folks went over there and they really took care of us for a very long time, and they are going to be in need and we will show up for them.”
Harvey has already dropped unprecedented amounts of rain on Houston, flooding many areas of the city and leaving thousands of residents stranded. At least five deaths have been attributed to the storm, which could drop more than 50 inches of rain while it hovers near the Houston area through most of the week.
Parts of southwest Louisiana also have seen between 10 and 15 inches of rain.
For now, New Orleans is bracing for between 4 inches and 10 inches of rain throughout the week, with the heaviest downpours expected starting Tuesday night.
The Sewerage & Water Board’s drainage system can handle those amounts, Landrieu said. But he warned that there could be localized flooding if bands of heavier rains sit over the city or the storm changes track.
“Massive amounts of rain in a short period of time will continue to cause us problems,” he said.
All public schools in the city will be open and on regular schedules Monday, though officials will be monitoring the forecasts throughout the week.
The city is still working to improve the capacity of its drainage system after previously undisclosed problems with pumping capacity, power generation and staffing were blamed for exacerbating widespread flooding during a heavy rainstorm Aug. 5.
Pumps that represent about 92 percent of the city’s drainage capacity are now online, with crews working on those that still need repairs.
Landrieu said Sunday that should not be a problem.
“When people ask, 'Are you at 100 percent capacity?' it is mostly true all the time that the pumping system never pumps at 100 percent because we have overcapacity and redundancy,” Landrieu said.
The city is still relying largely on two power turbines to run those pumps, with three others down for repairs. Generators have been installed and are ready to be brought online to add more power capacity to the system.
Right now, Landrieu estimates that the system can generate between 27.5 megawatts and 29 megawatts of 25-cycle power, an archaic type of power used by about half the pumps in the city. That’s well below the 40 megawatts that will be available once another turbine or two are brought online sometime in the next week or two.
About 142 people have been tapped to man the pumps and another 50 will serve in support roles, said Paul Rainwater, part of the interim management team brought in to oversee the S&WB after the resignation of its top officials.
The agency also has made sure every pump station has radios, backup batteries and other equipment they would need in case of a bad storm, Rainwater said.
It’s not clear exactly how those staffing levels compare to the number of people available on Aug. 5, when unmanned stations meant that some pumps were not turned on for hours after the storm. It’s also unclear whether some stations did not have necessary supplies during the earlier flooding.
“I’m not looking back, I’m looking forward,” Rainwater said.
Officials have taken bids on an "after-action report" to determine exactly what happened during the Aug. 5 flood.
About 1,070 catch basins have been cleaned since Aug. 6, including about 70 on Claiborne Avenue that were cleaned Sunday by the state Department of Transportation and Development, and 73,000 feet of drain lines have been flushed.
The city also has positioned barricades near underpasses, to block them off in case they flood. Landrieu urged motorists not to drive through flooded areas, whether or not barricades are there.