New Flooding Hits New Orleans' Ninth Ward
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Parts of New Orleans are underwater yet again. Two levees were reportedly compromised, sending water pouring into the Lower Ninth Ward, which was already devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and Lake Pontchartrain overflowed a seawall. Major George Stejic is deputy for the Task Force Unwatering for Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans. He's on the line from there.
Thanks very much for being with us, Major.
Major GEORGE STEJIC (Army Corps of Engineers): Good morning.
SIMON: And how bad is this flooding, sir?
Maj. STEJIC: Well, the flooding in the Lower Ninth Ward is pretty bad. We had an overtopping of that yesterday morning where water rushed in over a breach repair that we worked on over the last couple of weeks. And it seems that we probably had anywhere from four to five feet of water in the Lower Ninth Ward.
SIMON: And how tenuous, fragile, flexible are the levees at this point?
Maj. STEJIC: Well, the levee repair that we put into the Lower Ninth Ward was rated for a plus-8 water level.
Maj. STEJIC: The water levels in the Inner Harbor Navigational Canal rose to about 7.8 feet, and with wave action it overtopped and eroded some of the fine gravel that we put on top of the rock base that we had inside the levee repair. The levee repair itself actually held and we're going to be out there this morning. We've got a reconnaissance flight up right now assessing the exact situation, and we've got additional helicopters coming in to sandbag and shore up the levee repair.
SIMON: How soon do you think, Major, you can begin to pump out that water?
Maj. STEJIC: Well, we're pumping it out now. The water in the Ninth Ward is being pumped out with the assistance of the pump stations in St. Bernard's Parish, and so we're sort of fighting the water coming in.
SIMON: But those pump stations are operating at less than half capacity, aren't they?
Maj. STEJIC: Not in St. Bernard's Parish.
Maj. STEJIC: In St. Bernard's Parish we have almost 90 percent capacity right now. The pumps in Orleans Parish itself is right now roughly about 20 percent capacity, only because we blocked off the 17th Street and London Avenue canals.
SIMON: Major, you must be watching the weather forecast pretty carefully for any sign of rain, aren't you?
Maj. STEJIC: Yes, we are.
SIMON: And what do your experts tell you?
Maj. STEJIC: Well, we're really not concerned about rain right now. We can deal with rain. We can deal with probably another six inches of rain. So we're not terribly concerned with that. What we're really worried about are the storm surges, and we believe that the worst of the storm surge has passed. The levels in the Inner Harbor Navigational Canal have fallen substantially; it's down to about 6.6 feet. And we are presently at high tide, so we believe that it's going to fall maybe another two feet later on today. So I think the worst is over.
SIMON: Major, in the 30 seconds we have left, do you need a concentrated period of time to make major repairs rather than just patching this stuff up between hurricanes?
Maj. STEJIC: We do, and we expect to make major repairs after hurricane season's over in preparation for next year's hurricane season.
SIMON: Major George Stejic, who's deputy of the Task Force Unwatering for the US Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans. Thank you very much.
Maj. STEJIC: Thank you, sir.
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