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Weather

New Orleans rain raises new flooding fears
submitted by Bennett
September 22, 2005 | 11:34 AM


Outer bands of rain from Hurricane Rita began lashing New Orleans on Thursday, the first rainfall since Katrina, raising fears that the patched-up levee system could fail and swamp the below-sea-level city all over again.

A direct hit from Hurricane Rita was still unlikely, but the Category 5 storm veered on a more northerly course toward a Saturday landfall in Texas and a tropical storm warning extended as far east as New Orleans. Already, forecasts for southeast Louisiana called for between 3 and 5 inches of rain.

Engineers have warned that the fractured levees can only handle up to 6 inches of rain and a storm surge of 10 to 12 feet.

"We're already getting a few spotty showers in the New Orleans area," meteorologist Robert Ricks said. "There are going to be brief periods of brief heavy downpours as these squall bands move through."

The new forecast added urgency to continuing efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers to shore up levees with sandbags and add portable pumps through the city in anticipation of more flooding.

"Right now, it's a wait and see and hope for the best," said Corps spokesman Mitch Frazier.

If the levees fail again, the areas of New Orleans that are most likely to flood are the same neighborhoods inundated by Katrina, many of which have been dry for less than a week.

"If it's a quick, fast rain, we'll see localized flooding," Frazier said. "There no doubt about that."

The process of getting the water from Katrina out is 90 percent complete and the Corps is confident it will be able to quickly pump water out again, he said.

Searchers looking for bodies continued smashing into homes that had been locked or submerged under Katrina's highest floodwaters, pushing the overall body count past 1,000.

The death toll in Louisiana alone stood at 799 on Wednesday, an increase of 153 since the weekend and nearly 80 percent of the 1,036 deaths attributed to Katrina across the Gulf Coast region.

Officials said the body search could last another four to six weeks and could yield many more dead.

"There still could be quite a few, especially in the deepest flooded areas," said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jeffrey Pettitt. "Some of the houses, they haven't been in yet."

Mark Heimann, a FEMA field spokesman, said the searches will continue, but officials were keeping a close eye on the weather. Special reconnaissance teams are looking for solid buildings in search areas in case rescuers need to rush to higher ground.

"It's almost impossible to predict," Heimann said.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin continued to urge residents to get out of the city. A mandatory evacuation order is in effect for the entire east bank of the Mississippi, and some 500 buses were standing by at the convention center, but few seemed to be taking advantage. Only 27 people had been evacuated by the end of Wednesday.

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