Corps of Engineers Scrambles to Drain New Orleans
Corps of Engineers Scrambles to Drain New Orleans
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has temporarily fixed one broken levee and punched some holes in others to begin draining water from New Orleans, flooded by water from Lake Pontchartrain in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Al Naomi, senior project manager of the Army Corps of Engineers, says the city should be fully drained in a matter of weeks.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Engineers have been working to repair breaches in the flood walls and levees in and around New Orleans so they can drain the city. For a progress report on that effort we're joined by Al Naomi, he's senior project manager with the Army Corps of Engineers based in New Orleans. Thanks for being with us.
Mr. AL NAOMI (Army Corps of Engineers): Oh, you're welcome.
BLOCK: And what's the latest?
Mr. NAOMI: The latest is the breach along 17th Street Canal has been closed. What we're doing now is we're going to be strengthening it and making sure that it's strong enough and high enough so that the pump stations along that canal can start pumping water out of the city.
BLOCK: And when you say the breach has been closed, is that with sandbags?
Mr. NAOMI: Sandbags and earth and rocks and everything that we could find to fit into the breach.
BLOCK: Now how do you go about pumping out the water when you have no power?
Mr. NAOMI: Pump stations have power generators and so the power isn't going to be a problem for them necessarily. I believe the plan is for them to start with some of the smaller pumps and we'll test the flows through the canal. And if everything looks good then as the other pumps come online--some of the pumps have to be cleaned and everything and electrical systems dried out--but there are pumps that can go online very shortly once we get the breach elevation high enough so that if the water in the canal starts rising--because the pumps will raise the water elevation of the canal, we don't want to put water back in the city--and so we have to make sure the breach is high enough to withstand that.
BLOCK: Now has any of this pumping started yet?
Mr. NAOMI: I don't think it has yet. They are prepared to start it the minute we tell them that the breach is high enough and strong enough to begin.
BLOCK: Now is the city drying out? I mean, I've seen this referred to from the Army Corps as an unwatering mission.
Mr. NAOMI: Yes.
BLOCK: Has that begun? Has that had any success?
Mr. NAOMI: Well, parts of the metropolitan certainly are very dry. They've been dry for days, and other parts are draining. There is a pumping station, 19, for the city of New Orleans that is working along the Industrial Canal and that certainly is helping to lower some water elevations. It's not nearly enough to drain the whole city. They need more power. But I think once we get the pumping stations along the 17th Street Canal started you'll see more progress being made. Then other pump stations will be brought online as they dry out and the process will improve incrementally.
BLOCK: Here's something that needs a little explaining, I think. I understand you're also actually punching holes in the levees to get water that's trapped inside to drain out.
Mr. NAOMI: That's in another location. Areas in the eastern part of the city and down in Plaquemines Parish that is occurring where the water elevations got considerably higher than the surrounding lakes or rivers. That is not the case in the city of New Orleans where the water elevation is about the same as the lake water. So it wouldn't do any good to punch holes in the levee in the city but in other areas where the water elevations is higher you can get quite a bit of water out just through gravity drainage.
BLOCK: And then at some point you'd have to repair those breaches as well.
Mr. NAOMI: Yes, the material is being placed on the side and as soon as the water drains out they'll just put the material back in the levee.
BLOCK: Mr. Naomi, do you have any way of estimating how long it'll be before the city and the surrounding area are dry?
Mr. NAOMI: I know that once the process starts it should be measured--within a couple weeks you should get all the water out of the city, I would guess. It's a matter of weeks. That's going remain to be determined by the number of pump stations that they actually can get online.
BLOCK: You think it could be weeks?
Mr. NAOMI: There's various parts of the metropolitan area that are isolated by levees and so different areas may take longer to drain than others. And so it's very hard to say exactly how long it's going to take individual areas. But I think certainly once the pumps in the big pump stations kick online you're going to see some substantial lowerings and the areas that will dry out first will be the areas that flooded last, mainly the central business district and the areas nearest the river will dry out first. And then the closer you get to the lake those areas will dry out last.
BLOCK: Al Naomi is senior project manager with the Army Corps of Engineers based in New Orleans. He spoke with us from Vicksburg, Mississippi. Mr. Naomi, thanks very much.
Mr. NAOMI: You're welcome.
BLOCK: More on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina later in the program. Just ahead, analysis of the nomination of Judge John Roberts to replace William Rehnquist as chief justice of the United States. That's when we continue with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
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