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New Orleans levee system holds up; flooding elsewhere was expected

August 29, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times
Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times (m9j9ptpd20120829132313/600 )

As Hurricane Isaac battered New Orleans on Wednesday with heavy rain and storm surges, the city's levees and drainage pump system appeared to be performing as hoped.

Isaac is a “nasty, determined storm,” but the $14.5-billion storm protection system of levees, floodgates and walls is holding up well so far and is “absolutely paying off,” Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu said on CNN. 

A New Orleans city spokesman at the emergency operations center expressed satisfaction with the system as well.  “We are very confident in the hurricane risk-reduction system, the federal system that is protecting the city right now," he said in a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times. "We are not seeing the flooding you may see reported in Plaquemines Parish; they are taking the brunt of it.”

PHOTOS: Isaac lashes Gulf Coast

But more than 152,000 people in New Orleans, about three-quarters of the city, remained without power, he said, with wind speeds still too high to send teams out, including city crews who assess storm damage.

"We are advising folks to just hunker down, stay indoors," said the city spokesman, who asked not to be identified by name. “This storm will pass, but it will pass on its time. We are encouraging everyone to just be patient.”

While many streets flooded, none of the flooding was unexpected, he said.

Landrieu on CNN also stressed that point, saying she wanted the country to know that “there is no massive catastrophic flooding happening in the region.”

MAP: The path of Isaac

Susan Maclay, president of the board of directors of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority West, was at an emergency operations center in Marrero on the west bank Wednesday where she said pumps and levees were also preventing major flooding.

“So far it’s all holding up well and we’re very pleased,” she said.

Crews were out checking and closing valves along the Harvey Canal, she said, becasue “as the canal rises, we risk some flooding.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed a massive flood gate on the Intracoastal Waterway at about 8 a.m. CDT when waters rose 2 feet above sea level, she said -- another test of the new hurricane protection system created after Hurricane Katrina.

Maclay said she wasn't surprised by flooding to the south in Plaquemines Parish.

“That’s always the case. Plaquemines Parish on both sides of the river gets hit very hard” during storms, she said. Upper Plaquemines Parish, in which the bulk of the parish population lives, lies within the levee system and has not seen major flooding, she noted.

“It’s protected,” she said.

The west bank of Plaquemines was where Hurricane Katrina first made landfall in 2005, Maclay noted; local officials said minor flooding was occurring there Wednesday.

Other areas to the south outside of the hurricane protection system of levees and flood walls, including Lafitte and Crown Point, “all get hit hard,” she added.

With the storm essentially stalled over New Orleans, Maclay said, buildings were shaking as wind and rains swept the area.

“It reminds me of the freeway in Los Angeles at rush hour — it’s just crawling along,” she said. “I’ll be glad when it’s finally out of here”

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Join Molly on Google+ and Twitter @mollyhf. Email: molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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