New Orleans got walloped by an intense rainstorm Wednesday that overwhelmed the city drainage system, quickly flooding streets in areas that normally don't get swamped. Now the city is bracing for Tropical Storm Barry, which brings a risk of major flooding. WWNO's Diane Mack spoke with New Orleans sewerage and water board executive director Ghassan Korban about whether the city is ready for the approaching storm.
Q: What can you tell us about what happened yesterday? How well did the system perform?
Korban: Well yesterday it was a very tough day for the city and for us as well. We really got hit by a major, major storm in excess of eight inches of rain within three hours. That's a major event for any drainage system. And as you just stated it overwhelmed our drainage capacity and we went from just simply draining the city and keeping it dry to just basically moved into expediting that draining the city and it flooded. So it was it was a tough day but we performed at optimum capacity, meaning we drained the city as fast as we possibly could do. So we did what we needed to do yesterday to drain the water as fast as we can.
Q: How ready is the system for the expected hurricane?
Korban: We are in a very good position. We're in a situation that's better than we've ever been for for a long time. We have 118 pumps throughout the city that are available to be used. That means it gives us a lot of redundancy in the system so if a pump fails at a specific station, we can substitute it and kick in one that is sitting idle ready to substitute for one that may trip off line. So that's that's where we are today. We we are in a position where we can provide enough power for any pump that we need. Again that's a situation that's so much better than in years past. So we stand confident today that we can face another round of storm or storms that we're expecting.
Q: And how are your staffing levels?
The staffing level again is at optimum level. We have every critical post staffed with redundancy. We have tremendous talent on our staff that people who can react, who can manage tough situations on a moment's notice. And that was exhibited yesterday or demonstrated yesterday by our staff. It was, you know, admittedly it was a surprising event and everybody stepped up and geared up and just managed it beautifully. So I don't expect any less for the upcoming day or two.
Q: What would you say is your biggest concern for how the system will perform?
Korban: Well again, you know, we do have a very fragile and old system. And I've always said it's remarkable that we can do what we do with what we have. And there's always that chance of something breaking. But again, we offset that or compensate for that with the tremendous talent that we have on staff that people can just react so quickly and manage situations very, very nimbly and creatively. So the other concern obviously is just the intensity of the rain. If we have eight inches of rain in three hours or more, as some predictions are are out there, we will have some flooding in the city unfortunately. And that's just a fact, and again an event like that will overwhelm any system in any city in this country.
Q: What can you tell residents about how they can help prepare for this storm?
Korban: I think we learned yesterday that if there is a way to stay home, reduce your amount of driving if you don't have to drive, don't drive. It there's a way you can proactively put your car on high high levels, just do that. Don't take any chances. Certainly avoid underpasses. Those are very dangerous spots and people don't take those seriously and often they put themselves in danger.
And proactively people can look around their catch basins, and if they are clogged or there's some debris especially from the storm yesterday, just you know play a part in helping yourself and helping your neighbor and minimize the amount of backwater because if that catch basin is open, it will help facilitate moving water from from the street down to the collection system, down to our canals and into our pumping stations. So I know that's something that it's on us and it's a city and Sewage and Water Board duty. But we've we've seen that there's thousands of them out there and we cannot keep up and citizens out there can help us help them, and they can just help themselves by diminishing the chance of water making its way to their yards and then potentially their homes.