‘Up to my kneecaps in water’: New Orleans slammed with heavy rains, flooding streets

Heavy rains swamped New Orleans on Sunday, inundating streets, stranding cars and temporarily shutting down all public streetcar and bus service.  

Three to 4 inches of rain fell across the city, according to the National Weather Service, which had warned of “life-threatening” flash flooding Saturday night into Sunday.

About 11,500 New Orleans residents were without power at the height of the storm, NOLA.com reported. By Sunday afternoon, the worst of the system was moving into the Florida Panhandle, the weather service said, and New Orleans shifted to recovery mode.    

Governors in Louisiana and Mississippi have declared states of emergency.

Heather Wright, 48, a lifelong New Orleans resident, opened her door at 5 a.m. and couldn’t believe what she saw. Though Wright lives in the middle of a street, which rises a bit and puts her home at higher elevation, water was gushing over the curb and gutter. 

A few hours later, the storm broke and the water receded. Still, Wright said, she can walk three or four doors down “and I’m up to my kneecaps in water, easily.” 

It’s been wet all over the Gulf Coast the past few days because of a series of storm systems, and New Orleans was one of the areas hit hardest. That’s becoming a regular occurrence, Wright said.  

“I’m a 6th-generational New Orleanean,” she said. “It used to be that every few years, we’d get these big floods in May. Now it’s constant. Any time there’s major rain, we stress. It’s becoming an issue where people are literally afraid when thunderstorms come – we don’t know if the streets are going to become impassable, if water is going to enter our homes or our businesses.” 

Wright hears more friends talking about moving farther outside the city or leaving New Orleans. Living here is like “being in a bad marriage,” she said.

“You want to stay, because there are times it’s so good,” said Wright, an artist and jewelry maker. “Then there are other times where it’s so, so bad – but you don’t know how to leave. This city has just become so dysfunctional.” 

The city, which urged residents to park on high ground and not attempt to drive through submerged areas, encouraged residents to follow its emergency preparedness Twitter account. As floodwaters receded, officials warned of downed power lines and standing water. The Regional Transit Authority, which had shut down bus and streetcars earlier in the day, restored some services by Sunday afternoon.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell said more than 5 inches of rain fell from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. with bouts of heavy rainfall of 2 inches an hour. The city was offering free vehicle towing after the storm, Cantrell said. 

Wright believes in climate change but says the flooding problems in her city go beyond science. 

“I think what has happened is that the sewage and water board has been mishandled for so long, and by so many majors, that it is a a broken system – literally,” Wright said. “I don’t know at this point what can be done, other than the city hitting the lottery. … How do you pay for a rotting infrastructure?” 

At least half of New Orleans is at or below sea level and suffered catastrophic flooding in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The Mississippi Highway Patrol also closed part of Highway 49 in Stone County on Sunday morning because of flooding, and many residents in the area were forced out of their homes because of high water. The flooding might have contributed to the derailment of a freight train near Lumberton, about 90 miles northeast of New Orleans, local media reported. The train derailed a little after 7 a.m. Saturday.

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