Help Those Affected by Hurricane Katrina
New Orleans Filling With Floodwaters Due to Breached Levee
By Peter Whoriskey and William Branigin
NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 30 -- Hurricane Katrina and its rains have passed, but this city is filling with floodwaters.
The sense of relief that residents felt Monday morning when the city was not immediately inundated by a storm surge overflowing its protective levees was replaced late Monday night and Tuesday morning with dread because of a levee that was damaged by the hurricane.
Water flowing from the damaged levee near Lake Pontchartrain could have equally catastrophic effects, only unfolding more slowly.
Water levels in Lake Pontchartrain and the connecting 17th Street Canal are normally six feet higher than the surrounding city. The levees keep the waters from flowing down into this low-lying city, much of which is below sea level.
The damage to the 17th Street Canal and its levee means that the water from Lake Pontchartrain is now free to flow down to inundate hundreds of thousands of homes and other buildings here.
Once it flows in, the water will not drain from New Orleans because of the very levees that protect the city and that largely held during the hurricane. Those levees, built to keep water out, are now keeping the water in, and reports from across the city indicate that water levels are rising.
Authorities plan to use helicopters to drop 3,000-pound sandbags into the breach in the damaged levee, the Associated Press reported. The breach is said to be about 200 feet long. There were reports Tuesday that other levees may also have given way in the hours since the storm passed.
New Orleans normally uses pumps to get the water out when necessary, but the city has been without power since the hurricane struck with 140-mph winds around daybreak Monday.
It is difficult to know how many people are threatened because of the mass evacuation before Hurricane Katrina. A caller to a local radio station reported that the flood water in her New Orleans home was rising and that she couldn't swim. Boating is rapidly becoming the best way to travel here.
If the water keeps rising and cuts off power from emergency generators, the Tulane University Hospital and Clinic might have to evacuate, a spokeswoman said on CNN.
The levee damage was first noticed during an assessment flight Monday afternoon, but its extent and significance were not immediately understood. By late Monday, the rising water levels here have made its significance apparent.
The rising floodwaters in the city of 485,000 people were preventing residents from returning to their homes.
At the Superdome, designated by Mayor Ray Nagin as one of 10 refuges of last resort for people who were unable to evacuate, National Guard troops allowed dozens of refugees to sleep on the walkway surrounding the huge building as conditions inside deteriorated, but authorities refused to let them leave.
As many as 10,000 people took shelter in the Superdome starting Sunday when Nagin ordered the mandatory evacuation of the city. As the hurricane struck Monday morning, the high winds tore off much of the outer skin covering the Superdome's 9.7-acre roof and punched two holes clear through it, allowing rainwater to leak in.
By Tuesday, bathrooms were filthy, trash barrels were overflowing and stadium aisles and steps were slick with humidity because of the lack of air conditioning since the power failed during Katrina's onslaught. Under those conditions, some of the refugees were allowed to take their bedding out onto the concourse to cool off and breathe some fresh air."
One group was dismayed to hear on a newscast that authorities in suburban Jefferson Parish were not allowing residents to return until next Monday, the Associated Press reported. The group groaned, and one woman cried.
"I know people want to leave, but they can't leave," said Gen. Ralph Lupin, a National Guard commander at the Superdome, the AP reported. "There's three feet of water around the Superdome."
Doug Thornton, a regional vice president for the company that manages the Superdome, said two people have died there, the news service reported. He did not provide details.
"The city of New Orleans is in a state of devastation," Mayor Ray Nagin told local television station WWL last night. "We probably have 80 percent of our city under water," in some places as deep as 20 feet. He said both airports were under water, and people were on roofs awaiting rescue.
Many residents are desperate to return to their homes, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said on ABC Tuesday morning. However, she said, "in most cases, it is totally impossible for them to get in. The streets are inundated with water. The devastation is vast. And there's really -- there's nothing they can do."
Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, warned in an interview on CBS that residents may not be able to return to their homes anytime soon. In some places, he said, "it's going to be weeks at least before people can get back."