Gulf Coast Battens Down as Isaac Revives Memories of Katrina

Gulf Coast Battens Down as Isaac Revives Memories of Katrina
Almost seven years to the day since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, scarring a region and a nation, Gulf Coast residents are deciding whether to evacuate or ride out another storm. Photographer: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Helen Scott was 82 when Hurricane Katrina and its floodwaters collapsed her house in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward. Now, she must find strength to confront another hurricane.

“I lost my whole life savings before,” Scott, now 89, said yesterday. “I had to start all over. I don’t know if I could do it again.”

Almost seven years to the day since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, scarring a region and a nation, Gulf Coast residents are deciding whether to evacuate or ride out another storm. Tropical Storm Isaac is forecast to reach hurricane strength over the central Gulf of Mexico, closing oil and natural-gas production sites and threatening Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. It is set to strike south of New Orleans tomorrow, the anniversary of Katrina.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal urged residents not protected by levees to leave. Traffic on Interstate 10, the main thoroughfare out of New Orleans, was at a standstill yesterday afternoon.

A hurricane warning was in effect along a 280-mile (450-kilometer) stretch from east of Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida state line, including metropolitan New Orleans, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Targeting Louisiana

At 10 p.m. East Coast time yesterday, Isaac was about 190 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with top sustained winds of almost 70 miles per hour. It was moving northwest at 10 mph and expected to strengthen. Forecasters said they expected some decrease in forward speed.

Water pushed ashore by the hurricane, known as a storm surge, may flood normally dry areas as much as 12 feet deep in southeast Louisiana and Mississippi if the peak occurs at high tide, meteorologists said. Depths could reach as much as 9 feet in Alabama and 6 feet in south-central Louisiana and the Florida panhandle, forecasters said.

Rainfall from the storm could reach as much as 12 inches, with 18 inches in isolated areas, in southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi and Alabama, and extreme western Florida, according to the hurricane center.

Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005, flooding 80 percent of New Orleans. The storm killed more than 1,800 people and displaced 250,000, according to the hurricane center.

Isaac flooded Haiti with heavy rains on its path through the Atlantic and Caribbean and was blamed for 24 deaths in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the Associated Press reported. It brushed past the Florida Keys with wind and rain as it headed northwest.

Federal Aid

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Louisiana, making federal support available to save lives, protect public safety and preserve property.

Obama participated in a call coordinating response with Jindal, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant -- all Republicans -- and Democratic New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Craig Fugate, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, Jindal said at the briefing.

The Louisiana governor later complained that the Obama administration fell short of his request, which included reimbursement for all emergency protective measures, the AP reported.

Fugate said the storm could do much damage across a broad area because it’s large and slow, and may bring a high storm surge, days of rain and river flooding.

No Gators

Companies including BP Plc, ConocoPhillips and Murphy Oil Corp. were evacuating personnel or halting production at offshore rigs and platforms.

The city’s airport was to suspend operations yesterday. Amtrak stopped its New Orleans lines. Louisiana also postponed the Aug. 29 opening of alligator-hunting season in the eastern part of the state.

In New Orleans, Acadian Ambulance began evacuating nursing homes and hospitals, according to a news release from the company. It reported taking 51 patients from facilities from Orleans and Plaquemines parishes with 66 more scheduled.

Jindal said on Twitter that 224 inmates had been moved from St. Bernard Parish and 1,100 from New Orleans.

On Decatur Street in the city’s French Quarter, jazz still rang out above the chatter, a voodoo man posed for pictures and tourists flocked to the Cafe du Monde for beignets.

Turning Tail

John and Kathryn Haynes, visiting from Picton, Ontario, planned to curtail a week-long vacation that began yesterday.

“I had thought it would be fun to ride it out, or at least to see what it would be like, but then I started to wonder if our car would get washed away,” said John Haynes, 56.

Mayor Landrieu, a Democrat, said in a statement that his city might see 16 inches of rain.

Alabama Governor Bentley issued evacuation orders beginning this morning for parts of Mobile and Baldwin counties.

On Dauphin Island, the mood was festive. In the waves past the boarded-up pastel beach houses there, a line of surfers sat on their boards awaiting the right set of waves. Grant Estes, an 18-year-old air conditioner repairman, said he and his friends would be back all week.

“Only once every few years do we get this,” he said, a board under his arm.

Another group was planning a karaoke hurricane party at the Bienville Bar and Grill.

In Louisiana, Jindal urged voluntary evacuations for people in 15 parishes.

After the Storm

In the Ninth Ward, much of the neighborhood never recovered from the storm seven years ago. There is no grocery store there. The former homes of Scott’s neighbors are now empty, unkempt lots with grass and a tangle of weeds that reach about four feet high. Abandoned, decrepit homes and buildings dot the landscape, and some roads are barely navigable due to potholes and extensive damage.

Residents said they feared the possibility of flooding again, despite improvements to the city’s flood-protection system since the disastrous collapse in 2005.

“I hope the good Lord will see fit to bypass this situation and let the levees and all this new protection stand up,” said Antoine Davis, who was stocking up gas for a generator.

“A lot of people are scared,” said Ashley Brown, 24, as he walked past a locked church. “They don’t want everything to be taken again.”

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