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Weakened by Storm, 3 Pumps Catch Fire

April 27, 2006|From the Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — Three large drainage pumps caught fire during heavy rain Wednesday and will be out of commission at least a month, city officials said.

Insulated wiring in dozens of pumps, including the three that caught fire, was damaged by saltwater that flooded the city after major levee breaks caused by Hurricane Katrina.

"Saltwater and 100-year-old insulation on wires is not compatible," said G. Joseph Sullivan, general superintendent for the city's Sewerage and Water Board.

Because the saltwater flooding was caused by breaks in federal levees, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has pledged to pay nearly $37 million to repair the pump motors at 24 stations around the city.

But the corps, which has been focusing on levee repairs, has yet to bid out any of the contracts and does not expect the work to be complete until September 2007, corps spokeswoman Kim Gillespie said.

The corps did not have any immediate comment on whether it would seek to speed the pace of repairs as the new hurricane season approaches.

The city already paid for emergency repairs to two other pumps that caught fire after Katrina, Sullivan said.

The board will now seek bids to fix the pumps damaged Wednesday.

Sullivan said he hoped to have the pumps -- each of which can move 7,500 gallons of water a second out of city streets -- working by June.

"We're fortunate in the fact that it was at three different pumping stations, so it doesn't reduce capacity that bad at one station," Sullivan said.

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