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— we may have breathed a sigh of relief for NO too soon:
A large section of the vital 17th Street Canal levee, where it connects to the brand new “hurricane proof” Old Hammond Highway bridge, gave way late Monday morning in Bucktown after Katrina’s fiercest winds were well north. The breach sent a churning sea of water from Lake Pontchartrain coursing across Lakeview and into Mid-City, Carrollton, Gentilly, City Park and neighborhoods farther south and east.
As night fell on a devastated region, the water was still rising in the city, and nobody was willing to predict when it would stop. […]
The effect of the breach was instantly devastating to residents who had survived the fiercest of Katrina’s winds and storm surge intact, only to be taken by surprise by the sudden deluge. And it added a vast swath of central New Orleans to those already flooded in eastern New Orleans, the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes.
Beginning at midday, Lakeview residents watched in horror as the water began to rise, pushed through the levee breach by still-strong residual winds from Katrina. They struggled to elevate furniture and eventually found themselves forced to the refuge of second floors just when most in the neighborhood thought they had been spared.
“It would have been fine,” refugee Pat O’Brien said. “The eye passed over.” But his relief was short-lived. “It’s like what you see on TV and never thought would happen to us. We lost everything: cars, art, furniture, everything.” […]
“We were good until the canal busted,” Sontag said. “First there was water on the street, then the sidewalk, then water in the house.” […] In Lakeview, the scene was surreal. A woman yelled to reporters from a rooftop, asking them to call her father and tell him she was OK, although fleeing to the roof of a two-story home hardly seemed to qualify.
About 5 p.m., almost as if on cue, the battery power of all the house alarms in the neighborhood seemed to reach a critical level, and they all went off, making it sound as if the area was under an air-raid warning. Two men surviving on generator power in the Lake Terrace neighborhood near the Lake Pontchartrain levee still had a dry house, but they were watching the rising water in the yard nervously. They were planning to head out to retrieve a vast stash of beer, champagne and hard liquor they found washed onto the levee. As night fell, the sirens of house alarms finally fell silent, and the air filled with a different, deafening and unfamiliar sound: the extraordinary din of thousands of croaking frogs.
There seems to be some ambiguity in the national press about when the levee actually broke. CNN says it happened “overnight”. An AP report quoted in the New York Times says it “gave way Monday afternoon.” The local report quoted above says “late Monday morning.” One suspects a certain unfamiliarity with the way floods develop, plus of course the problem of getting up-to-the-second accurate news out of a place that’s in the process of undergoing a world-class catastrophe.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin confirmed the breach in a local TV interview. City fire officials said the break was about 200 feet long in the levee surrounding the 17th Street Canal.
“My heart is heavy tonight,” Nagin said in the interview on WWL-TV. “I don’t have any good news to share.
“The city of New Orleans is in a state of devastation. We probably have 80 percent of our city underwater. With some sections of our city, the water is as deep as 20 feet.”