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Manned pumps evacuated before Katrina hit

New Orleans officials tried to explain Tuesday why they evacuated manned water pumps before Katrina made landfall. NBC's Carl Quintanilla reports.

The walls came down Tuesday in DeAnna Marcus’ neighborhood — flooded, she says, because parish officials evacuated pumping stations the night before Katrina.

“Had someone stayed there and manned the pumps,” says Marcus, “you would not be looking at my house like this, and that's what hurts.”

It was a call made by Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, whose appearance on “Meet The Press” in September made him a national figure, and who, this week, began a $38,000 ad campaign to explain why he did it.

“In this instance,” says Broussard, “I chose life over property. That was a good decision.”

It’s also one example of local officials under pressure, even as they blame Washington.

Tuesday, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin testified before a House committee, saying, “You need to take a hard look at FEMA and figure out how to re-organize that agency.”

Meanwhile, newly discovered e-mails between FEMA officials showed that agency in turmoil before the storm.

“Everybody is blaming FEMA,” says Loyola University’s Institute of Politics director Edway Renwick. “FEMA doesn't run for elections, the rest of them do!”

Tuesday, Broussard and local officials walked through Jefferson Parish's pumping stations, recounting their decision to evacuate.

They called it the “Doomsday plan” — just three pages long, and never before used — until the head of the National Hurricane Center called with the news.

“He called me,” recalls Walt Maestri, New Orleans Parish director of emergency management, “and said, ‘This is it. I'm not kidding. Do what you have to do to protect your people.’”

“All this panic was going on,” explains pump operator Brian Baudoin. “They wanted to get out. Well, I wanted to get out, too!”

A class-action lawsuit against the parish now alleges that, had the pumps been manned, it “would not have experienced flooding.”

Homeowner Suez Wilson says she may join the suit.

“I'm a little single mom, raised two girls here, and it's not like the pocketbook is full of money,” she says.

Wilson is among those acting on frustration against local leaders, who aren't just putting on the heat now — but feeling it.