“Unsung heroes” trapped inside New Orleans Pumping Station 19 during Hurricane Katrina until they could drain the city
As we recognized the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina last month, I was reminded of the harrowing stories of survival that emerged from the destruction in the aftermath of the infamous storm.
Until recently, there was one story left untold.
Pumping Station 19, operated by the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans, sits next to the Industrial Canal. Local television station WWL-TV reports that during Katrina, the storm surge slammed into the station from two directions. Flood waters 15 feet deep filled Station 19, trapping the crew inside.
“That water was just coming in the station, and it was fearful, trust me,” said pumping plant operator Ned Henry. “I was scared.”
Across the Industrial Canal, at Pumping Station 5, an even deeper flood sent plant operator Kevin Collins scrambling to safety in an attic as he watched the Lower Ninth Ward succumb to the rising water.
“These lower pumps, they were submerged,” Collins said. “All of this water; I was frightened. I was saying prayers and everything."
Then a miracle happened.
Collins discovered a fishing boat that was lodged between a set of railings outside the pumping station. According to the report, Collins jumped in the boat and joined the crew at Pumping Station 19, and they kept working in horrific conditions, cut off from their families and the rest of the world.
“It was hot, steamy. We had to do everything manually,” Henry said. “It was hard, but we did our job.”
They stayed on duty and fixed the pumps. When the breaches in the levees were filled, the dedicated crew turned on the pumps and drained city.
“It was an amazing 11 days it took them to drain the water out of the city,” said Orleans Parish Sewerage & Water Board Executive Director Cedric Grant. “These are truly the biggest unsung heroes in New Orleans.”