NEW ORLEANS – A week after the August 5 flood, dozens of residents along North Broad Street between Esplanade and St. Bernard Avenues are in recovery mode and say they haven't been getting any help, a claim city officials dispute.
Heavy rains that stalled over the city dropped between six to eight inches of rain, causing widespread flooding in areas like Mid-City and Treme. As the rains deluged New Orleans, the Sewerage and Water Board maintained that all the city’s pumping stations were online and working at maximum capacity.
Residents would later learn that 16 pumps were not operating at the time of the flood. Pumping station No. 3 located on North Broad Street also had to grapple with numerous failures of electric feeders.
New Orleans Pump Crisis
As the pumps struggled to keep up with the excessive rainfall, residents down the street received at least two feet of water inside their homes.
Morgan Clevenger, of the Fairgrounds Triangle Neighborhood Association, says she and her neighbors are doing the best they can, but says they need assistance and had not been contacted by any emergency agency or city official until after she initiated the first contact.
“I spent the first three or four days of cleaning, as did my neighbors, then I started contacting our councilmember’s office and the city and just trying to find, online, what resources there are and I didn’t get that far,” Clevenger said.
Clevenger received about two feet of water in her home.
“We can’t downplay the effects of this flood,” Clevenger said.
After reaching out to her councilmember's office, Clevenger stated that officials from the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness contacted her on August 10 about being a volunteer to participate in conducting "curbside damage assessments via smartphone." Clevenger was not able to be a volunteer due to her still recovering, however she did ask that her neighborhood be included in the curbside damage assessment survey.
One week after the flood, representatives from the mayor's office and Department of Public Works spoke with some residents in the area and passed out informational guides on what to do following a flood, but full assessments inside homes were not conducted. Clevenger said that on August 12, one representative from the mayor's office, Justyn Hawkins, walked with her along the street to meet with residents. She says that Hawkins' actions are what makes a difference in situations like these.
At a press conference on August 7, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said they did not think the number of homes damaged would qualify for a national declaration that could provide federal aid.
"As it relates to these kinds of events there has to be a total amount," Landrieu said. "I think it is kind of unlikely that we are going to meet the threshold, to be honest with you."
"Although the damage for one house is catastrophic, unless it adds up to a pretty significant threshold it looks like it’s going to be a bit more difficult," he said.
Erin Burns, press secretary for the mayor's office, said that while it is unlikely that there will be federal assistance, city officials are taking assessment of the damage to homes and businesses. She said that in addition, people who were adversely affected by the flood have received information about a list of non-profit agencies, including the Red Cross, which Burns says is making assessments in the Broad Street area.
Another neighbor, Barbara, whose last name was requested to be removed, said about a foot and a half to two feet of water came into her home in the 1700 block of North Broad Street, where she has been living for the past 47 years. She says she salvaged some things but almost everything was damaged in the flood.
“Right now, I’m just so depressed and so disbanded because this is like Katrina all over again. To walk in and see all your belongings gone,” Barbara said.
She says some things can be replaced but other personal items like her nursing books, her deceased mother’s jazz albums and China cabinet cannot.
Barbara said she feels the August 5 flood was just as bad as Hurricane Katrina and believes the city has handled the situation poorly. She stated that no one has contacted her regarding assistance, but three officials from the city government passed out pamphlets Saturday morning that included precautions to take after a flood.
“How to remove the debris, how to protect yourself from mosquitoes and things like that. But nobody came in to look at it or ask anything about it,” Barbara said.
Burns said those pamphlets were in fact passed out, along with other information on the non-profits.
“If the city can’t do it, see what the state can do. But give us some resources that we can touch with and that we can get something done and we can resume a half normal life. Because with the things that we lost it will never be normal again, but it will be tolerable,” Barbara said.
Just across the street is neighbor Linda, whose last name was requested to be removed. She says she received about three feet of water in her home. She is disabled and must use a walker and says she was at home alone when the water started rushing inside.
“I knew I could get to the steps and up the steps, but what was I going to bring to try and save? And that quick decision is frightening,” Linda said.
Linda, who has lived in her home for more than 40 years, says she is one of the lucky few who have flood insurance, because the neighborhood is not in a zone that requires it. She says she has already contacted her insurance company and has started to make a list of everything she has lost. So far, no one has reached out to her about assistance.
“The only thing the city of New Orleans did was have a man come and tack on my door that the city is willing to waive the fees for a permit. And the city has had people collect the debris that I have put outside. I have not heard from the city, I have not heard from FEMA or anyone else,” Linda said.
She says she would like to see the city cleaning the storm drains and fully repairing the pumping stations to prevent this from happening in the future. Linda says if those things were done before the heavy rainfall, flooding could have been avoided.
“I am more frustrated about this more than Katrina because I personally believe this was preventable,” Linda said.
Another neighbor who also considers herself lucky is Elizabeth Burpee. She lives one street from North Broad Street and has flood insurance. Her unit received about nine inches of water. Since, she has contacted her insurance company and contractors to start repairs, but she has not heard anything about assistance either.
“I would like some actual real money and transparency to try and fix the problem. And try and get the pumps that are broken online as fast as possible and I would like the city to actually figure out ways to come out here themselves and help people,” Burpee said.
Burpee said the only thing the city has done since the flooding is offer free sandbags.
“The things that people need immediately are the things that we feel most acutely but we don’t have them,” Burpee said.
Moving forward, Burpee said she would like to see the city come up with a storm water plan to find a better way on how to deal with heavy rainfall.
“I would really appreciate the city doing a lot more in terms of dressing immediate needs right now especially the most vulnerable but also real talk about what is going to happen long term planning for how to live with water in the future,” Burpee said.
Linda says she believes it is not fair that the residents of New Orleans feel they will be at risk for flooding whenever it rains in the future.
“It was one thing to live in fear of hurricane, but to live in fear of rain, it’s unbelievable. You live in the city of New Orleans; how often does it rain? So now every time it rains we have to watch out to see if it’s going to flood?” Linda said.
Barbara stated that neighbors have taken matters into their own hands to prevent future flooding by trying to maintain clean storm drains.
“The other day we had an old man down the street, 83 years old and his grandson, to take the top off and he’s trying to dig out the packed dirt with a shovel,” Barbara said.
She says she and her family were able to come back after Hurricane Katrina, and she has been in her home for about 42 years, but since the August 5 flood she is considering moving away.
“This is devastating. This makes me really want to leave New Orleans. I’ve been through Katrina, now this. I don’t want to go through anything else,” Barbara said.
Clevenger says she is doing her best to pick up the pieces and move forward and trying to help her neighbors out. She says the city should focus on repairing the pumping system, but also pay attention to the “human side of this because people are suffering.”
“We’re resilient, we slog through it, we do what we got to do, but we need help,” Clevenger said.
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