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Fresh Floods in New Orleans

Associated Press | September 24, 2005

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Sheets of rain from Hurricane Rita drenched parts of New Orleans on Saturday, straining an already damaged levee system and threatening to spread flooding throughout the devastated but largely abandoned city.

The rain was periodic but heavy, coming down in waves that lasted a few minutes before letting up. The National Weather Service said New Orleans was expected to get bands of rain dropping 3 to 4 inches per hour.

The rain threatened to increase flooding after parts of the city were submerged again Friday as hurricane-driven storm surges topped one levee, and another levee began to leak.

Floodwaters inundated the city's Ninth Ward, which was slammed by Hurricane Katrina last month and has been all but empty ever since. The water covered piles of rubble and mud-caked cars, rising swiftly to the top of first-floor windows.

"It's like looking at a murder," Quentrell Jefferson of the Ninth Ward said Friday as he watched news of the flooding at a church in Lafayette, 125 miles west of New Orleans. "The first time is bad. After that, you numb up."

It was unclear Saturday whether flooding had worsened, but Army Corps of Engineers Capt. Steve Keen said workers monitoring the levees found no new leaks overnight.

Rita made landfall early Saturday as a Category 3 storm just east of Sabine Pass, on the Texas-Louisiana line, more than 275 miles from New Orleans. Despite the flooding in New Orleans, meteorologists said the gravest concern was in southwestern Louisiana communities, particularly the port city of Lake Charles.

"I know we're all concerned about New Orleans, but I'm more focused on these other communities right now," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "That's where people are going to die."

Lake Charles was a virtual ghost town, its residents among up to 500,000 people in southwestern Louisiana who headed north. The hurricane center had no information about conditions in Lake Charles at landfall.

"Those sensors went down" hours earlier, meteorologist Dave Roberts said.

In New Orleans, water poured through gaps in the Industrial Canal levee, which engineers had tried to repair after Katrina's floodwaters left 80 percent of the city under water. The rushing water spilled east into St. Bernard Parish, where ducks swam down Judge Perez Drive.

Friday's storm surge was both stronger and earlier than expected, apparently coming through waterways southeast of the city, said Col. Richard Wagenaar, the Army Corps of Engineers' district chief in New Orleans. Water poured over piles of gravel and sandbags in the damaged Industrial Canal levee despite efforts to build it up.

"We believed the 8-foot elevation was sufficient" to protect the Ninth Ward, Wagenaar said.

Farther north, water 6 to 8 inches deep was streaming into homes south of Lake Pontchartrain, spouting from beneath two gravel-and-rock patches on the London Avenue Canal levee. Corps engineers said they expected the leaks.

The problems would set back levee repairs at least three weeks, Wagenaar said, but June is still the target for getting them back to pre-Katrina strength.

The additional flooding brought by Hurricane Rita also would complicate the search for the dead left by Hurricane Katrina.

"It's going to make it a lot tougher," said Richard Dier, a FEMA group supervisor who oversees hundreds of people searching for bodies. "We'd like to start where we left off, but my men don't submerge or go into houses with deep water."

On Friday, Katrina's death toll stood at 841 in Louisiana and 1,078 across the Gulf Coast.


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