Louisiana Prepares For Harvey
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Harvey, now a tropical storm, has made landfall a second time, this morning in western Louisiana. Flash-flood warnings stretched to New Orleans, where people are bracing for up to 8 inches of rain. This follows major flooding there earlier this month which has been made worse when the city's emergency pumping system failed. To talk about how prepared the city is for Harvey, Tegan Wendland of member station WWNO joins us now from New Orleans.
TEGAN WENDLAND, BYLINE: Good morning.
CHANG: So how much flooding is expected where you are?
WENDLAND: Well, the worst of the flooding has really been in the western part of the state and a bit upriver from here. Officials in New Orleans are still fairly worried. Yesterday the whole town kind of felt like it was shut down because city offices and schools were closed, but they're saying we dodged a bullet and it's not going to be as bad as they thought. Schools are set to reopen here today, though many schools and city offices are closed across the state and the National Weather Service is warning of torrential rain and potential tornadoes. We could still get several inches of rain today and much more in western parts of the state.
CHANG: Right. So what about the emergency pumps that failed a few weeks ago? Are they working now? Is there any question about how well they're going to hold up?
WENDLAND: Right. So the pump system is not all the way up and running yet, and I think that's making people here really nervous. They might be relieved at the downgraded rain estimates, but they're still preparing for the worst. So there are flash-flood watches in effect for much of the state through tomorrow night. People are just on edge, aware that it takes really just one heavy downpour to change everything.
Last night people parked their cars up on the curbs in my neighborhood. We had some heavy rain overnight. I was up all night again checking every hour to make sure that my car didn't get flooded out. The city is giving out tens of thousands of sandbags at fire stations, and that's where I met Jody Fairchaud picking up sandbags to protect her house uptown, and she was just mad.
JODY FAIRCHAUD: I'm very saddened by the situation in the city of New Orleans with not having the pumps operating like they should. It's negligence, and it really should be dealt with immediately.
WENDLAND: And, honestly, it could take a long time to get the pumps back up and running. And meantime, every time it rains, people are left wondering if it's going to be a disaster.
CHANG: And I - you know, all this is playing out now on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago. Since then the federal government has spent billions, right, to make New Orleans and the surrounding area safer. Why are there still problems?
WENDLAND: The Army Corps of Engineers built this giant wall, essentially, around the city to keep water out when there is a hurricane, but that's not the only problem we have here. We live in what's essentially a bowl. Rain can come from above, too, and we're just going to flood sometimes, no matter how great the system is.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu speaks publicly a lot about turning that vulnerability into opportunity. Officials have come up with these new water-management strategies. The city has a whole plan to build retention ponds and parks to hold water. Some ideas have been shelved or there hasn't been enough funding.
Meantime, if we get hit again, we're still relying on the same equipment, the equipment we had during Katrina. There have been improvements, of course, since then but, obviously, it's not perfect because some of the pumps aren't working now when we need them most.
CHANG: And just really quickly, I'm wondering, living in a city that has gone through so much lately, what has it been like watching what's happening in Houston?
WENDLAND: People here are just really feeling for our neighbors in Houston. They've been mobilizing online to go help. It's not the best time to drive to Texas so the governor is saying let's send organized help. But I think people are just really feeling re-traumatized by the images of people in Houston waiting for help there. The city is just grappling with it. You know, it's just making people here feel more vulnerable.
CHANG: That's Tegan Wendland of WWNO joining us from New Orleans.
Thank you very much.
[A previous version of this transcript misspelled Jody Ferchaud’s last name as Fairshow]
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