City braces for worst after lone fully functional pumping turbine damaged by fire

NEW ORLEANS - With the Sewerage and Water Board’s lone fully operational turbine used to power its pumps sidelined by a fire, the city is bracing for the worst.

A fire around 8 p.m. on August 9 damaged Turbine 1, according to Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

The drainage system’s other two turbines have both been damaged in recent months, which greatly contributed to last week’s severe flooding, Landrieu said at a press conference this morning.

“There were two turbines that were out before, and this was the third turbine,” Landrieu said. “That turbine actually went out, so we had diminished power capacity before. This further diminished the power capacity.”

With the final turbine damaged and rain in the forecast for today, Landrieu said it is time for residents on the East Bank of Orleans to prepare for the possibility of severe flooding.

“The system’s capacity to drain stormwater from the streets is diminished further for the East Bank of New Orleans, west of the Industrial Canal,” Landrieu said. “We are running on our last backup power source at the moment.”

New Orleans East, the Lower Ninth Ward, and Algiers are not affected by the diminished drainage capacity, but the rest of the city should be on high alert.

“Due to the potential rainfall forecast by the National Weather service over the course of the next day, I am urging residents in the affected area to move their vehicles to higher ground, take necessary actions to protect personal property, and stay off the roadways during rainstorms unless an emergency makes it absolutely necessary to do so.”

Drinking water and sewerage services are not affected by the turbine damage, Landrieu said, and crews are working overtime to restore full and backup power to all pumping stations across the city.

“We’re going to do everything in our power over the next few hours to secure this additional equipment, and to get the plant back in order,” he said.

As long as the power supply from Entergy remains steady, the system will be able to handle a “typical rainfall,” Landrieu said.

The flooding that happened last Saturday, where over nine inches of rain fell in a few hours, would be far beyond the pump’s capacity in even the best situation, and catastrophic right now, Landrieu said.

“The event that we had last week actually poured more water on the city than Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “That is a catastrophic event - five to nine inches, which is almost impossible to handle for almost any pumping system in the world within a reasonable period of time, although the lower capacity of the pumps made it stay a little longer. We would not be able to handle that level of capacity right now with the power that we have, which is why it is really important not only to get this turbine back up, but for the rest of hurricane season, backup generators so that we’re not in this position again.”