Hurricane Rita's wind and rain breached a pair of New Orleans' battered levees Friday, sending water gushing into two separate neighborhoods just days after they were pumped dry.
In the already-devastated Ninth Ward, water streamed through gaps at least 100 feet wide and was soon waist-deep on a nearby street. It began covering buckled homes, piles of rubble and mud-caked cars Hurricane Katrina had swamped with up to 20 feet of water in the impoverished neighborhood nearly a month ago.
Officials with the Army Corps of Engineers said other levees appeared secure, including those breached during Katrina, but there were leaks.
Water six inches deep was rushing into homes in the Gentilly neighborhood from beneath a patched breach in the London Avenue Canal, northeast of the Ninth Ward. Streams of water spouted from beneath a mound of gravel and rock engineers had dumped in a bid to stave off flooding.
CBS News has planned expanded coverage of Hurricane Rita this weekend. For details,
The levee on the other side of the Industrial Canal, which protected other sections of the city proper, were holding. And at the 17th Street Canal, where the Lakeview area was flooded after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the fix was holding. "I'm certain this area is secure," said David Wurtzel, a Corps project engineer. "All of our monitors and gauges are holding steady."
The impoverished Ninth Ward neighborhood was one of the areas of the city hit hardest by Katrina's floodwaters and finally had been pumped dry before Hurricane Rita struck. The good news, Sharyn Alfonsi
A spokeswoman for Mayor Ray Nagin said officials believed the neighborhood had been cleared of residents.
In related developments:
Instead, he'll fly directly to Colorado Springs, Colo., to monitor the storm's approach from the U.S. Northern Command. The facility was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as the military's homeland security command center.
Air Force planes have been used to evacuate thousands of people in Texas and Louisiana, and satellite phones and long-range radios have been sent to areas in the storm's path.
Meanwhile, about 34,000 soldiers of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division are standing ready for post-Rita relief duty. And Pentagon officials say the military also is preparing to respond to a request to feed as many as 500,000 people at 15 Texas locations.
The governors of Louisiana and Texas have asked for 25,000 active-duty troops, but have provided few details on how they might be used.
Refugees from the Lower Ninth Ward were housed at the Progressive Baptist church in Lafayette. They were watching the TV news as the canal levee was breached again, flooding their neighborhood anew.
"It's like looking at a murder," Quentrell Jefferson said. "The first time is bad. After that, you numb up."
Farther east in St. Bernard Parish — heavily flooded by Katrina — water from the Ninth Ward was threatening with one side, while a storm surge into Bayou Bienvenu was lapping at the top of a levee on the other.
"As long as we have an east wind it's going to continue to come in at the rate you're seeing it come in right here," said Detective Steve Guilliot of the sheriff's office.
Mark Madary, a St. Bernard Parish councilman, blamed the Army Corps of Engineers for not building the levee back properly.
"It washed from underneath to create the gouges are now being topped," Madary said. "Everybody's home's been crushed, and let's hope their dreams aren't."
Army Corps of Engineers Brig. Gen. Robert Crear blamed Friday's problems on a storm surge that was higher than expected so early in Rita's assault.
"The surge is affected by the winds and we expect that to continue for several more hours," he said, adding that contractors were being brought in Friday morning to repair the new damage with rocks and sandbags.
Because of the uncertain conditions, the recovery of bodies was suspended Friday but previous discoveries pushed the death toll from Hurricane Katrina to 841 in Louisiana, and to at least 1,078 across the Gulf Coast.
Federal Emergency Management spokesman Butch Kinerney said the breaks appeared to be mainly in places where sand had washed away, and that the stone holding the wall together was still intact.
Officials have been working around the clock to patch such levees, and a steel curtain has been erected on at least one spot near a canal, hoping to withstand the sort of heavy rain that hit the city Friday morning, CBS News correspondent Susan Roberts
FEMA was working with parish officials to pump out the water that was flowing from the levee, Kinerney said, but that main pump in the Ninth Ward was still inoperable because of Katrina damage.
"It's just not holding," St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stevens said as he watched water pouring from the same levee breaks at midmorning. "The only way you'll be able to get out of her will be by boat in about five or 10 minutes."
As many as 500,000 people in southwestern Louisiana, many of them already displaced by Hurricane Katrina, were told to evacuate. And for those who refused to leave, Gov. Kathleen Blanco advised: "Perhaps they should write their Social Security numbers on their arms with indelible ink."