Isaac steers clear of direct blow, dumps heavy rain on New Orleans
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Tropical Storm Isaac, downgraded from a hurricane about 19 hours after making landfall, drove water over a levee in a lightly populated part of Plaquemines Parish, flattened sugar cane 50 miles west in Terrebonne Parish, forced evacuation of a neighborhood in St. John the Baptist Parish and knocked out power to more than 700,000 households and businesses statewide, as well as about 48,900 customers in south and central Mississippi.
A hole will be made in the low levee near Braithwaite, where dozens of people who had ignored an evacuation order needed rescue, said Garret Graves, head of the Coastal Protection Restoration Authority. Until the weather stabilizes, he said, it's too dangerous to breach the levee, but it needs to be done so water can flow back into the bay.
Parish spokeswoman Caitlin Campbell said an 18-mile stretch from the St. Bernard Parish line at Braithwaite south to White Ditch was taking water and homes were flooding as storm surge piled up against levees between the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River. Civilian volunteers in boats, Louisiana National Guard troops in high-water vehicles and boats and sheriff's deputies from St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes were going house-to-house.
The Louisiana National Guard brought in 14 high-water vehicles and 10 boats.
"This is a local levee. They knew it's prone to flooding. That's why it was under a mandatory evacuation order. About 20 people or so didn't leave," said Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of Louisiana State Police.
"We're going to get out there to them. We're going to do everything we can to get them out of there. But we're not going to put further people in harm's way," Edmonson said.
With the storm expected to be moving across the state for hours, if not days, he said, "This is something we're going to be in for the long haul. This is not anywhere anytime soon."
Wednesday afternoon brought some good news: the storm was weakening more quickly than expected, with peak winds of 50 mph.
Worry about storm surge in Plaquemines Parish prompted a mandatory evacuation Wednesday for the west bank of the Mississippi River below Belle Chasse, where about 3,000 people live.
In St. John the Baptist Parish, about 25 miles west of New Orleans, at least 1,500 people were forced from their homes by floodwaters and thousands more needed to evacuate, according to the governor's office.
In the parish's River Forest subdivision, the water rose quickly Wednesday, and higher than it ever has, said Brittney Reid.
By noon, it was creeping into her family's driveway. "Our street will flood, but it's never been in the driveway before," she said. As she was driving her car from the driveway to the higher back yard, "the sheriff came down in a big rescue truck like a paddy wagon," she said.
Rapidly-rising water closed off all main thoroughfares into the parish, and in many areas, water lapped up against houses and left cars stranded. Floodwaters rose to waist-high in some LaPlace neighborhoods, and the Louisiana National Guard was working with sheriff's deputies from a local Home Depot to rescue people stranded in their homes and surprised by the flooding.
Isaac bounced off the mouth of the Mississippi River on Tuesday night, making its first landfall. It then stalled over Grand Isle, Louisiana's only inhabited barrier island.
The storm drove sheets of rain through the nearly deserted streets of New Orleans as a population mindful of the powerful punch dealt by Hurricane Katrina seven years ago waited for the storm to get out of their lives. Isaac had stalled along the coast early Wednesday before resuming a move to the northwest several hours later.
Forecasters said the storm could drop up to 20 inches of rain, though city of New Orleans. Spokesman Ryan Berni said only minor street flooding and fallen trees were reported.