Faulty drainage leaves CBD and Mid-City under stagnant water


Courtesy of Jordan Sticklin

Flooding in the Central Business District and Mid-City left 16 drainage pumps out of service and forced pedestrians to wade through several feet of water as regular traffic was disrupted.

“There were cars everywhere, just stalled cars,” Tulane junior Paul Simon said. “You could see how high the water had gone up and looked like that area had been about two and half, three and a half feet of water.”

Simon was one of several Tulane students who were in the Central Business District when heavy rain coupled with an inadequate drainage system caused excessive flooding throughout the city, beginning on the afternoon of Saturday, Aug. 5.

Another was senior Jordan Sticklin, who was traveling via the streetcar that afternoon when the rain began.

“In the Central Business District I couldn’t even see the pavement,” Sticklin said. “It was just water. It looked like a lake, but whenever cars would pass by they would make waves.”

While Tulane’s Uptown campus was not directly affected, some students like Simon and Sticklin living in off-campus housing in areas that flooded found themselves caught in the flooding affecting primarily Mid-City and the CBD.

In Mid-City, 9.43 inches of rain fell, and 5.62 inches fell in the St. Roch neighborhood.

Sixteen drainage pumps were out of service at the time, and an estimated $9 billion is needed to update the drainage system.

Following reports from the Sewerage and Water Board stating the city’s drainage system was fully operational, it was discovered not only that several of the minor pumps were not functional, but eight of the major pumps were also offline.

According to Norris Yarbrough, Tulane assistant vice president of emergency preparedness and response, the city’s drainage system, when fully operational, should be able to process an inch and a half of rainfall per hour. Such was not the case with this storm due to broken pumps and outdated drainage systems.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has announced changes to the Sewerage and Water Board leadership due to this incident. The board’s director, Cedric Grant, has announced his retirement, while Landrieu called for the resignations of three other sitting board members.

According to Yarbrough, the flooding did not impact Tulane University’s Uptown campus due to its elevation above sea level. Some of Tulane’s downtown properties, such as the Tidewater Building, however, took water into their lowest levels.

“We were all caught off guard because typically the city handles that type of rain, but then it started coming up really quickly,” Yarbrough said. “It flooded part of the first floor, the basement area of our Tidewater Building.”

Because Tulane’s Uptown campus was not affected, Yarbrough deemed the damage moderate.

“It came in on Saturday afternoon late and flooded a confined area in Downtown New Orleans and then was gone by Sunday morning,” Yarbrough said. “So that’s why I would rate it as moderate. For me to rate it higher than that, standing water would have had to been in place for a while. That’s when it really gets tough to respond to.”

Simon and Sticklin both noticed that the water in the CBD was at a standstill rather than flowing and that though they had seen rain this severe in past years, the flooding was never as serious.

“I’ve seen rain that’s been as bad as that, but not flooding,” Sticklin said.

Though Tulane’s Uptown campus stands on higher ground in comparison to other areas of New Orleans, there are ways that students can decrease their vulnerability to flooding and other natural hazards, especially if they decide to move off campus.

Yarbrough said students can protect themselves by having renters and homeowners insurance, finding out whether their houses are in a flood-prone zone, staying informed by keeping an eye on the weather, downloading apps such as Rave Guardian and keeping in contact with the administration.

“The message that we try to push out is that we’re here to partner with students,” Yarbrough said. “The only reason I’m here is to keep [Tulane students] safe. That’s my job.”

Leave a Comment