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Louisiana Residents Look Beyond the Wild Weather for Flooding Source

Disaster: After staying dry during decades of hurricanes, some folks see human hands behind community's latest woes.

October 06, 2002|From Associated Press

SLIDELL, La. — Back-to-back floods have residents of the sedate community of Palm Lake wondering if more than wretched weather is to blame.

Tropical Storm Isidore unleashed torrential rains and 8-foot tidal surges, flooding 295 homes in the town nestled in a thick canopy of pines on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.

Hurricane Lili added to the misery Thursday. Residents watched as homes flooded again. Lili was a Category 4 hurricane packing 145-mph winds before it weakened substantially and hit land.

But residents are puzzled: After staying dry during decades of hurricanes, why did Palm Lake flood this time?

Lakefront development adds to runoff, and closing New Orleans floodgates swells Lake Pontchartrain even more.

But some residents say a recently installed city pumping station is pumping water out of Slidell's streets and into canals through Palm Lake, a subdivision within the larger town.

"Nah," said John Menner, a retired ironworker who has been living in Palm Lake since 1979. "I can bet you a buck that a pump didn't flood us out."

"I think you're wrong," his son, James Menner, a 37-year-old commercial fisherman, shot back.

When the pump's going, James Menner said, he's seen the waters rise. "It would be like pouring a 12-ounce beer into a 6-ounce cup. Where's it going to go?"

Pumping stations have been a point of contention for years, Slidell Mayor Ben Morris said. But, he says, blame nature, not engineering mistakes.

"People have suffered a tragedy. They're looking for answers. They'll blame anything," Morris said.

Mel Standridge, a retired pharmaceutical salesman, says he'll go to his congressman if need be. After Isidore, Rep. David Vitter (R-La.) said the solution was to raise homes on pilings out of the flood plain at government expense.

"I'm going to sit down and have a talk with him if I have to go to Washington," Standridge said, taking a break from packing a rental truck with what's left of his soggy belongings.

"This is something that needs to be done. I've seen the government send money overseas, send it to New York for the disaster there. We're asking for but a few million dollars," Standridge said.

Some coastal areas were just being reopened Saturday to residents who had evacuated. Among them was Cypremort Point in south St. Mary Parish, one of the first communities struck by the storm.

Electricity still was out in the area and only homeowners were allowed back in for cleanup, and they were asked to leave by nightfall. "There'll be no sightseeing down there for a while," Sheriff David Naquin said.

Across the state, power remained out for at least 130,000 residents. Federal Emergency Management Agency teams were reviewing damage but had yet to set a damage estimate. FEMA officials said nearly 30,000 property owners had registered damage by Saturday afternoon in the state.

Also Saturday, a Mississippi company bought an ad in a New Orleans newspaper apologizing for Gov. Ronnie Musgrove's refusal to make Interstate 59 a one-way hurricane evacuation route in the state for Louisiana residents.

"We believe Gov. Ronnie Musgrove's decision is lacking moral soundness and stewardship associated with good leadership," said the ad in the Times-Picayune paid for by TCB Construction Co. of Poplarville, Miss.

Musgrove announced his decision shortly after Isidore hit in late September, saying it would drain manpower needed if the hurricane hit his state.

When Lili worsened to Category 4, Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster said Musgrove had assured him that the 21 miles from the state line to Poplarville would be made one-way if needed. But it wasn't.

Also, rough surf from Lili in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida was blamed for a woman's drowning.

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