Tuesday, December 12, 2017

In southern La., residents blame levees for floods

LAPLACE, La. — At the urging of residents who have long felt forgotten in the shadow of more densely populated New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers says it will look into whether the city's fortified defenses pushed floodwaters provoked by Hurricane Isaac into outlying areas.

However, the Corps has said it is unlikely scientific analysis will confirm that theory, suggested not only by locals, but also by some of the state's most powerful politicians.

Instead, weather experts say a unique set of circumstances about the storm — not the floodwalls surrounding the New Orleans metro area — had more to do with flooding neighborhoods that in recent years have never been under water because of surge from the storm, which came ashore Aug. 28 as a Category 1 hurricane with 80-mph winds.

Isaac was a large, slow-moving storm that wobbled across the state's coast for about 2½ days, pumping water into back bays and lakes, and leaving thousands of residents under water outside the massive levee system protecting metropolitan New Orleans. Isaac was blamed for seven deaths and damaged thousands of homes on the Gulf Coast.

As of Tuesday afternoon, electrical power had been restored to 98 percent of customers, officials said. About 38,000 customers remained without electricity, down from 900,000 at the storm's peak. Fewer than 1,600 people remained in shelters, down from a high of about 6,000.

The Corps' study was prompted by the suggestion that Isaac's surge bounced off the levees and floodgates built since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and walloped communities outside the city's ramparts.

In towns including the bedroom community of LaPlace, people want answers. There, communities were under water even though they had never before flooded because of storm surge.

"It has a lot of us questioning," said Ed Powell, a 47-year-old airport emergency worker who has lived in LaPlace for 15 years and had never seen flooding on his street until Isaac hit.

On Friday, U.S. Sen. David Vitter asked the Corps to commission an independent study to determine if the new floodwalls, gates and higher levees around greater New Orleans caused water to stack up elsewhere.

The Corps is expected to complete its study within two months, said U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who joined Vitter in calling for the study. The Corps said it was too early to say how much the study would cost. The agency said Corps researchers would conduct the study and that it will be peer-reviewed.

Information from the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.

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