New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
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May 3, 1978 Extensive street flooding in New Orleans



CCSCNO Article of the Month for November 2000

New Orleans, Louisiana

'May 3rd (1978) Flood Cover'

H. J. Berthelot

Because New Orleans, Louisiana lies below the high water levels of the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Pontchartrain, the city does not have a natural drainage for rainwater. Consequently, pumps are required to artificially remove rainwater from the metropolitan area. The drainage system in 1978 had been placed in operation in 1900. That system was designed to handle one inch of rain per hour for the first three hours, and one-half inch per hour thereafter. Any rainfall in excess of this limit resulted in drainage slowdown and flooding.

In the United States, the 3rd of May 1978 was proclaimed 'Sun Day.' Various celebrations were planned to pay tribute to the power and potential of solar energy. No 'Sun Day' celebration occurred in New Orleans because 'overstuffed' rain-clouds burst open, depositing ten and one-half inches of rain on the metropolitan area. Of that amount, eight and two-tenths inches fell between 7:45 and noon. Deluged with more than double the amount of rainwater the drainage system could handle, the city and most of the metropolitan area were under two to five feet of water by mid-afternoon on the 3rd of May. The result was extensive property damage.

From a philatelic viewpoint, the various New Orleans Post Offices had their problems trying to secure the mails. Mail carriers were unable to complete their early morning routes as their vehicles were stalled in the snarled traffic and rising water. Postal boxes and those post offices located in the lower-elevation areas of the city were flooded. Hence, the flood waters caused a limited amount of damage to the mail and produced a number of 'flood covers.'

The illustrated envelope, showing signs of having been under water, was among those mail items recovered from the 'May 3rd Flood.' Postmarked the 2nd of May 1978 at New Orleans and addressed intra-city to an engineering company, this envelope was identified with the straight-line auxiliary marking 'Damaged by Water.' A strip of filament tape was used by postal officials to re-seal the back flap of the envelope which had been opened during immersion.

The auxiliary marking seen on the envelope was the only type used by officials at the New Orleans Post Office to identify the water-damaged mail from the May 3rd flood. There were 3,656 pieces of damaged mail so marked by New Orleans postal officials. All of the items were dried on the 4th of May and subsequently returned to the mail for delivery.

The present day drainage system is being improved under the Southeast Louisiana Flood Control Project (SELA), which began in 1997. SELA is a federal government / local government-funded undertaking to enhance drainage in the New Orleans metropolitan area.


Letter dated 17 May 1978 to author, from Director, Mail Processing, New Orleans, Louisiana Post Office.

'The City that Lives Under Water,' Oilways, Vol. 5, No. 9, March 1949.

The Jefferson Report , Fall 2000, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.

The Times Picayune, 4 and 5 May, 1978 editions, No. 100 and 101, New Orleans, Louisiana.