September 23, 2005

Floodwaters surge into New Orleans again

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Floodwaters poured into New Orleans
again on Friday as Hurricane Rita inundated several square
miles (kilometres) of this still-devastated city but officials
said they expected few deaths since the affected neighborhoods
were largely deserted.

Dozens of recently drained blocks in neighborhoods flooded
by Hurricane Katrina were swamped again after surging storm
waters topped the levees in at least three places along the
Industrial Canal, which runs through several poor but historic

"We were hoping this wouldn't happen, but with Rita
knocking at our door we're stuck with this," said Mark Heimann,
a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Officials at the scene said they expected minimal loss of
life as the affected neighborhoods had been uninhabitable after
Katrina and residents had been prevented from returning. Rescue
teams went door-to-door looking for residents until Friday
morning, when the searches were suspended.

Throughout the day, a 30-foot-wide (9-metre-wide) waterfall
poured over a recently patched section of levee into the Lower
Ninth Ward where water had begun to seep through on Thursday.

On Flood Street, 10 blocks from the gap, water was
knee-high and rising steadily by midafternoon.

Flood waters reached east of the city into neighboring St.
Bernard Parish, and west roughly for 2 miles through
residential streets still ravaged by the last flood.

"It's frustrating, but there ain't nothing you can do about
Mother Nature," said St. Bernard Parish President Henry

The Army Corps of Engineers rushed 12 trucks full of
boulders through the city to try to close one gap but could not
dump them where they were needed. Corps officials said there
was little they could do to stop the flooding because high
winds prevented them from reaching the affected sections by

In more upscale neighborhoods near Lake Pontchartrain also
heavily hit by Katrina, new metal barriers withstood a
five-foot (1.5-meter) storm surge, though water seeped through
some repaired levee sections.

Richard Pinner, an Army Corps civil engineer, said seepage
was unavoidable because the Corps has only had time to patch
the damaged sections with boulders and gravel rather than more
impermeable materials like clay or synthetic membranes.

The seepage had been steady even before the storm, he said.

But one state senator said the Corps should have had plenty
of time to put more durable levees in place.

"Any idiot knows stone and gravel wasn't going to work when
you have water coming up like this," said Sen. Walter Boasso,
whose district includes St. Bernard Parish. "It's the same
water we dealt with three weeks ago."

New Orleans resident Jeffrey Holmes said he did not think
his house 2-1/2 half blocks west of the Industrial Canal would
flood again even though it took on 3 feet of water after
Katrina hit.

"I don't think where I'm at is going to be a problem," he

(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst in Baton Rouge)