Next week marks the 40th anniversary of the May 3, 1978 flood — an event which swamped the city, claimed five lives and cost more than $240 million in flood damage (more than $900 million in 2018 dollars). More than 10 inches of rain fell in a matter of hours, flooding entire areas of Orleans and Jefferson parishes with between two and five feet of water — the worst flood in a decade. The National Weather Service was hard-pressed even to come up with an official total since 8.67 inches of rain broke its Audubon Park rain gauge.
"Sorry, trivia buffs. We may never know if Wednesday's deluge was a record-breaker because the official gauge 'drowned,'" explained Gambit's Clancy DuBos, then a Times-Picayune reporter covering the deluge. People were stranded in their flooded homes, businesses and cars; massive flooding trapped patients in Hotel Dieu hospital; and a tornado damaged homes and camps in the Rigolets.
"They walked and waded, swam and splashed, floated and paddled," wrote the States-Item on the next day's front page. "They laughed and cried and cursed their way through the wettest day in memory. What had started out as merely another rainy spring morning soon transformed itself for New Orleanians into the Great Flood of May 3, 1978." The event would be seared in the city's collective memory for more than a decade, until two days in May 1995 saw more than 24 inches of rain across the metro area.