Rainfall Tops Levee In Rural Louisiana Parish

Hurricane Isaac is reminding residents of Hurricane Katrina which struck the Gulf Coast seven years ago. In rural Plaquemines parish, water is over top of the levee. The levee in southeastern Louisiana is different than the levees in New Orleans, which seem to be doing "quite well."

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK, we've heard from Greg that if this storm overwhelms the pumping system in New Orleans, there could be significant flooding in the city.

And let's go now to NPR's Christopher Joyce, who is in the heart of New Orleans along Canal Street. Chris, good morning.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: Hello, David. How are you?

GREENE: Very good. So tell me what you're seeing and what the mood is in a city that is both marking a Katrina anniversary and dealing with, you know, another big storm.

JOYCE: Well, I'll take the second part first. I mean, it's a mixed bag. In talking to people in the last day or so, you've got people who are fairly blase about it. They've been through this. Obviously, Katrina was the storm of all storms. But there have been a couple since then. And, you know, the coincidence is not lost on people. I think that there might be a bit of storm fatigue among some. But the mayor and the government here has made a real effort to reassure people that the - they're really safe now, because so much has been spent on improving the protection of the city.

And then, you know, being here right now, I mean, I have not gone out in a few hours, but it's a bit eerie. You've got rain coming sideways. It's a mist of fog, of rain coming, whipping off of buildings and car alarms going off. So there's certainly nobody on the street anymore.

GREENE: And, Chris, help us catch up on some of these quickly moving developments. We've been hearing that water is overtopping a levee in Plaquemines Parish, which is a rural parish outside of New Orleans. What do we know about that, and are we seeing some evacuations already?

JOYCE: There are evacuations from there. I don't know how many people are being evacuated. I've heard that there's not that many, because this is a low-lying area that's had flooding in the past. They don't have the levee system as good as the one that's up here in New Orleans. And so they've had serious flooding in the past. And, you know, this is just an area that hasn't got the level of protection, and the levee apparently wasn't - it didn't collapse, but the water's coming over the top.

GREENE: Levees - I mean, a word that we all remember from Katrina. I mean, can you tell us more about the levee system in place in the city and in the state, and whether what you said - that officials are telling people that they are safer - is, you know, is actually true?

JOYCE: It seems to be. I mean, $14 billion spent on it, it better be. I mean, this is levees on steroids here. They've spent seven years bulking up the levees that so famously failed during Katrina. They put concrete inside them, steel reinforcement, raised them, added some more levees. And then in what the Army Corps of Engineers is calling its largest civil engineering project ever, they created this gigantic seawall, 26-feet high and two-miles wide across the Borgne Lake to the east, which is where the big surges came during Katrina that inundated the eastern part of the city.

And, in fact, yesterday when they lowered the two gates - the two or three gates that are on that sea wall, they did with a fair amount fanfare, as if to say, okay, you know, give us what you got. You're not going to get past this. Of course, a lot of the water is coming from above this time, but there - also, a much better pumping system has been put in. So, so far, so good.

GREENE: And briefly, Chris, talk forecast with us. Where is this storm heading, and where are we going to see the worst impact?

JOYCE: The storm's going to be - well, it's stalled at the moment, and that's one of the problems is because it's stalled, it's dumping so much rain here. It's supposed to move north at eight or nine or 10 miles an hour or so, but it's not picking up any speed, really. And this is why they're so worried about flooding, because, you know, it's over land now and rivers, streams, and low-lying areas are where the rain's going to fall.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Christopher Joyce, joining us from Canal Street in New Orleans. Thanks, Chris.

JOYCE: My pleasure.

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