- The Washington Times - Friday, September 23, 2005

NEW ORLEANS — Surging water driven by Hurricane Rita topped and breached patched levees yesterday, newly flooding two briefly dry but deserted neighborhoods that were devastated by Katrina.

The patched section of the 17th Street Canal levee off Lake Pontchartrain, whose failure ultimately led to the final evacuation of the city, appeared to be holding firm into early last night.

The Army Corps of Engineers said it couldn’t immediately reach and repair damage to both the Industrial Canal and London Avenue Canal, saying pumps had been turned on, and that there was no indication other areas were endangered.

“When the wind turns and the wind shifts as the hurricane passes, we believe that you’ll see a reduction of the overtopping,” Louisiana Transportation and Development Secretary John Bradberry said.

Corps officials said the new damage will delay by about three weeks repairs to the levee system, which are expected to be back to pre-Katrina levels by June. The city, once 80 percent underwater, was nearly dry before Rita began rolling in yesterday.

Downtown was all but deserted yesterday afternoon, with most hotels on the edge of the French Quarter having evacuated employees and guests in anticipation of new floods and tropical-storm-level winds last night.

Three tan Oregon National Guard tanks slowly circled the French Quarter, where businesses and bars were boarded up. Some appeared intent on hunkering down through the storm. “Strip club, open for business,” was spray-painted outside one Bourbon Street club, although no lights were on inside.

Most residents have not been permitted to return to New Orleans since Katrina hit on Aug. 29, and some of the hundreds that did had been asked to leave again.

The new floodwaters had risen to beyond waist-deep by yesterday afternoon in the 9th Ward, which was one of the areas of the city hit hardest by Katrina’s floodwaters.

Officials have said they believed the neighborhood had been cleared of residents. Many residents were housed at a Baptist church in Lafayette. The city, west of New Orleans, is expected to be hit hard by Rita.

Several residents were watching the TV news at the church as the canal levee was overflowing yesterday. “It’s like looking at a murder,” Quentrell Jefferson said, according to wire service reports. “The first time is bad. After that, you numb up.”

Body-recovery and rescue team searches were suspended yesterday. Previous discoveries had the death toll from Hurricane Katrina pushed to 841 in Louisiana and to at least 1,078 across the Gulf Coast.

Engineers have been working furiously the past three weeks to close breaches in canal walls in New Orleans by dumping sandbags, large rocks, gravel and sheet metal into the openings. Ongoing reinforcement work on the Industrial Canal, which connects Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River, was also stalled yesterday.

“It’s raining very, very hard. It’s windy, it’s tough to get equipment in there,” Mr. Bradberry told reporters in Baton Rouge. “We stood down all of our people in the area, so that we could get those people out of harm’s way.”

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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