Louisiana Residents Brace for Torrential Rain, Flooding as Harvey Spreads East

An animated storm radar image released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show Tropical Storm Harvey expanding toward Louisiana on Aug. 28, 2017.

An animated storm radar image released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show Tropical Storm Harvey expanding toward Louisiana on Aug. 28, 2017.

New Orleans officials on Monday ordered city facilities and schools closed as the state braced for Harvey‘s rains and wind. And the city’s mayor issued a warning.

“Based on the weather, and out of an abundance of caution, I am recommending that everybody stay home tomorrow,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Monday afternoon.

The outer bands of Harvey, which remains a tropical storm, are expected to shower New Orleans with heavy rains days after the storm flooded Houston and pummeled east Texas, forecasters say. New Orleans is under a flash-flood watch and could see localized flooding, according to CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward.

The city could see 4-8 inches of rain over the next 48 hours, he said.

“If all goes well, we won’t see catastrophic flooding like in Houston,” Ward said. “We’ll only see minor flooding.”

One drainage pump went down again

The forecast comes as New Orleans’ drainage system is at a diminished capacity following recent pumping failures.

Because of New Orleans’ unusual topography — with many areas below sea level — it takes about 100 pumps spread across every neighborhood to suck water out of storm drains and canals and push it into a nearby lake or other water bodies. The pumps vary in size and capacity; some are as big as a garage and more than a century old.

Weeks ago, strong storms overwhelmed the city’s unique drainage system, causing flooding at several hundred properties and exposing critical deficiencies among 100 large pumps that drain many neighborhoods.

The breakdown highlighted the challenges posed by the city’s aging infrastructure — a problem mirrored in bridges, water pipes and sewer plants nationwide, Landrieu said at the time.

Days later, a key turbine that helps generate an uncommon frequency of electricity needed to run the city’s oldest, most powerful pumps caught fire, leaving one of five turbines working.

In detailing the progress of the repairs, Landrieu said last week he believed the drainage system could handle the predicted rainfall, but urged caution. Of the 120 drainage pumps, 106 were in service, he said.

On Monday, Landrieu said sewage and water board contractors were working “24-7 to strengthen our drainage capacity, and are working overtime to get the power, the pumps, and the manpower at full capacity.”

Landrieu said one recently repaired pump went down again during Monday’s storm, but crews were dispatched to start repairs.

“We are also hopeful that we’ll be able to get an additional turbine up tomorrow at 12 o’clock, which will greatly improve our capacity for power.”

He said about 90% of the city’s drainage pumps are able to operate if they have the power available to them.

Landrieu said because of the “uncertainty of the warnings that we have had with the flash floods, with the potential rain bands and our diminished capacity, the better part of wisdom is for everybody to stay home and to protect life and property.”

He said the city’s fire department has given out 35,800 sand bags to residents.

As the city approaches the 12-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Landrieu said the images of the devastation from Harvey are “frighteningly similar.”

Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005 between Grand Isle, Louisiana, and the mouth of the Mississippi River. The deadly flooding in the city occurred after the failure of federal levees.

“As the anniversary of Katrina hovers above us, I think all of us remember all too well where we were at that time,” Landrieu said.

President Trump likely Louisiana-bound Saturday

Harvey barreled ashore on Friday as a Category 4 hurricane, first walloping the Texas Islands and coastal cities like Rockport and Galveston. On Monday, it was barely clinging to tropical storm status.

But the danger wasn’t over. Harvey was forecast to head southeast toward the Matagorda Bay and Gulf of Mexico, where it will pick up additional moisture before sliding back over Galveston and Houston by Wednesday.

President Trump on Monday approved Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ request for an emergency declaration. The governor said in his request that he believes Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis and Vermilion parishes will face the brunt of Harvey’s winds and rain.

The President, who was scheduled to visit Texas on Tuesday, said Monday he may also head to Louisiana on Saturday.

“To the people of Texas and Louisiana, we are 100% with you,” Trump said from the East Room of the White House.