New Orleans braces for more rain as it tries to clean up last storm

New Orleans is heading into the weekend as the underdog in its battle against impending rain as it continues to recover from last weekend's storms.

While the city has 24 pumping stations to manage excess rainfall, six of the city's most powerful pumps were offline for routine maintenance or mechanical issues when several inches of rain fell on certain neighborhoods Saturday, Ryan Berni, the deputy mayor of external affairs, told CNN. Six smaller "constant duty" pumps also were out, general superintendent Joseph Becker said Tuesday. With the system's draining capacity in the affected areas thus cut nearly in half, hundreds of homes and businesses found water seeping through their doors, with about 15 businesses flooding for the second time in two weeks.

"If we can't handle that amount of rain, we certainly can't handle a hurricane," City Council President Jason Williams said Monday. "We've got some capacity issues, got some serious preparedness issues."

And, even if all of the city's 24 pumps were operating at full capacity, they would only be able to move out an inch of rain in the first hour and 1/2 inch each hour after that. Six to 10 inches of rain have fallen throughout the city in the past week, and, on Saturday, one pumping station saw 9.4 inches pour down within three hours.

"We are at risk if we have a massive rain event that comes up at the last minute and creates the kind of flooding we had," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu at a 3 a.m. news conference Thursday, referring to the weekend flooding. "The power we have available to us now will not be enough to pump the city out in the time needed."

The six pumps that were unavailable Saturday, plus two similar ones in farther flung parts of the city, are still offline, said Berni, who did not know when they'd be back in action.

Showers and thunderstorms are in the forecast for New Orleans every day from Thursday through Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. This week's floods further point out the city's weak infrastructure, the result of limited federal funding and a tight city budget.

"It's a system that was broken before [Hurricane Katrina] and that was more broken after,"Landrieu said to CNN.

Compounding New Orleans' struggle to manage its floodwaters, the mayor's office also announced Thursday that the city has lost service to one of its turbines that powers most of the pumping stations working in the East Bank area, severely diminishing the system's capacity to drain storm water from its streets.

"The city is urging residents in the affected area to move their vehicles to higher ground, take necessary actions to protect personal property, and stay off of roadways during rainstorms unless an emergency makes it absolutely necessary to do so," Landrieu said.

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