New Orleans was under water again yesterday as Hurricane Rita's storm surge cascaded over the city's patched levees, just days after already-devastated neighborhoods had been pumped dry.
Floodwaters were pooling along areas that were slammed by Hurricane Katrina last month and have been all but abandoned ever since. The water covered piles of rubble and mud-caked cars, rising swiftly to the top of first-floor windows.
"It's like looking at a murder," Quentrell Jefferson of the Ninth Ward said Friday as he watched news of the flooding at a church in Lafayette, 200km west of New Orleans. "The first time is bad. After that, you numb up."
The lashing rain had stopped early Saturday, but forecasters cautioned that more could come.
"We're getting only the fringes, so that's good," said Phil Grigsby, a National Weather Service meteorologist in New Orleans. The wind-driven storm surge was expected to diminish.
An initial surge of water Friday spilled over a patched levee protecting the impoverished Ninth Ward, flooding the neighborhood with at least 1.8m of water. Leaks beneath another levee flooded homes with at least 15cm of water. Meanwhile, wind-whipped waves pushed water from Lake Pontchartrain over a seawall.
Despite the levee problems, meteorologists were turning their attention west to the communities in the storm's crosshairs such as Lake Charles and Cameron.
"I know we're all concerned about New Orleans, but I'm more focused on these other communities right now," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "That's where people are going to die."