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Pumps to Expel Remaining New Orleans Water

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Breaches in three levees and retaining walls caused most of the flooding in New Orleans. NPR's Greg Allen visited the 17th Street Canal today, where the floodwaters are finally under control.

(Soundbite of running water)

GREG ALLEN reporting:

This is a sound New Orleans had been waiting more than week to hear.

(Soundbite of running water)

ALLEN: Greenish-black, evil-smelling water rushes from a pipe some four feet in diameter. The pipe is channeling water from the flooded Lakeview neighborhood back into Lake Pontchartrain. Engineers are beginning to pump the floodwaters out of New Orleans. A contractor, Flowserve, installed the pump. Flowserve manager Jay Ready(ph) says they're preparing three or four more.

Mr. JAY READY (Manager, Flowserve): We're going to have to dig under and put the pumps in the water on that side and pump back into the Pontchartrain side of the bridge.

ALLEN: And so just basically get the water out of the canal, just start pumping it?

Mr. READY: Right. No--well, we're not trying to get it out of the canal; we're trying to get it out of New Orleans.

(Soundbite of helicopter; siren)

ALLEN: The 17th Street Canal is one of New Orleans' most important. It connect Lake Pontchartrain with the city's extensive drainage system. On the east side of the canal, houses are still flooded to the tops of their windows; boats are the only way to get around. From the canal's west side, you can see the 600-foot hole that Hurricane Katrina opened in the flood wall. The area outside of Saia's on the Lake restaurant has been turned into a staging area for levee repairs. Helicopters fly out carrying 50,000-pound sandbags, dump trucks trundle in and out and cranes are lowering material into the breach. Scott Blanchard is with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Mr. SCOTT BLANCHARD (Army Corps of Engineers): We brought in a lot of riffraff stone and bridged the gap to close it. We have to close the gap before we start pumping because if not, we'll just pump the water right back into the city.

ALLEN: The 17th Street Canal levee is one of three broken when Hurricane Katrina pounded New Orleans eight days ago. Blanchard says New Orleans' levees were designed to handle a Category 3 hurricane; Katrina was a strong Category 4.

Mr. BLANCHARD: During the hurricane, the storm surge came up to the top of the concrete walls here and the walls couldn't handle the pressure. So basically for that 600 foot of reach, the wall fell. And when it fell, it dumped water into the center of the city of New Orleans.

ALLEN: Yesterday, after working here for a week, engineers finally plugged the breach in this canal. Now they're beginning to work nearby on another broken levee, the London Street Canal. Another crew is working to fill a big hole on the east side of town in the Industrial Canal levee, a breach that claimed untold lives when it flooded New Orleans' 9th Ward.

(Soundbite of vehicle engine)

ALLEN: On a bridge over the canal, Gerald Lewis(ph) is helping load a crane that is lowering huge sandbags onto a barge. Like most of those here, he lives in New Orleans.

Mr. GERALD LEWIS (New Orleans Resident): I live in Charenton, where the water is. This water here goes from there to my house. You can...

ALLEN: You can take a boat to your house then, huh?

Mr. LEWIS: Right, yeah. We flooded out, too. Yep.

ALLEN: Along with plugging the broken levees, the Army Corps of Engineers is also assisting the city in getting its aging pumping system back on line. Of the city's 40 pumping stations, right now only 10 are working. The largest one on this canal has a burned-out motor. Even when all the flood wall breaches are filled and all the pumps are working again, the Army of Corps of Engineers says it will still take between 24 and 80 days to get all of the water out of the city. And recovery efforts--fixing the power lines, communications, restoring running water--can't begin until all of the water is gone. John Wayne Stewart(ph) is one of those working at the levee.

Mr. JOHN WAYNE STEWART (Worker): There's no quick fix to this situation, man. It's here now and it's--we're doing everything we can to get it out, you know. And it ain't going to be fast. You know, there's a lot of water in the city.

ALLEN: But right here, on the east bank of the 17th Street Canal, Stewart says, is the starting point of the long road back. Greg Allen, NPR News, New Orleans.

BLOCK: Details about New Orleans' levee system are at our Web site, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.