New Orleans warns residents of possible water contamination

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS, Oct 9 (Reuters) - New Orleans scrambled onTuesday to take precautions against possible bacterialcontamination of its water supply, the second time in two yearsa power outage in its aging water system has prompted a healthwarning.

At least 17 schools were closed, businesses and residentswere told to boil water, and some of the city's fabledrestaurants brought in ice from outside the region afterMonday's three-minute outage at the city's main water plant leftthe safety of its water in doubt.

City and state officials issued the advisory "out of anabundance of caution" on Monday afternoon for about 300,000residents on the east side of the Mississippi River, where mostof New Orleans lives.

Residents were told not to drink, make ice, brush theirteeth or bathe using tap water, nor should they prepare or rinsefood with tap water without boiling it first. However,authorities said taking a hot shower using water that had passedthrough a water heater would be safe.

The warning could be lifted mid-afternoon Tuesday, by whichtime tests on the water supply's safety should be completed,water board spokesman Robert Jackson said.

The city's Sewerage & Water Board director, Marcia St.Martin, said the power outage, which occurred as workers wereswitching two steam boilers, caused a drop in water pressurethat could expose the water supply to harmful bacteria.

St. Martin said a $12 million project to replace two steampumps by 2014 is under way and further renovations of the main

plant are planned.

But the timing of the warning prompted complaints that mostpeople had already consumed water when the board issued itsalert four hours after the power outage.

The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, which owns five arearestaurants including two within the city, said it was usingonly boiled or bottled water for cooking and cleaning, and hasbrought in additional water pumps for restroom use.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan, Cynthia Johnston; and JackieFrank)