As It Happens

New Orleans floods spark panic, political fallout in city still reeling from Katrina

When torrential rains flooded New Orleans over the weekend, Tegan Wendland and her friend hopped into a canoe and took to the streets.
In this photo from Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017, people step off the curb into flood waters in New Orleans. (Scott Threlkeld/The Advocate via Associated Press)

When torrential rains flooded New Orleans over the weekend, Tegan Wendland and her friend hopped into a canoe and took to the streets.

"I walked over to my friend's house and we got her canoe out and just put it in the street and started canoeing around and helping people," she said. 

"It was kind of otherworldly 'cause this is my neighbourhood. I mean, I bike down these streets,  I walk down these streets, and I was canoeing down the sidewalk picking people up."

Tegan Wendland took to the streets of New Orleans in her friend's canoe. (Tegan Wendland)

The pair stayed out until 2 a.m., Wendland said, rowing up and down the same street, ferrying different passengers to safety.

At one point, they gave a paramedic a ride to his patient, and then brought the patient back to the ambulance. 

"She was an elderly woman who could barely get in the canoe," she said. "We had to try to make her comfortable and at ease with getting in this canoe with these random young women."

Wendland says they ferried people through the flood streets for hours. (Tegan Wendland )

Wendland didn't live in New Orleans in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and killed some 1,245 people — but many of the folks she picked up on Saturday did.

"There were at least two women who were in tears and one who was ... muttering that she was so scared and this was just like Katrina and it's all happening over again, she's going to lose her house, she's going to lose her car," Wendland said.

"And I was like, 'Calm down, honey. It's going to be OK. The water's already going down. The rain has stopped."

The flooding has since died down and the city began to dry out on Monday.

But residents were furious to learn on Tuesday that pumping problems contributed to the flooding — despite the investment in flood-prevention infrastructure that came on the heels of Katrina.

Sewerage and Water Board officials told the City Council that pumping stations in two hard-hit areas went down to about half- to two-thirds capacity. 

This revelation came after board officials had earlier claimed that all 24 pumping stations were working at full capacity.

The board's executive director, Cedric Grant, announced on Tuesday that he will retire in the fall, saying in a statement that he learned parts of the city's drainage system "did not operate as they should have" during Sunday's storms.

He blamed agency staff for not being "forthright" about the issues.

Shortly after, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced the city's public works director will resign. Landrieu said he also wants the Sewerage and Water Board to fire its superintendent and communications director.

"From my perspective, it seems like you can fix all the pumps and you can build the fanciest infrastructure in the world, but if you don't have the right people running it, you might continue to have problems," Wendland said.

"I'm not sure that people who have lived here for a long time have a lot of faith in the city as it is."