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S&WB Turbine Failed As Heavy Rains Flooded City Wednesday Morning

Travis Lux
The Sewerage and Water Board's facility Uptown.

One of the Sewerage and Water Board’s pump-powering turbines was not operational for about two hours as heavy rains swamped the city, Executive Director Ghassan Korban said Wednesday afternoon.

In a statement posted to Twitter, Korban said Turbine 4 (T4) “tripped offline” around 8:52 a.m. But by then, Korban said, street flooding had already begun.

By 10 a.m., there were more than 100 reports of street flooding on Streetwise, the city’s online street flooding and road construction viewer, according to | The Times-Picayune.

When it was all said in done, the morning storms dropped 3 to 6 inches, but “the rate is really what caused the issues,” said Robert Ricks, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Slidell.

At its peak the storm dropped anywhere from 3 to 4 inches per hour, Ricks said.

“In our area … probably a couple times a year we get rain rates that much.”

“The bottom line is that was more rain that [sic] our system could handle,” Korban tweeted.

The S&WB utilizes a combination of several turbines and generators to power the pumps that ultimately drain the city when it rains. It’s not clear how many pumps were rendered useless when T4 went offline. Korban said the utility was able to reconfigure the power supply “to slow the rising of the water,” and that T4 was back online within two hours.

While not technically part of Tropical Storm Cristobal, the remnants of which have almost reached Canada, Cristobal created the environment for Wednesday’s downpour. The tropical storm brought a lot of moisture into the atmosphere, and when that moisture combined with the Wednesday’s cold front, all the necessary ingredients were there.

“That’s what caused the process to kick in and get the heavy rain,” he said. “These rain rates are very typical of a tropical environment.”

Ricks said the heaviest rain fell in downtown New Orleans, Mid-City and near the lakefront.

Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and local listeners.

As Coastal Reporter, Travis Lux covers flood protection, coastal restoration, infrastructure, the energy and seafood industries, and the environment. In this role he's reported on everything from pipeline protests in the Atchafalaya swamp, to how shrimpers cope with low prices. He had a big hand in producing the series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not?, which examined how prepared New Orleans is for a future with more extreme weather. In 2017, Travis co-produced two episodes of TriPod: New Orleans at 300 examining New Orleans' historic efforts at flood protection. One episode, NOLA vs Nature: The Other Biggest Flood in New Orleans History, was recognized with awards from the Public Radio News Directors and the New Orleans Press Club. His stories often find a wider audience on national programs, too, like NPR's Morning Edition, WBUR's Here and Now, and WHYY's The Pulse.

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