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Storm inundates New Orleans

Pumping systems bog down in heavy rains that flood city streets, creating misery for the area's motorists.

December 22, 2006|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

Heavy rains overwhelmed New Orleans' pumping systems Thursday, flooding side streets and major arteries and raising new worries about the city's vulnerabilities after Hurricane Katrina.

The rains were part of the same massive storm that shut down parts of the Mountain West and Plains this week. The New Orleans area got more than 4 inches of rain Wednesday and Thursday.

Brenda Thornton, a spokeswoman for the city's Sewerage and Water Board, said that was too much for the water pumping system to handle.

The system gave out during Katrina and has since been repaired. In a statement Thursday, city officials said all pumps but one were "operational" -- adding that debris-clogged storm drains might have been part of the problem.

David Shaver, 62, watched Thursday morning as 1 1/2 feet of water coursed in front of his home on Uptown's Palmer Avenue. His house, like many others on the street, is raised more than 2 feet off the ground and came through the storm just fine.

Still, it was an unsettling moment for the nurse anesthetist, who moved back into his Katrina-damaged house only a month ago.

"It's ominous," he said. "This happened before the storm, and it was just kind of fun. We called it the Palmer river. But it wasn't fun today."

A number of streets, including major arteries, were shut down, creating traffic snarls and forcing residents to zigzag across the city.

Det. John Ray of the New Orleans Police Department, who surveyed the city in a police cruiser, said although some streets were passable, others were inundated with as much as 3 feet of water.

Three high schools were flooded, and the school system closed early.

"We're used to this -- whenever we have rain nonstop, the pumps can't handle so much at one time," said Dominican Sister Lorraine Torres, 74, a longtime New Orleans resident. "But this was nothing compared to Katrina."

richard.fausset@latimes.com

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