Rain swamps Gulf states

BY RACHEL CLARK | NEW ORLEANS, Louis. | September 26, 2002

"It's exactly where they are when they get rain they can't handle."

—Buddy Day

Picture a saucer filled with water. The rim is at sea level and at the lowest point is The Big Easy.

"That's New Orleans," said Louisiana Baptist Convention Men's Ministry and Disaster Relief Director Buddy Day. "It's exactly where they are when they get rain they can't handle."

Tropical Storm Isidore deluged New Orleans -- along with several other Gulf Coast cities -- early Thursday morning.

In suburban New Orleans, two days of steady rain has caused floodwater to overflow the sewer system, sending contaminated water into some homes. Louisiana emergency management reported that more than 2,000 people reported to 34 shelters in Louisiana.

"It's not so much the saturation point, but the pumping capabilities because we're below sea level and the pumps have to pump up and out," said Mary Sutton, chair of the Louisiana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD).

The pumps are working steadily, but they can only manage to pump out about an inch of rain per hour.

"When they get constant rain, it overwhelms them," Day said. "And they've received somewhere in the neighborhood of ten inches of rain."

While rain swamped parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, disaster response groups say they're lucky that they're only dealing with rain.

"It didn't come in as a major hurricane, for which we are exceedingly grateful," said Sutton. "It's a rain event, but no doubt it could have been a whole lot worse."

Isidore hit land over southeast Louisiana, close to Grand Isle, early Thursday morning, but is expected to weaken while over land. Although the storm still remains a threat given the flooding caused by rain, disaster responders are optimistic about the recovery effort.

Col. Gene Slusher, disaster services coordinator for the Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi division of The Salvation Army, spent Thursday morning sending canteen units to Gulf Coast states.

"It's not nearly as bad as it could have been," he said. "The winds are very moderate compared to what they were the storm was over the Gulf."

Day said he was glad the storm didn't return to its original hurricane status. He has two canteen units mobilized and ready to head to New Orleans and Houma if the American Red Cross requests their services.

"There's been no wind to amount to anything," he said. "It didn't turn into a hurricane and so it's been a real rain event."

Thursday morning, tornado warnings and flood watches were posted from the Louisiana coast to the Florida panhandle. A tornado touched down in Lafourche Parish early Thursday but there were no reports of extensive damage. Emergency service personnel in Louisiana were doing a damage assessment early Thursday morning.

"After that, we'll start knowing whether our services are going to be needed," Sutton said. "If there's only street flooding and it's not homes of businesses, then there will be less for us to do, but if there's homes impacted then we're going to be there."

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lili has degenerated. Tropical Storm watches were discontinued Thursday afternoon but forecasters warned that Lili may reorganize and drench Jamaica and Haiti. Tropical Storm Kyle has turned into a hurricane just 480 miles southeast of Bermuda. Forecasters considered Kyle a threat only to ships.

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