By ALLEN G. BREED, Associated Press Writer
Hurricane Rita's wind-driven storm surge topped one of New Orleans'
battered levees and poked holes in another Friday, sending water
gushing into already-devastated neighborhoods just days after they had
been pumped dry.
An initial surge of water cascaded over a patched levee protecting the
impoverished Ninth Ward, flooding the abandoned neighborhood with at
least 6 feet of water. As Army Corps of Engineers employees watched
with disgusted looks, their 'temporary, emergency repairs' smashed by
the latest hurricane.
"Our worst fears came true," said Maj. Barry Guidry, a National
Guardsman on duty at the broken levee.
Leaks beneath another levee that was repaired with rock and gravel
after Hurricane Katrina flooded homes with at least a half-foot of
water. Meanwhile, wind-whipped waves pushed water from Lake
Pontchartrain over a seawall and rain runoff with no outlet pooled in
Evacuees from the misery-stricken city learned of the new flooding
"It's like looking at a murder," Quentrell Jefferson of the Ninth Ward
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 flooding 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 fought hours of gridlock to get out of Texas were
frustrated to find they had to keep going to stay out of the storm,
which was expected to make landfall early Saturday.
Lake Charles, not far from Rita's predicted path along the
Texas-Louisiana line, was a virtual ghost town, as were the coastal
parishes. Before nightfall, squalls were flattening sugar cane fields
and knocking over trees near New Iberia, about 110 miles west of New
There were fears the storm would stall after coming ashore, dumping as
much as 25 inches of rain over the next several days.
In New Orleans, water poured through gaps in the Industrial Canal
levee, which engineers had tried to repair after Katrina's floodwaters
left 80 percent of the city under water. The rushing water covered
piles of rubble and mud-caked cars in the Ninth Ward, rising swiftly
to the top of first-floor windows. It spilled east into St. Bernard
Parish, where ducks swam down Judge Perez Drive.
The storm surge was both stronger and earlier than expected,
apparently coming through waterways southeast of the city, said
Col. Richard Wagenaar, the Army Corps of Engineers' district chief in
New Orleans. Water poured over piles of gravel and sandbags in the
damaged Industrial Canal levee despite efforts to build it up.
"We believed the 8-foot elevation was sufficient" to protect the Ninth
Ward, Wagenaar said.
Farther north, water 6 to 8 inches deep was streaming into homes south
of Lake Pontchartrain, spouting from beneath two gravel-and-rock
patches on the London Avenue Canal levee. Corps engineers said they
expected the leaks.
"It's a rock levee," said Richard Pinner, who is supervising the
levee's repair for the corps.
Officials with the corps said other levees around the city appeared
secure. The problems would set back repairs at least three weeks,
Wagenaar said, but June is still the target for getting the levees
back to pre-Katrina strength.
In New Orleans, forecasters said the hurricane could bring 4 to 8
inches of rain, enough to put the patched levees at more risk. An
added fear was that another strong storm surge would push water
through the walls in other places. Still, the city may have escaped
worse damage because it was not in the direct path of Hurricane Rita,
said Tim Destri of the National Weather Service in Slidell.
"It's a combination of wind-driven water and tides," he said. "It's
not the sudden storm surge of the hurricane."
The water level in Lake Ponchartrain -- about 4.5 above sea level on
Friday afternoon - likely will not rise much more but will remain high
enough to pose a continued danger to the "flimsy" repairs, said Paul
Kemp, a storm-surge expert at Louisiana State University.
The additional flooding brought by Hurricane Rita also would
complicate the search for the dead left by Hurricane Katrina.
"It's going to make it a lot tougher," said Richard Dier, a FEMA group
supervisor who oversees hundreds of people searching for bodies. "We'd
like to start where we left off, but my men don't submerge or go into
houses with deep water. It makes searching almost impossible ..."
The search-and-recovery effort was called off Friday morning as the
storm approached. On Friday, Katrina's death toll stand at 841 in
Louisiana and 1,078 across the Gulf Coast.
A mandatory evacuation order was in effect for the part of New Orleans
on the east bank of the Mississippi River, including the Ninth Ward. A
spokeswoman for Mayor Ray Nagin said officials believed the
neighborhood had been cleared of residents.
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
"Everybody's home's been crushed, and let's hope their dreams aren't,"
EDITOR'S NOTE - Allen G. Breed is the AP's Southeast regional writer.
Associated Press writers Mary Foster, Adam Nossiter and Michelle Roberts in
New Orleans, Brett Martel in Lake Charles, Julia Silverman in Lafayette,
La., and Janet McConnaughey in Baton Rouge, La., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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