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The Wall Street Journal: Water Pours Into New Orleans As Hurricane Rita Approaches: "Ships were barred from entering the Port of Lake Charles, the nation's 12th largest seaport. ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, Citgo, Shell and Valero shut down operations and evacuated workers in the area.": Saturday 24 September 2005

Lower Ninth Ward Heavily Flooded

Associated Press
September 23, 2005 7:22 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS -- Hurricane Rita's wind and rain breached New Orleans's battered levee system Friday and sent water gushing into the already-devastated Ninth Ward just days after the neighborhood was pumped dry.

The water streamed through gaps at least 100 feet wide and was soon waist-deep on a nearby street. It began covering buckled homes, piles of rubble and mud-caked cars that Katrina had swamped with up to 20 feet of water nearly a month ago.

[Slideshow]
Water gushed into the Lower Ninth Ward, re-flooding this devastated section of New Orleans

 
 

Officials with the Army Corps of Engineers said other levees in the city appeared secure, but there were leaks.

South of the University of New Orleans, two separate streams of water gushed from beneath the patched London Avenue Canal, and water 6 to 8 inches deep was soon rushing into homes in the surrounding Gentilly neighborhood.

"Our worst fears came true," said Maj. Barry Guidry, a National Guardsman on duty at the broken levee in the Ninth Ward, a community where the damage was already so severe few structures were expected to survive.

The water poured over and through sandbags, gravel and soil that had been used to temporarily patch the levee breaks, said Dan Hitchings, a spokesman with the Corps of Engineers.

Col. Richard Wagenaar, Corps of Engineers district chief in New Orleans, said the overtopping of the levees would set back repairs at least three weeks. He said, nevertheless, that June is still the target for getting the levees back to pre-Katrina levels.

[Levee Map]
Water cascaded into one of the city's lowest-lying neighborhoods, the Lower Ninth Ward, and flowed into St. Bernard Parish east of New Orleans

 
 

The breaches came as Rita began lashing the Gulf Coast with rain and wind and up to 500,000 people in southwestern Louisiana headed north.

Some residents who had fought gridlock to get out of Houston and headed east into Louisiana found they had to keep going to stay out of the path of the storm. (See related article.)

In the coastal parishes, nearly every town was deserted by Friday afternoon. Some roads were shut down by high water, but the highways were already empty, said State Police Col. Henry Whitehorn.

Ships were barred from entering the Port of Lake Charles, the nation's 12th largest seaport. ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, Citgo, Shell and Valero shut down operations and evacuated workers in the area. The National Guard moved 4,000 troops to Lafayette to be prepared to move in after the storm.

"The preparations are what they are," said Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who also headed the military response to Katrina. "We're here. The storm is coming. We are as best prepared as we can be as the eye of the storm approaches."

Forecasters said the hurricane could bring 3 to 5 inches of rain to New Orleans -- dangerously close to the 6 inches Army engineers say could overwhelm the patched levees. Another fear was that a strong storm surge would push water through the walls.

Authorities in New Orleans called off the search for bodies, and Katrina's death toll across the Gulf Coast stood at 1,078, including 841 in Louisiana.

A mandatory evacuation order was in effect for the part of New Orleans on the east bank of the Mississippi, including the Ninth Ward. A spokeswoman for Mayor Ray Nagin said officials believed the neighborhood had been cleared of residents.

Just to the east, in St. Bernard Parish -- heavily flooded by Katrina -- water from a new breach was threatening from one side and a storm surge along a bayou was lapping at the top of a levee on the other.

Mark Madary, a St. Bernard Parish councilman, said houses that were under 12 feet of water after Katrina would probably get an additional 3 feet. He accused the Army Corps of Engineers of not rebuilding the levee properly.

"Everybody's home's been crushed, and let's hope their dreams aren't," he said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press

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