(TNS) - Thursday morning came a little earlier than usual for many New Orleanians, as cellphones across town lit up about 3 a.m. with some distressing news: A fire at the city’s water plant had knocked out a power source for most of the system’s pumps, leaving New Orleans at high risk of flooding for the next 24 to 48 hours.
Many schools canceled classes and turned students away. Storm-weary residents, meanwhile, began moving cars to high spots many didn’t know existed until last weekend’s deluge flooded homes, businesses and cars in Mid-City, Lakeview, the 7th Ward and Treme, among other neighborhoods.
“Everyone’s just gotta be extra cautious,” said Jim Dennis, who was picking up a friend on Gov. Nicholls Street on Thursday morning. “If you think that rain’s gonna come and it’s gonna come hard, you should just stay inside.”
The sounds of shovels scraping asphalt could be heard on several blocks as residents cleared catch basins and eyed the occasional low, dark clouds that skirted beneath a backdrop of vibrant blue and white.
Cars had been pulled up onto curbs, in one case with a phone number scrawled on a scrap of paper left on the dashboard.
“I’m just worried about the next few days,” said Jennifer Cook, who was using a large shovel to clear out the two drains in front of her house at Laharpe and North Dorgenois streets. “I”m just hoping that the rain isn’t as bad as it was on Saturday."
Cook has rented the house for the last two years and said she wasn’t prepared for the water that quickly rose to her front steps Saturday. Her son and his father had gotten stranded at the flooded Broad Theater, and Cook wasn’t able to travel more than a few blocks before having to turn back around.
Cook said she generally tries to keep the drains clear, but she has begun being even more vigilant.
“I just hope they get it under control before we have a real storm,” she said of the power failure.
Several blocks away, at the intersection of Lepage and Crete streets, Beth Reinhard worked to clear her catch basins as well.
“I’m going to look up and down (the street),” she said. “We’ve got another drain on the other side adjacent to our property and I’ll just make sure everything is as clear as possible before this all starts to happen.”
Reinhard said her car survived Saturday’s flooding parked in the driveway, even though the nearby intersection was impassable. On this morning, she stowed her car behind a friend's house to make room for tenants who were out of town over the weekend.
Reinhard said it was “a little disconcerting” to think flooding from a thunderstorm is something residents have to worry about. Esplanade Ridge is high ground, after all.
A friend who has lived across the street for 17 years told her that other than Hurricane Katrina, Saturday was the only time he had ever seen the neighborhood flood.
Standing outside his house on Laharpe Street near Paul Morphy Street, Jeffery Sutton mused about the news of the water plant fire.
“I’m probably not nervous enough,” he said, noting he was out of town last weekend and seems to have a knack for avoiding misfortune. “I’m probably naively not worried.”
Hearing from a reporter about the city’s diminished pumping capacity, Sutton said he might pull his station wagon up on the sidewalk. And then what?
“I should probably pick up some beer, then,” he said.
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