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Pumps begin to drain New Orleans

Work expected to take months, Army Corps of Engineers says

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New Orleans (Louisiana)

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Repair crews have patched the ruptured levee along the 17th Street Canal and have begun pumping water from New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Monday.

The process will take months, depending on the size of the area of the city involved, the corps said.

Helicopters closed the approximately 300-foot breach by filling it with more than 200 15,000-pound sandbags. Trucks also poured loads of fill dirt into the damaged section.

When the levee broke a week ago, Lake Pontchartrain flooded neighborhoods that had survived Hurricane Katrina's initial assault. The rising floodwaters overwhelmed pumping stations that would normally keep the city dry. (See satellite images)

Sections of another levee failed along the Industrial Canal in the city's Lower 9th Ward, flooding thousands of homes there and in St. Bernard Parish. Two other breaches occurred on the London Avenue Canal, east of the 17th Street Canal breach.

The failures of the levee system left about 80 percent of the city flooded with water up to 20 feet deep. On Monday, New Orleans' deputy police chief called the city "completely destroyed" and urged all remaining residents to leave. (Full story)

"The primary focus today is to assess the pumps within the city and to work to get some of those started today," Greg Breerwood, a corps deputy district engineer for New Orleans, said in a written statement from Vicksburg, Mississippi.

"We'll want to start those pumps slowly to watch the impacts on the system, trying to ensure no damage as the system begins to sustain the increase in flow," Breerwood said.

John Rickey, a corps spokesman, said it might take 24 days to pump water from the east bank of Orleans Parish, which includes most of the city of New Orleans; about two months for New Orleans East, the neighborhoods along Interstate 10 near the Lake Pontchartrain shore; and 80 days for the industrial suburb of Chalmette, the seat of St. Bernard Parish.

Rickey said while the estimates were based on the number of existing pump stations, engineers hoped to bring in more pumps to speed the work.

Crews intentionally breached levees in St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes Monday so that water would flow back into Lake Borgne, Rickey said.

Some of the worst flooding was feared to have occurred in those two parishes, downriver from New Orleans, though reports remained sketchy.

All pumps were working in St. Charles Parish, on the western edge of the metropolitan area. Only one was working in Plaquemines Parish, and reports were unavailable for most of Orleans Parish, the corps reported.

In St. Bernard Parish, five of eight pump stations were operable, two were demolished by the storm, and the status of one was undetermined.

The mouth of the London Avenue Canal also was closed, except for a small gap to allow water to drain back into Lake Pontchartrain, the corps reported.

On the 'other side' of the canal

Sections of Jefferson Parish escaped the worst flooding, because they lie on the other side of the 17th Street Canal.

At dawn Monday, checkpoints opened to allow residents to find out whether their homes were intact or, at least, salvageable.

Residents have been told to bring everything they might need -- food, water, a full tank of gas and cash -- because nothing is available in the parish. (Full story)

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