NEW ORLEANS, La. (WWL-TV) – A fire that broke out Wednesday night in a turbine that provides power to most of the city’s pumping stations crippled that piece of equipment, leading city officials to warn of possible flooding today and during the weekend.
“We are at risk if we have a massive rain event that comes up on us at the last minute and creates the kind of flooding that we had,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said during a 2:50 a.m. press conference. “The power we have available to us now will not be sufficient enough to pump the city out in the time needed.”
Pumping stations in Algiers, the Lower 9th Ward and New Orleans East were not affected, Landrieu said, nor was drinking water or sewer service.
The city sent out an emergency alert to the phones of most residents at 3 a.m.
Following the announcement, several New Orleans area schools announced closures due to the potential of possible flooding. Click here for a full updated list of school closures.
Three of the five power-generating turbines at the Sewerage & Water Board’s South Claiborne Avenue plant were already offline when the fire broke out in one of the last remaining turbines about 8 p.m. Wednesday, Landrieu said.
He said the plant was now running on its last power source. “This is it,” Landrieu said.
Crews were working throughout the night to repair the turbine that caught on fire, the cause of which remained under investigation early Thursday.
The city’s police and fire departments and the Office of Homeland Security were on standby in case rains once again flooded city streets.
“We hope it doesn’t happen but we’re going to prepare for the worst,” Landrieu said.
The loss of the turbine was the latest blow to the S&WB, which came under fire in recent days after it was revealed that pumping capacity was reduced during floods on Saturday and July 22. S&WB officials had said that all pumps were operating at full capacity, claims that later turned out to out to be false.
S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant announced his retirement ahead of a special City Council meeting Tuesday, after which Landrieu announced he would seek to have S&WB General Superintendent Joe Becker and S&WB Communications Director Lisa Martin fired. He said he accepted the resignation of Col. Mark Jernigan, who heads up the Department of Public Works.
Landrieu said he would hold another press conference at 7 a.m. to update the situation.