NEW ORLEANS – One of four broken turbine at the Sewerage & Water Board’s main power plant is back online and generators have been set up, but New Orleans remains vulnerable to a major rain event for the next several weeks until two other turbines damaged in the July 22 flood are back up and running.
Even then, the system still faces major and costly infrastructure upgrades that will likely fall to the next city administration, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Sunday during a press conference to give an update on the state of the city's pumping system.
While the situation is improving, he said, the power-generation system is only at the capacity that it was on Aug. 5.
That day a major rain storm left much of the city’s core area underwater, halting traffic and flooding dozens of cars, homes along and businesses.
New Orleans Pump Crisis
That same night, S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant assured the public that the pumps were working to full capacity and he dismissed claims that pumping stations, including a key one in Lakeview, weren't working. In retrospect, Grant's assertions proved to be inaccurate and he has since announced he will retire.
Landrieu said he has now seen the S&WB logs from last Saturday’s rain event and that the information isn’t pretty. WWL-TV first reported on the documents, which show a system in chaos, on Friday. Landrieu said Saturday he had not yet reviewed them and would wait until an outside group did a post-mortem on the flooding to learn the specifics.
“The buck ultimately stops with me,” he said Sunday. “I own it. I accept it and I am taking responsibility to fix it.”
Landrieu said he now realizes the pumping system faces three major issues: the generation of power to operate, whether or not the pumps are operational and manpower. In addition, there is the issue of getting the water to the pumping station as many of the city’s catch basins need to be thoroughly cleaned out.
“Our system has never been 100 percent operational and operating at 100 percent of its capacity,” he said.
Landrieu said that in addition to the 17 known pumps that are not operational -- at least eleven of which are used to move storm water -- he said there are likely capacity and maintenance issues with many of the 103 other pumps that help drain the city (areas in New Orleans East, the Lower Ninth Ward and Algiers are not affected by this current pump situation).
That's different from the number given Friday from the city, where officials said eight of the 16 downed pumps were used for storm water.
In addition to the mechanical and technical issues, not all of the pump stations were manned Saturday. In one ironic situation, one person whose job it is to travel to various pump stations to turn them on in the event of a major event was blocked from getting to the location by the high waters created in part by the fact that the pumps weren’t on.
Third-party experts are working on creating a "good and trustworthy" flow of information, Landrieu said. In addition, the 17 broken pumps are being repaired while the other 103 pumps are being worked on. Funding is being secured to clean out catch basins, he added.
Landrieu said the public should be vigilant but not panicked. He said in the event of heavy rain people should move their cars to higher ground and take steps to secure their property. Sandbags are currently available at Perdido and South Lopez and other locations will be announced later Sunday.