In New Orleans, State Of Emergency Continues After Heavy Flooding

Aug 11, 2017
Originally published on August 11, 2017 10:23 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

People in New Orleans welcomed some sunshine today after a stressful week of flooding. Heavy rains overwhelmed the city's elaborate drainage system, which was not working at full capacity. City officials have resigned in the fallout. And people are on edge as more rain is in the forecast. Tegan Wendland from member station WWNO joins us from New Orleans. Hi, Tegan.

TEGAN WENDLAND, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Louisiana's governor has declared a state of emergency for New Orleans. What is the situation in the city right now?

WENDLAND: Well, it was great to see the sun this morning. And repairs are under way on the pumping system, but it's still far from being up and running completely. It's going to be awhile. Mayor Mitch Landrieu, meanwhile, held another news conference today. He's been holding several a day all week long trying to reassure the public.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MITCH LANDRIEU: There is no need, as I have said many times, for panic. In the abundance of caution and in the spirit of transparency, I think it's important for the people to know where we are. What is clear to me today is that we remain at risk, I believe, if a major storm comes until we get additional turbines back up, which we expect by the end of this month.

SHAPIRO: So what was the problem? Rain is pretty common in New Orleans this time of year. This is peak hurricane season. What went wrong?

WENDLAND: Right. Well, we received a record-breaking amount of rain. It was up to 10 inches in some areas, including in my neighborhood. It took me hours to get home. And the city is largely below sea level, so it floods a lot. It's true. We've got all these pumps that are supposed to get the water out. Officials said initially that all 121 of them were up and running, but it turns out that 16 of them were actually down. So officials lied.

SHAPIRO: What happened to them?

WENDLAND: Well, the mayor dismissed several. Several more resigned, including the head of the agency, Cedric Grant.

SHAPIRO: Tegan, this is a city that knows it's below sea level. They know flooding happens. They know this is the rainy season. How is it possible that so many of the pumps and systems that the city depends on were just not working?

WENDLAND: I mean, that's a complicated question. There are two agencies that sort of share responsibility for managing and upkeep and construction of these systems, the Sewerage and Water Board and the Department of Public Works. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has really pioneered trying to get those two agencies to work well together, but I think this incident shows that maybe they're not communicating that well and, you know, that there might be some systemic maintenance issues. We've got this amazing pumping system, billions of dollars. But, you know, are we really doing enough to upkeep it?

SHAPIRO: You know. I can only imagine how people are responding to this, especially those who survived Hurricane Katrina when the system failed to protect the city. What have you heard from people in New Orleans that you're talking to?

WENDLAND: Well, people are preparing for the worst. There's this sort of ethos of Katrina PTSD here. People are really worried about the rain coming this weekend, even though not much is expected because last weekend's flooding was so bad. And it really was triggering for a lot of folks. So today, there are a lot of people out filling sandbags and bringing them home to protect their houses and. They're just mad, you know, that this many years after the storm, we're still having infrastructure problems like this. And they're really calling for the city to get its priorities in order.

SHAPIRO: WWNO's Tegan Wendland. Thanks a lot.

WENDLAND: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.