By David Hammer/ Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS - Proclaiming the “worst behind us,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu urged residents Thursday morning to remain patient and vigilant as crews try to restore power, drain flooded areas and clean up debris.
Landrieu said he knows it’s frustrating to remain “cooped up in your home for days,” but reminded residents during his morning news briefing that the calm of this initial post-storm period can be deceptively dangerous.
“This is the day we tend to get careless,” he said. “This is a very serious day.”
He and other emergency officials asked residents to stay off the streets as much as possible so Entergy crews can get power restored and so city Public Works crews and contractors can clear debris.
Landrieu was optimistic about getting power restored, at least more quickly than the three days it took to get neighborhoods back and running after Hurricane Gustav in 2008. Even though that Category 2 hurricane only brought tropical storm force winds to the city, it ravaged the Entergy grid, inspiring the power company to make significant upgrades to try to strengthen its system.
“I don’t think we have a Gustav-type electrical event,” Landrieu said.
Entergy’s Charles Rice said there were 450 linemen working to restore power this morning, with that number rising to 1,100 by the end of the day as reinforcements arrive. About 500 linemen arriving today will be dedicated specifically to the city of New Orleans, Rice said.
Landrieu wanted to assure residents outside the federal levee protection system, in the Lake Catherine, Irish Bayou and Venetian Isles subdivisions, that help is coming. He said there’s still several feet of flood water in Venetian Isles but emergency crews are there with supplies.
There are two state shelters with food, water and supplies nearby, one in New Orleans East and on the West Bank. Officials urged people to check www.nola.ready.gov for a listing of shelters. The website also has a list of stores that are open and selling food and supplies. The American Red Cross has brought 2,700 volunteers to the area and has already housed 4,700 people in 80 shelters in seven states.
The city will resume trash collection on Friday, Deputy Mayor Michelle Thomas said.
New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Ronal Serpas thanked residents for heeding the mayor’s warnings not to be out last night. He said officers only had to make three arrests for breaking the dusk-to-dawn curfew and issued three other summonses for curfew violations.
Over the 36 hours of the storm, there were 16 reports of looting in the city, and the police were able to make arrests at 13 of those looting events, Serpas said. He considered that a very small number given the duration of the storm.
Landrieu also praised the Corps of Engineers for the success of the flood walls and pump stations that were fortified with $14.5 billion worth of work since they failed so miserably after Hurricane Katrina. Some national media coverage has confused the federal flood protection system with smaller locally built levees that overtopped in Plaquemines Parish and elsewhere.
There was a glitch that required crews to operate some pumps manually at the 17th Street Canal, but Landrieu was satisfied that the corps had sufficient redundancies in place to catch the problem in time.
“These guys were on it like gravy on rice and it worked,” he said.
And for those who had left the city, he urged them to stay away a little longer.
“Don’t rush back,” he said. “It would be better if you didn’t.”