NEW ORLEANS – The widespread flooding that inundated many parts of New Orleans on Wednesday astounded even longtime residents of a city that frequently withstands the brunt of hurricanes and tropical storms.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell declared a State of Emergency due to “intense thunderstorms, and the further potential for tropical or hurricane force winds and further thunderstorms”.
“New Orleans may experience more widespread localized severe flooding and gale force winds that could result in the endangerment and threat of life, injury and possible property damage,” Cantrell added.
By early morning, the city had called off work for non-essential employees as streets and sidewalks began to fill with water from the constant onslaught of rain. The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans said the city had received more than eight inches of rainfall within a three-hour period.
“This morning’s rain came down at an extraordinary rate,” the agency wrote on Twitter. “As an example on Mother’s Day, we received 4.5 inches in 3 hours, today was nearly double.”
Resident Jena Smith said she was lucky to not have been flooded, but it was a close call for her.
“I left my house early and made it to the office, otherwise my entire car would have been underwater,” she said. “Everybody else got stranded all over the city. It’s just crazy.”
The Mississippi River, which runs through the city, has been engorged for months as snowmelt and rainfall make their way down from the Midwest. Smith said she’s concerned about flooding due to the high water levels and a strengthening tropical system moving along the Gulf Coast that could develop into a Category 1 hurricane.
“It’s a little disconcerting, knowing how high the river is,” Smith said as she looked out onto the Mississippi River. “With the river being so high and pumping stations having issues, areas of the cities that never flooded are flooding now.”
Wayne Harris, visiting from Toronto, said he was a fan of rainfall. However, he really wanted to enjoy his week-long New Orleans vacation in the sun. So, he was hoping the weather system possibly headed in the city’s direction doesn’t stick around for long.
“A couple of days wouldn’t bother me, but it’d be nice if it cleared out of here in a couple of days so we could do a lot more sightseeing and stuff,” he said.
His friend Cathy Ross said she was far less enthused by the impending storm.
“[We have] lots of sightseeing and things planned and I want to be able to get out and do what we’ve planned and what we paid for,” she said.
In the Gert Town section of the city, residents swept up the debris that heavy rain had carried over to their homes. Streets were flooded with water that had slowly begun trickling down sewer drains.
“This is nothing compared to how high the water was,” said a resident who identified herself as just Nancy, as she pointed to a water line that was about a foot high.
Smith said the idea of another Hurricane Katrina-like disaster has crossed her mind, but she’s staying optimistic. Otherwise, she said, you have to let the tropical system run its course.
“I think people in New Orleans have figured out, you just ride with it,” she said. “Take precautions and that’s about all you can do.”