Mayor Mitch Landrieu is already pushing back on Sewerage & Water Board Executive Director Cedric Grant’s comments blaming weekend flooding on global warming. The mayor said Grant’s comments were made “in the spirit of the moment” and “a little out of context.”
“That may have a little bit to do with it,” Landrieu said during an afternoon news conference alongside Gov. John Bel Edwards outside Willie Mae’s restaurant, which flooded during Saturday’s rain event. “Generally speaking when you have a major event like this … when you have 5 to 9 inches of rain in three or four hours’ period of time, we’re going to have a water event.”
Landrieu also acknowledged that there is “scuttlebutt” about whether the city’s pumps were working at full capacity, and said he had already ordered an “after-action report” to investigate whether the city could have done more to prevent Saturday’s floods.
“I can say with a lot of confidence that we have one of the best pumping systems in the world, but we find out if there was a problem.” Landrieu said. “Having said that, the city was going to flood anyway from this particular event. Unfortunately, this particular area got flooded twice in two weeks, which leads to anxiety.”
Landrieu’s comments acknowledged growing skepticism about whether the city is prepared to handle major rain events, and especially hurricanes, as areas of the city that are unaccustomed to regular flooding are seeing waters rise. Landmark properties near Willie Mae’s, including the Broad Theater and the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, flooded on Saturday after dealing with flooding two weeks ago.
The mayor cautioned against drawing conclusions from the flooding too soon, saying that “we’ll be fully transparent and we will communicate to the public what, if anything, needs to be fixed.”
“I will remind everybody that we are in a multi-billion dollar rebuild of our entire sewage, water and drainage system,” Landrieu said. “We’ll figure out what, if anything, anybody did wrong. The water was still going to rise and there was still going to be damage.”
Asked whether the mayor’s comments about whether the pumps were working at capacity undermined the previous information provided by the Sewerage & Water Board, Deputy Mayor Ryan Berni said he didn’t think so.
“I think part of this — one of the things we’ve been doing all morning — is trying to understand exactly where we were before Saturday, what was working on Saturday and what was not,” Berni said. “There are always situations where we have our individual pumps, individual turbines that are being out or being serviced or being rebuilt. So I think when people hear those kinds of things, they automatically assume the capacity isn’t where it should be.”
But Berni said there was not yet any evidence to suggest that the city could have prevented the flooding, although he acknowledged that the flooding in areas like Lakeview was a cause for concern.
“We always know that there is consistently folks who doubt what Sewerage & Water Board says,” Berni said. “What we’re trying to do is what can we put on paper to prove that as much capacity that was needed was actually on and working at the time.”
After the news conference, Edwards and Landrieu toured the neighborhood where businesses and homes were flooded. Edwards and Landrieu stopped to chat with people cleaning out their cars and homes, and dropped in at the Broad Theater and the Zulu pleasure club.