Heavy Rains Hit New Orleans, Flood Areas Just Recently Coming Back From Katrina Damage

Tuesday, October 23rd 2007, 8:45 am
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ The deluge of rain that flooded streets around New Orleans was predicted to ease Tuesday, a day after the downpours disrupted businesses, closed schools and swamped areas still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

Only a few showers were in the forecast.

``The heavy rains have passed by,'' National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Vasilj said.

After more than 8 inches of rain drenched the city Monday, Mayor Ray Nagin shut City Hall early and schools across the city closed. Waist-high water in parts of eastern New Orleans soaked businesses, some of which had recently reopened after being damaged by Katrina in 2005.

The city's drainage pumps all worked; they just couldn't keep up with the intense rainfall, emergency preparedness officials told the Times-Picayune.

The pumps can handle up to 1 inch of rain in the first hour and a half-inch an hour after that, but some areas got more than two inches of rain in an hour, said Robert Jackson, a spokesman for the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board.

Rough rainfall estimates from 3 p.m. Monday to 7 a.m. Tuesday ranged from 5 inches in Kenner and New Orleans East to nearly 9 in central Jefferson Parish, Vasilj said.

A few rivers north of Lake Pontchartrain, the 22-mile-wide lake that forms New Orleans' northern border, were brimming, and might flood some low-lying areas in St. Tammany Parish and two counties across the state line in Mississippi, Vasilj said. Showers were predicted through Thursday.

Officials closed a gate on the Harvey Canal in suburban Jefferson Parish where water threatened to top the walls; it was one of several in the area placed under new safety guidelines after Katrina's waters breached two New Orleans canals, causing catastrophic flooding.

The corps has worked to strengthen the canal in an area of homes and businesses about five miles from downtown New Orleans, but engineers worried that water being driven into it might lead to flooding.

Unlike canal walls that broke during Katrina, the walls on the Harvey Canal are not considered at threat of being breached by rising waters, said Chris Accardo, the corps' operations chief.

Moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, ahead of a strong cold front, sparked the swift and strong rainfall that blanketed the area.

Water accumulated quickly in some older neighborhoods, a reminder of the city's vulnerability to storms and reliance on a complicated system of pumps and drainage canals.

Water nearly got into the Prytania Theater in the Uptown neighborhood, a cultural icon and favorite refuge for Ignatius J. Reilly, the antihero in John Kennedy Toole's novel ``A Confederacy of Dunces,'' said Eric Ramstead, the theater's manager.

Despite the flooding, the rain also offered relief to parts of Louisiana that have been abnormally dry. Until Monday's drenching, rainfall for New Orleans was about 11 inches below normal for the year.

The scattered showers and thunderstorms also came as a blessing to other drought-stricken areas of the Southeast on Monday. Still, climatologists say it will take more than a few scattered storms to pull the region out of a record drought.

Almost one-third of the Southeast is covered by an ``exceptional'' drought _ the worst drought category.