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In fearful New Orleans, a plea to focus on pumps

Published May 5, 2006

NEW ORLEANS - Drilling what resembles rows of bullet holes through old wooden floors and plaster walls, Matt and Maureen McBride were able to air-dry their flooded, 1920s bungalow-style house in the city's historic Broadmoor neighborhood.

They covered it with a tent and pumped the home full of bacteria- and mold-killing gas.

But the McBrides and other residents of low-lying neighborhoods fear their efforts could be for nothing if the city's system of pumping stations and drainage canals is not up to the job for the next hurricane season, less than a month away.

"Tens of thousands of people's lives could be affected because of a lack of pumping," said Matt McBride, a mechanical engineer who does research for the Broadmoor Improvement Association. "We shouldn't have to take it on the chin twice in two years."

New Orleans is guarded by a network of levees that defend against storm surges. The pumps and canals also channel excess rainfall out of the city.

More than 50 of those pumps were swamped by saltwater during Katrina. The pumps have been dried and tested, but reliability remains a question.

The Army Corps of Engineers is installing flood gates on three major drainage canals and spending most of its resources repairing flood walls and earthen levees that broke or were eroded during Hurricane Katrina.

But residents are urging the corps to install more pumps at the gates - and fast. Hurricane season begins June 1.

The corps, however, cannot spend money at will on the project, agency spokesman Paul Johnston said. First, it would have to acquire rights-of-way to make space for more pumps.

"Some people think the corps can do anything they want, anytime they want, and that isn't quite correct," Johnston said. "Moving interior drainage water always has been a local effort, not a federal project."

[Last modified May 5, 2006, 08:45:36]

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