New Orleans mayor warns residents to stay alert for Lee

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 03, 2011 5:33 PM
New Orleans mayor warns residents to stay alert for Lee

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Sunlight repeatedly broke through the clouds Saturday afternoon as the rainfall and winds from Tropical Storm Lee eased, but local officials warned citizens not to drop their guard.

"Don't go to sleep on this storm," New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said during a press briefing.

He said the city had received six to eight inches of rain and seen sustained winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour, with gusts of 67 miles per hour recorded at New Orleans City Hall.

Tides are running as much as five feet above normal, pushing water into low-lying coastal areas south of the city and raising the water level in Lake Pontchartrain at the city's northern edge.

"The message today is that we are not out of the woods, notwithstanding the fact that the sun was shining a half-hour ago," Landrieu said.

The mayor warned that stormy conditions could continue for the next 36 hours. For Saturday night, "we can expect to get what we got last night," he said, including flooding, high tides and an elevated risk of tornadoes.

The prospect of flooding in low-lying New Orleans has evoked memories of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded 80 percent of the city, killed 1,500 people and caused more than $80 billion in damage in 2005. Half of the city lies below sea level and is protected by a system of levees and flood gates.

All drainage pumps and pumping stations in the city were operating normally, Landrieu said. One pumping station on the west bank of the Mississippi River operated on generator power for several hours Saturday morning during a power outage, he said.

Utility company Entergy spokesman Charles Rice said about 6,000 households remained without power in New Orleans and about 8,000 lacked power in next-door Jefferson Parish as of 12:30 p.m. local time. All of the utility's crews are at work, he said.

More than 38,000 households lost power at some point during the last 24 hours, the company reported earlier.

Rice made reference to a major local television event coming up Saturday evening, the season-opening football game between Louisiana State University and the University of Oregon, being played at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.

"We are going to do everything in our power to make sure as many people have power at 7 p.m. as possible," Rice said with a laugh.

Landrieu said so far water has been reported in only a very few local homes in low-lying spots in the Uptown area and along Bayou St. John.

Streetcar service along St. Charles Avenue, Canal Street and Carrollton Avenue was discontinued earlier in the day because of tree limbs and debris on some tracks, and city buses are providing service along those lines, he said.

"This storm is moving painfully slow," Landrieu said. "The greatest risk for us is to get a lot of rain in a very short period of time," thus overwhelming the drainage pumps.

"A lot of the loss of life and property occurs when people are not paying attention," he said. He advised citizens to remain vigilant and pay close attention to news and weather reports.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton)