City Council blasts S&WB leaders for response to extensive flooding

RAW: Council demands answers about pumps, flooding

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - City leaders answered questions from council members and a feisty crowd at a special meeting Tuesday about the response to extensive flooding in New Orleans.

It came minutes after a dramatic announcement from Sewerage and Water Board Executive Director Cedric Grant. He said he was retiring after learning that his staff was not "forthright" about the pumps.

The council heard from a meteorologist from the National Weather Service first who said they could have benefited from more rain gauges to gather data.

New Orleans Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Director Aaron Miller then provided a timeline of events, saying the rain started at 2 p.m. The first city alerts about the flash flood warning went out approximately two hours later.

City Councilman Jason Williams asked why the alert was sent out almost an hour after the first 911 calls regarding flooding. Miller said they needed more data.

He said the calls for assistance were "overwhelming," sucking up NOPD resources.

Miller said the city is checking to see if residents and businesses would be eligible for federal aid due to flood damage.

The president of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, Naaman Craig Stewart, spoke about the flooding on Broad St. near the clubhouse. He was frustrated because of the proximity of the pumps to the building – about two blocks.

"It's like living across the street from the fire station and your house burns down," Stewart said.

Next up was Grant, who caused a stir when his name was called and he was not in chambers. Once he was seated, he read a statement about the storm and his retirement.

He said it took the city 14 hours to drain. He also said 14 pumps - 8 of which are drainage pumps - were out of service for maintenance, including four in Lakeview. He originally said there was a total of seven out of service on the night of the storm.

"I have the largest municipal drainage pumping station in the world and I can pump about a half of inch of rain per hour," said S&WB General Superintendent Joseph Becker. "It cannot handle nine and a half inches of rain in less than a three hour time period."

He said he would need six times the drainage that the city currently has to keep up with a rain event like what happened Saturday.

Gray accused Becker of giving misleading answers about the capacity of certain pumps after he gave inconsistent information to the council. Councilman James Gray demanded a public apology. Becker immediately apologized on behalf of the S&WB.

City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell asked Becker if he can restore public confidence in the S&WB. Becker said "absolutely." Gray said he is not sure he can trust Becker in the future following their exchange at the hearing.

The council also asked Director of Public Works Lt. Col. Mark Jernigan about work cleaning the catch basins. He said his department did not have the resources.

Cleanup continued of rain damaged homes and businesses across the city. As trash remains on the streets, concerns also remain about the flooding response.

Monday, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu joined Governor John Bel Edwards touring some of the hardest hit locations around the city. The mayor was not at the council meeting, but later called for sweeping changes at the S&WB.

Some neighborhoods saw between eight and 10 inches of rain on Saturday, devastating some homes and businesses.

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