Beleaguered but Vital New Orleans Pumps Catch Fire

April 28, 2006

Three massive drainage pumps in New Orleans caught fire during heavy rain and will be out of commission at least a month, city officials said.

Insulated wiring in dozens of pumps, including the three that caught fire April 26, was damaged by salt water that flooded the city after major levee breaks caused by Hurricane Katrina.

“Salt water and 100-year-old insulation on wires is not compatible,” said G. Joseph Sullivan, general superintendent for the city’s Sewerage and Water Board.

Because the salt-water flooding was caused by breaks in federal levees, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has pledged to pay nearly $37 million (euro30 million) to repair the pump motors at 24 stations around the city.

However, the Corps, focusing much of its attention on levee repairs, has yet to bid out any of the contracts and does not expect the work to be complete until September 2007, Corps spokeswoman Kim Gillespie said.

The Corps did not have any immediate comment on whether it would seek to speed the pace of repairs.

The city already paid for emergency repairs to two other pumps that caught fire after Katrina, Sullivan said. The board will now seek bids fix the pumps damaged Wednesday.

Sullivan said he hopes to have the pumps – each of which can move 7,500 gallons (28,400 liters) of water a second out of city streets – working by June.

“We’re fortunate in the fact that it was at three different pumping stations, so it doesn’t reduce capacity that bad at one station,” Sullivan said.

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