On Katrina anniversary, New Orleans braces for Harvey

NEW ORLEANS, USA – New Orleans on Tuesday, August 29, marked 12 years since Hurricane Katrina slammed into the US Gulf Coast, as the low-lying city braced for a potentially devastating new impact by Harvey later this week.

As the storm churned over warm Gulf waters, meteorologists predicted that Harvey would make landfall for a second time late Tuesday or early Wednesday, August 30, over Louisiana, the state directly east of Texas.

Two inches (5 centimeters) of rain had already fallen by Tuesday morning in Louisiana's most vulnerable city New Orleans, which lies below sea level and stays dry through a network of pumps, which have been plagued by a string of failures in recent weeks. 

Forecasters predicted flash flooding in the city famous for its jazz music and cuisine, where Katrina caused widespread devastation in 2005, killing 1,800 people and causing $108 billion in damage.  

"Today, we are a resilient city with greater resolve, but we remain vigilant in the face of another threatening storm," New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. 

Schools and public buildings were closed, and the mayor urged residents to remain home and off the streets. Many had already been filling sandbags for days.  

"There are some forecasts for up to 10 inches of rain over the next 36 hours or so for New Orleans. I would definitely not be surprised if it became more than that," meteorologist Eric Holthaus told Agence France-Presse.

Problematic pumps

A predicted storm surge of up to two feet (more than half a meter) was also a concern, because it could keep rivers from quickly draining all of the rainwater out, said Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.

"This is going to continue to be a heavy rain and flood event," Edwards said at a news conference. "It has tremendous potential to continue to drop heavy amounts of water."

New Orleans held its collective breath, hoping to avoid the destruction brought on by Katrina, which flooded 80% of the city, leaving an indelible mark. 

Still bearing Katrina's scars, Louisiana's so-called "Cajun Navy" – a caravan of volunteers in trucks towing boats – went to Houston over the weekend to help with rescues.  

"No city welcomed more New Orleanians following Katrina than Houston, and our hearts break for them as Hurricane Harvey displaces so many of their citizens," Landrieu said.

The Air National Guard has positioned 400 airmen in Louisiana. New Orleans had 40 boats and 20 high-water vehicles at the ready for Harvey's onslaught. 

New Orleans officials expressed cautious optimism that water pumps would be able to handle the deluge, even though 6 inches of rain Monday, August 28, led to some localized flooding. 

In early August, the city's hobbled drainage system failed to contain rain from a thunderstorm, leading to flooding that caught many residents by surprise. 

Since then, the city has been racing to repair the system, bringing all but 13 of its 120 pumps back into operation and fixing the antiquated electrical power supply – a part of which was still being repaired Tuesday. 

There were problems Monday with one of the drainage pumps, which overheated and had to be taken offline. It was quickly repaired, officials said, and was ready for Tuesday's rains. – Rappler.com