Isn't it funny how we ponder these issues when we get into hurricane season? There are generators -- located at the S&WB power plant -- that would keep the pumps pumping, even if the rest of us were lighting candles and praying. Eventually the water would recede and the lights would come back, and we'd be downright grateful for those pumps. They have been described as an engineering marvel.
As you know, New Orleans is shaped like a saucer. We build levees to protect us from the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, the swamps and the bayous, but those banks also hold all the rain in. So we flood.
Even though New Orleans has been spared from devastation since Hurricane Betsy in 1965, we've had some pretty frightening floods in the past 25 years, the kind that make you consider building an ark.
Our drainage system dates back to 1896, but it was in 1913 that an engineer with the Sewerage & Water Board, Albert Baldwin Wood, developed the screw pump that helped to keep our noses above water. Then in 1928, Wood designed a 14-foot version of his pump. I'm sure that he would be gratified to know that about 50 of his original pumps are still in use today.
And just to make you feel better, I'll tell you that personnel at the 22 drainage pumping stations are on duty all the time. The Operations Department crews monitor water level and the weather very carefully, and the pumps are turned on as needed. Some of the pumps are turned on by hand, and others come on automatically. Our remarkable system can manage 29 billion gallons -- enough to empty a lake 10 square miles by 13.5 feet deep -- every day.
Over the next 10 to 20 years, the S&WB has plans for improvements that will increase the pumping capacity and allow the pumps to handle even more rainfall per hour.
However, if we ever get one of those catastrophic hurricanes that we've been warned about, I'm afraid even our pumps would be useless.
On Matt Lauer's recent trip around the world on NBC's Today Show, he ended up in Monte Carlo. He was speaking to a resident of Monte Carlo about Princess Grace and asked if she was the first American princess of Monaco. The person explained that she was not. A Prince Albert had married Princess Alice who was originally from New Orleans. I was shocked when I heard that. Do you know anything about her? Imagine a city like New Orleans, with all the fake royalties, may actually have had a real princess.
Hold on to your crown, because you're in for a big surprise!
New Orleans' very own princess, Marie Alice Heine, was born on Feb. 10, 1858, in the home of her late great-grandfather Dr. Christian Miltenberger at Royal and Dumaine. Her father was Michel Heine, who along with his brother, had come to New Orleans in 1837 to organize cotton financing. In 1853, Michel married socialite Amelie Miltenberger. Extremely successful, rich and powerful, the Heine brothers purchased an interest in a French banking firm and moved to Paris.
At age 16, the beautiful, charming Alice accompanied her father to Paris, became the toast of Parisian society and married Duke Armand de Richelieu, who died five years later. Then on Oct. 30, 1889, Alice married the divorced Prince Albert of Monaco. So, Rex, our Alice became the first American princess of Monaco, 67 years before Grace Kelly.
But I guess even being princess didn't make her happy because she left Albert in 1902. She died in Paris on Dec. 23, 1925.