Louisiana Residents Flee Floods as Isaac Swamps Levees
High winds and flooding from Tropical Storm Isaac forced evacuations across southeast Louisiana, cutting power to more than 650,000 homes and business and inundating the Gulf Coast with torrential rain.
While reinforced levees surrounding New Orleans prevented a recurrence of Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 disaster, Isaac’s slow movement northwest is delivering a “prolonged threat” of flooding during the next 24 to 36 hours, and posing “life- threatening hazards,” the National Hurricane Center said. Some residents who tried to ride out the storm left or had to be rescued.
Detriel Sentimore, 27, fled his home in LaPlace, about 30 miles northwest of New Orleans, around noon with his wife, mother-in-law and five children after finding that floodwaters were overwhelming an adjacent neighborhood.
“Water was coming into the back of their houses,” he said. “We had to get out. They hadn’t been telling anybody, but it’s flooding everywhere around here.”
In Plaquemines Parish, a region of 25,000 people southeast of New Orleans that ushers the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, officials rescued dozens of people by boat after water overtopped a levee. A mandatory evacuation was ordered of the parish’s west bank south of Belle Chasse, where an estimated 3,000 people remained, and engineers may breach a second levee to relieve the flooding.
Isaac made landfall as a hurricane yesterday, evoking memories of Katrina, which struck seven years ago today, flooding New Orleans after levees failed and killing 1,800 people. At 5 p.m. New York time, Isaac was 35 miles (60 kilometers) south of Baton Rouge, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm was creeping northwest at 6 mph, with sustained winds of 70 mph.
Isaac has stopped 95 percent of U.S. oil production in the Gulf of Mexico and 72 percent of natural-gas output, and forced evacuations from 505 production platforms and 50 rigs, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said today.
The storm will probably bring insured losses of $500 million to $1.5 billion before it dissipates, according to Eqecat Inc., a catastrophe risk modeling company. In 2008, Hurricane Gustav, a more powerful system, caused about $2 billion in damage when it struck near where Isaac has come ashore, the company said.
Outside the Walls
Almost one-third of Louisiana was without power, Jindal said. New Orleans is imposing a dusk-to-dawn curfew, Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu said at a news conference there.
New Orleans’s rebuilt storm protection -- which includes strengthened and improved levees, floodwalls, pump stations and surge barriers -- is “functioning as designed,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Major General John Peabody said at the Baton Rouge briefing.
“We have done exactly what we needed to do to protect the city of New Orleans,” Peabody said. “However, there are a lot of folks outside New Orleans, outside that system, who are at risk.”
In LaPlace, Jindal said, officials had asked for assistance in conducting rescues.
Emergency personnel evacuated residents and brought dozens to New Wine Christian Fellowship, a church, before the parking lot of the complex began to fill with water. On both sides of a long stretch of Airline Highway, a main drag through LaPlace, floods took over parking lots of shopping malls and police blocked off many streets.
Going it Alone
One man holding a small child left the church on foot amid powerful winds and torrential rain, holding up his thumb for about five minutes until someone stopped to pick them up.
In Plaquemines, as many as 40 people were rescued, Jindal said.
An 8.5-foot levee from the town of Braithwaite to White Ditch was overtopped, said Caitlin Campbell, a spokeswoman for the parish. As much as 12 feet of water flooded the area, she said.
Jesse Shaffer, 25, of Braithwaite, and his father, Jesse Shaffer Sr., 53, used their boat to rescue people -- including a woman and her 5-month-old baby from a roof, according to the Times-Picayune in New Orleans.
The Plaquemines Parish levee isn’t part of the $14.5 billion system rebuilt after Katrina to protect New Orleans, said Rachel Rodi, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans.
New Orleans had widespread street flooding. Broken branches and leaves covered Magazine Street. Awnings were torn apart. The black siding at Rendezvous Tavern was ripped off in places.
Jonathan and Marybeth Green, who live with their 3- and 4- year-old girls at the corner of Magazine Street and Jefferson Avenue, said they lost power last night and slept poorly as their condominium shook and transformers exploded.
“We’re just waiting it out,” said Jonathan Green, 35, sitting on his porch watching police and National Guard troops drive past.
In Baton Rouge, northwest of New Orleans, residents were stocking up as the storm churned toward them.
Tommy Montalbano and Robn Cook -- she doesn’t spell her name with an I -- ran out of movies and decided to go out for more amid gusts of 40 to 50 mph.
Cook, 57, said she couldn’t resist the allure of the storm, at least before conditions worsened.
“I feel like it’s fixing to slam us,” she said. “It feels so different than normal weather. It’s beautiful. The different feeling of the air, the coolness, the wind, the danger. It’s kind of exciting, even though I know that’s stupid to say.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Esme E. Deprez in New Orleans at firstname.lastname@example.org; Bradley Olson in LaPlace at email@example.com; Duane D. Stanford in Belle Chasse at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at email@example.com