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New drainage realities have city and state rethinking evacuation plans

A driver waits for water to go down after flooding on Saturday. (FOX 8) A driver waits for water to go down after flooding on Saturday. (FOX 8)
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

State and local emergency managers are rethinking storm evacuation plans, prepared to possibly pull the trigger sooner and for smaller storms due to Orleans drainage problems. They're also taking a new look at evacuation contracts as residents continue their cleanup after the Aug. 5 flood.

Alfred Pennes cleans up his Treme family home, knowing it could happen again.

"Of course, I’m wary not for myself, but for the people not able to go to higher ground," he said.

Pennes' sister moved to Atlanta after Katrina and never came back, and he hopes that next time it's not him. Recent revelations about non-working pumps and turbines make him fearful.

"When this circumstance came to light, it brought about the fact that additional or modified plans had to be made," said Chris Guilbeau with the Governor's Office of Homeland Security.

City of New Orleans spokeswoman Erin Burns released the following statement:

“We are actively monitoring the tropical weather and reassessing our plans for a variety of scenarios in partnership with GOHSEP, FEMA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Guard and other agencies.”

State officials acknowledge that given the city's drainage problems, they might have to move up evacuation timelines in lesser tropical storms.

"What we would probably do is start New Orleans a little earlier because of the diminished capacity of the pumps," said Guilbeau.

That's because they say New Orleans evacuation decisions have to be made with other parishes in mind to maintain staging, which allows lower-lying parishes to get out first.

"The biggest change is the timing, and what exact type of storm may cause an evacuation," said Guilbeau.

"There’s a stair-step approach, and it’s difficult," said Terry Ebbert, the city's former homeland security director.

He said with diminished drainage capacity, provisions should be made for the elderly and sick sooner than before.

When it comes to possible future evacuations, emergency managers say now more than ever it's a good idea to have a plan. They say they may be more likely than before to order an evacuation given the city's current situation.

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