Shay Karriem and Chancy Hence live within a few blocks of each other in the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, but they could not have been further apart in how they were dealing Tuesday with a slow-moving Hurricane Isaac.
Karriem packed up her car on the eve of Katrina’s seven-year anniversary and prepared to evacuate her rebuilt Urquhart Street home that was inundated by 17 feet of floodwater during the 2005 storm.
Hence, whose Tonti Street home literally floated away when a portion of the Industrial Canal flood wall collapsed on Aug. 29, 2005, secured his belongings outside his new, elevated Tennessee Street home as he prepared to ride out Isaac.
Hence and Karriem both evacuated in advance of Katrina.
Karriem, who lives a few blocks from the repaired Industrial Canal, was taking no chances with Isaac.
“I’m fearful of the levees. I don’t trust it (the Industrial Canal flood wall). I’d rather be safe than sorry. I’d rather evacuate,” Karriem, 47, said as she and her daughter, Sharde Whitley, 26, loaded up Karriem’s car.
Hence, 62, whose new home sits 8 feet off the ground thanks to 13 concrete pillars, expressed confidence in the work the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers performed on the Industrial Canal flood wall.
“They’ve done a lot of work that will keep it from coming down so easily,” he said after he took down a wooden swing that hangs under his carport and shoved it into a crowded storage building under the carport.
“Hopefully it won’t be too bad,” Hence said of Isaac. “It’s not a Katrina. It’s just a storm that will bring a lot of wind and rain.”
Hence said a march planned Wednesday in the Lower 9th Ward to commemorate Katrina’s anniversary was canceled.
“Hopefully we won’t have another one like that,” he said of Katrina. “Hopefully the storm won’t put anybody in the dark for too long.”
Gov. Bobby Jindal warned Tuesday afternoon that areas in the path of Isaac could experience tropical storm-force winds for 24 to 36 hours, in addition to several hours of hurricane force winds.
Jindal made those remarks after touring a massive pumping station built after Katrina near where the 17th Street Canal meets Lake Pontchartrain. The canal divides Orleans and Jefferson parishes. A section of the canal’s flood wall collapsed during Katrina, submerging the Lakeview area of New Orleans and a portion of Jefferson Parish.
The 17th Street Canal pumping station has 11 floodgates, which were expected to be closed late Tuesday, and 43 pumps.
Jindal toured the station with U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La.; New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu; Jefferson Parish President John Young; Col. Ed Fleming, commander of the Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans District; and others.
As the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board pumps water from the city into the 17th Street Canal, the pumping station at the mouth of the canal pumps that water into the lake, relieving pressure on the canal, Fleming said.
A contract has been awarded to replace the temporary pumping station with a permanent station, he said, adding that construction should take three years.
Jindal said the 17th Street Canal pumping station is part of $14.5 billion spent on flood improvements in the greater New Orleans area after Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city.
Jindal said Isaac’s rainfall will present a “huge challenge” to south Louisiana, and he urged residents to remain vigilant. He said the state has the available assets to conduct search and rescue missions if the need arises.
“We’re asking people to hunker down,” Landrieu said.
“This is an important test of our entire flood protection system,” Vitter added.
Colleen Reggio, who lives in an area of Lakeview called Lakewood North, said Isaac should be a “good rehearsal” for stronger storms in the future.
Reggio visited the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain with her two boys, 3-year-old Luke and 18-month-old Patrick, on Tuesday morning as Isaac’s winds churned the lake and forced water to explode over the concrete seawall steps.
Asked if she is concerned about the rebuilt 17th Street Canal flood wall, Reggio, 31, said, “Not at all. They’ve secured the levees. They’re better than they were before (Katrina).”
Reggio’s grandmother lost her Lakeview home to Katrina’s flooding.
Edgar Brown, 62, lived on Bellaire Drive — ground zero for the 17th Street Canal flood-wall failure — in 2005 and lost his home. He now lives in uptown New Orleans but was sitting Tuesday morning in the driveway of his girlfriend’s 38th Street home in Lakeview, just a block from the canal, monitoring the skies.
Brown described Isaac as a “test” for New Orleans’ rebuilt levees and flood walls.
“I don’t feel too confident about the (17th Street Canal) flood wall, but they’ve got the pumps” at the mouth, he said, adding that if the pumps were to fail, the canal’s flood wall would be in trouble.
Col. Fleming declared the pumping station ready for what Isaac brings, saying the station is regularly tested during hurricane season.
“We’re prepared for the worst; hoping and praying for the best,” Young said.