Parish Sued for Breach of Duty During Katrina

Residents of Jefferson Parish, La., are suing the parish for breach of duty in pump operations during Hurricane Katrina. Officials say they were following "doomsday" plans when they evacuated 200 pump operators a day before the storm. The parish is running full-page newspaper ads explaining its decision.

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In Jefferson Parish outside New Orleans, the local government is defending its decision to evacuate the operators of flood-control pumps before Hurricane Katrina hit. Some residents say that much of the area's flood damage might have been prevented if the pump operators had stayed behind. NPR's Scott Horsley has the story.

SCOTT HORSLEY reporting:

Officials in Jefferson Parish, just west of New Orleans, say the 200 pump operators were evacuated the day before Katrina struck in accordance with the parish's doomsday plan. That plan calls for nearly everyone to leave the parish when it's threatened by a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. Some residents are now questioning that strategy, saying the resulting delay in restarting the pumps after the hurricane passed through worsened flooding in the parish. Lawrence Sintus(ph) counts himself among those critics.

Mr. LAWRENCE SINTUS: My cousin is one of the pump operators who did not want to go. If they had turned the pumps on after the storm, a great many houses in Jefferson Parish would not have been flooded. I spent the hurricane here. All right? The day after the storm was over, I sat on my aunt's front porch, and I watched the water come up an additional two feet over a fireplug that was in the front. Because of that, I lost two automobiles and I had a foot of water in my house.

HORSLEY: Some residents have filed a lawsuit against the parish and its president, Aaron Broussard. They accuse the parish of breaching its duty by failing to operate the pumps.

A parish spokeswoman has relocated from her flood-damaged parish office building and could not be reached immediately, but the parish is running a series of full-page newspaper ads this week in response to the criticism. The ads say pump operators could have been killed, had they stayed behind, because the parish pump stations are not built to withstand a hurricane as strong as Katrina.

Loading her car with waterproof containers outside a local Home Depot, Mary Jo Green(ph) was not convinced.

Ms. MARY JO GREEN: Everybody else stayed. I have a friend stayed in her home. So I guess if a little house could stand, they could have found some structure to keep those people in.

HORSLEY: The parish says it's in the process of building safe houses near the pumps that would allow operators to ride out a Category 5 hurricane then return to work quickly. The first five of those safe houses were about one-third finished when Katrina hit. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.

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