Tags: Rita's | Rains | Breach | Two | New | Orleans | Levees

Rita's Rains Breach Two New Orleans Levees

Friday, 23 September 2005 12:00 AM

NEW ORLEANS -- Hurricane Rita's wind and rain breached two of New Orleans' battered levees Friday and sent water gushing into already-devastated neighborhoods just days after they had been pumped dry.

In the impoverished Ninth Ward, water streamed through gaps at least 100 feet wide in a levee 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.

Officials with the Army Corps of Engineers said other levees appeared secure, including those breached during Katrina, 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 six to eight 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. "We have three significant breaches in the levee and the water is rising rapidly."

Refugees from the misery-stricken neighborhood learned of the crisis with despair.

"It's like looking at a murder," Quentrell Jefferson said as he watched the news at a church in Lafayette, 125 miles west of New Orleans. "The first time is bad. After that, you numb up."

The water poured over and through sandbags, gravel and soil that had been used to temporarily patch breaks in the Industrial Canal levee, said Dan Hitchings, a spokesman with the Corps of Engineers. The Corps could not immediately reach the spot to repair it, but pumps would be turned on to help remove the water, he said.

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, June is still the target for getting the levees back to pre-Katrina levels.

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 who had fought gridlock to get out of Houston and headed east into Louisiana were frustrated to find they had to keep going to stay out of the path of the storm.

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, ExxonMobil, Citgo, Shell and Valero shut down operations and evacuated workers in the area. The Louisiana National Guard moved 4,000 soldiers 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."

Rita was expected to come ashore early Saturday somewhere near the Texas-Louisiana line. There were fears it would stall, dumping as much as 25 inches of rain.

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.

Because of the approaching storm, authorities called off the search for bodies from the earlier hurricane, 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, St. Bernard Parish - heavily flooded by Katrina - water from the 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.

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NEW ORLEANS -- Hurricane Rita's wind and rain breached two of New Orleans' battered levees Friday and sent water gushing into already-devastated neighborhoods just days after they had been pumped dry. In the impoverished Ninth Ward, water streamed through gaps at least...
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