John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 15, 2009

John Howell Sr.

Rain overpowers N’awlins pumps, not Saints fans

Fog and low clouds shrouding New Orleans on a warm Sunday afternoon left us adrift from the usual moorings of time of day and season of year. There was no hint of the sun’s position in the sky through the thick shroud as we walked down Magazine Street. The tee shirt that matched the temperature seemed not to match the Christmas lights hung about.

Shoppers were far more sparse than usual on the second Sunday before Christmas, still reeling, no doubt from the torrential rains of the day before. Trains of rains formed in the Gulf had passed over New Orleans for hours on Saturday and Saturday night, dumping as much as eight inches in some places flooding streets, homes and businesses.

The pumping system designed to move all that rainwater out of this low-lying city works well in most rains. Extended heavy rain simply overwhelms it. The pumps can handle one inch the first hour and half an inch an hour afterwards. Occasionally the rain comes much harder and faster, as it did Saturday. Pumps are overwhelmed for a time. While they catch up, water backs up in streets and gutters.

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Flotsam lining sidewalks Sunday on Magazine Street evidenced that the water had stretched from the sidewalk on one side of the street to the  sidewalk opposite at the highest level of its rise, turning the street into a stream. Streets are built up highest in the middle to flow the water into storm drains built into the curbs. The depth of the water next to some of those curbs can be a problem for vehicles with low ground clearance.

Of course a partial explanation for the absence of people on Magazine Street Sunday afternoon could be the Saints game. It had not long been over when we walked. People might have not yet unglued themselves from the TV. The Saints had won their 13th straight, not pretty but still a win.

And Drew Brees had been selected as King of the Bacchus Parade Feb. 14. That’s the Sunday before Fat Tuesday, Feb. 16. And one week after Super Bowl XLIV. Hmmm.