New Orleans Socked by Floods After Downpours

The deluge of rain that flooded streets eased dramatically Tuesday, a day after downpours disrupted businesses, closed schools and swamped areas still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

Only a few more showers were forecast.

After more than 8 inches of rain drenched the city Monday, Mayor Ray Nagin shut City Hall early and schools were closed across the city. Waist-high water in parts of eastern New Orleans soaked businesses, some of which had only recently reopened after being damaged by Katrina in 2005.

The city's drainage pumps all worked, but they couldn't keep up with the intense rainfall, emergency preparedness officials told The Times-Picayune.

The pumps can handle up to 1 inch of rain in the first hour and a half-inch an hour after that, but some areas got more than two inches of rain in an hour, said Robert Jackson, a spokesman for the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board.

Rough rainfall estimates from 3 p.m. Monday to 7 a.m. Tuesday ranged from 5 inches in Kenner and New Orleans East to nearly 9 in central Jefferson Parish, National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Vasilj said.

A few rivers north of Lake Pontchartrain, the 22-mile-wide lake that forms New Orleans' northern border, were brimming, and might flood some low-lying areas in St. Tammany Parish and two counties across the state line in Mississippi, Vasilj said. Showers were predicted through Thursday.

As the storm system moved northeastward, homes and buildings in rural western Alabama were damaged by possible tornadoes and other parts of the state had road flooding and wind damage, according to Alabama emergency management officials and the weather service. No deaths were reported, but two people were injured in Hale County, which had widespread damage.

South of Mobile, Ala., Reba Daniels returned home from work Monday and found her house in ruins.

"My trailer's completely gone. It's upside down, the walls are flat. It's just demolished," Daniels said.

In the New Orleans area, officials closed a gate on the Harvey Canal in suburban Jefferson Parish when water threatened to top the walls. It was one of several canals placed under new safety guidelines after Katrina's flooding breached two New Orleans canals.

The Army Corps of Engineers has worked to strengthen the canal in an area of homes and businesses about five miles from downtown New Orleans, but engineers worried that water being driven into it might lead to flooding.

The heavy rain was produced by moisture streaming north from the Gulf of Mexico ahead of a strong cold front.

Despite the flooding, the rain also offered relief to parts of Louisiana that have been abnormally dry. Until Monday, rainfall for New Orleans was about 11 inches below normal for the year.

The scattered showers and thunderstorms also came as a blessing to other drought-stricken areas of the Southeast, but climatologists say it will take more than a few scattered storms to pull the region out of a record drought.

Almost one-third of the Southeast is rated as having an "exceptional" drought — the worst drought category.