Katrina & Beyond

Jefferson Parish Attempts to Stabilize

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Just west of New Orleans, Jefferson Parish businesses are being encouraged to open as soon as they can and residents may return within weeks. However, pumping water from Jefferson Parish may be causing water to rise again in New Orleans.


It could be months before residents are allowed to return to some neighborhoods in New Orleans, but a bordering parish is promising to open back up to residents in just three weeks. On the western border of New Orleans, Jefferson Parish is encouraging many of its businesses to begin repairs this week and to open up as soon as they can. But as NPR's Jeff Brady reports, Jefferson Parish's quick recovery may be coming at the expense of poor and minority neighbors in New Orleans.

JEFF BRADY reporting:

Jefferson Parish is a suburb and looks more prosperous than the neighborhood across the 17th Street Canal in New Orleans, and it's recovering much faster than its neighbor, too. Parish President Aaron Broussard held a press conference broadcast over local radio stations. He encouraged businesses to get ready for residents' return in a matter of weeks.

(Soundbite of radio program)

Mr. AARON BROUSSARD (Jefferson Parish President): We want people to have their favorite restaurants open, their favorite stores open, the shopping centers where they can rebuild their lives and buy the clothes for their families.

BRADY: On the streets of Jefferson Parish, great progress has been made. A pipeline constructed along a major street pumps water into canals that empty into Lake Pontchartrain. But less than a mile away in New Orleans, the floodwater mysteriously started to rise again. On Saturday, Ray Johnson was standing outside an abandoned gas station waiting to be evacuated.

Mr. RAY JOHNSON (Evacuee): Yesterday--it was dry yesterday, the whole street. At least 15 blocks was dry. Woke up this morning, and it was like three more feet back.

BRADY: Johnson toughed it out during the first round of flooding, but the second round is just too much. He came to this gas station where Oklahoma National Guard troops set up a temporary post. Second Lieutenant Potts(ph) is in charge. He says the water has risen so high, he can't get to a lot of the houses his soldiers visited just a few days ago.

Second Lieutenant POTTS (National Guard): From what I understand, there's a levee break in Jefferson Parish, and now the water's rising, and it's been rising at about a pretty decent pace. Nothing to be threatening, nothing life-threatening, but just enough to hamper our relief efforts.

BRADY: Lieutenant Potts has it half-right. The levee didn't break. It was breached on purpose at the request of Jefferson Parish, part of the parish's effort to get up and running again soon.

Mr. JOHNSON: How you think they can get back to business so quick?

BRADY: Ray Johnson says it burns him up that he's being flooded a second time in as many weeks. Johnson suspects he knows why.

Mr. JOHNSON: Orleans Parish at least 80 or 90 percent black. Their parish is not, so I think it's a raw deal. You think about what I'm saying.

BRADY: Jefferson Parish emergency operations chief Dino Bananno(ph) says there's no racial motivations behind breaching the levee. It was a temporary levee constructed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to keep New Orleans floodwaters out of Jefferson Parish. Bananno says when floodwaters in the New Orleans neighborhood receded, the temporary levee was breached.

Mr. DINO BANANNO (Jefferson Parish Emergency Operations Chief): Some of it obviously is naturally flowing back into the city of New Orleans, where it came from, but we're also pumping it from the other end into our canals, which is an avenue it didn't have to escape before, so I can't imagine it causing any problems in the city, other than the problems that already existed. You're not putting any additional volume of water in the city. The water that came into Jefferson Parish actually came through New Orleans, so it's not following some different pathway that it didn't follow before.

BRADY: That's little consolation to Ray Johnson and his neighbors. It's also frustrating that few seem to be noticing that it's happening. The city of New Orleans did not respond to requests for an interview on the subject. The Army Corps of Engineers says it's not aware that the water is rising anywhere in New Orleans, but Ray Johnson and his neighbors certainly are.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, New Orleans.

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