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Hurricane Isaac Hits Land as New Orleans Battens Hatches

August 29, 2012

Hurricane Isaac Lashes Gulf Coast as New Orleans Levees Hold

Research students from the the University of Alabama measure wind speeds as Hurricane Isaac makes landfall on Aug. 29, 2012 in New Orleans, La. Photographer: Eric Gay/AP Photo

Hurricane Isaac pounded the Gulf Coast with wind, rain and flooding as levees protecting New Orleans were holding.

Dozens of people were trapped in their homes in Plaquemines Parish in southeastern Louisiana after water spilled over the top of a levee, causing flooding.

Isaac made landfall yesterday, evoking memories of the more powerful Hurricane Katrina, which struck seven years ago, flooding New Orleans after its levees failed and killing 1,800 people.

Isaac is a Category 1 storm, the lowest level on the five- step Saffir-Simpson scale, with top winds of 75 miles per hour, compared with Katrina, which came ashore as a Category 3. At 11 a.m., Isaac was about 45 miles southwest of New Orleans, moving northwest at 6 mph, according to a National Hurricane Center advisory. A flood threat from heavy rains was likely through tonight, and Isaac was “drenching southeastern Louisiana,” the advisory said.

With winds extending 175 miles (282 kilometers) from its center, Isaac is bringing torrential rain and storm surges to parts of southern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The storm, which has halted much of the U.S. oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, may produce as much as 20 inches of rain during the next two days, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Levees

“Isaac is skirting the coast and is half-inland, half- offshore, and as a result, has not weakened,” said Ken Graham, chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service in New Orleans, in an interview. “Once we start looking things over, there’ll be significant damage to the city.”

An 8.5-foot levee from the town of Braithwaite to White Ditch was overtopped today, causing significant flooding, said Caitlin Campbell, a spokeswoman for Plaquemines Parish, which has a population of about 24,000. As much as 12 feet of water has flooded the area, she said. The levee wasn’t rebuilt after Katrina, though its height was increased, she said.

Efforts are under way to rescue an estimated 40 people stranded in homes, according to the parish’s emergency operations center.

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.

The new protection -- which includes strengthened and improved levees, floodwalls, pump stations and surge barriers -- is “performing as designed,” Rodi said in an interview.

Street Flooding

The federal levee system “didn’t even come close to overtopping,” though water did spill over some private levees in areas where residents had been ordered to evacuate, said Tim Doody, the president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Area-East, in an interview.

New Orleans reported street flooding in 37 locations, according to the city’s website. Broken branches and leaves covered the city’s 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 off and on as their condominium shook and transformers exploded outside.

“We’re just waiting it out,” said Jonathan Green, 35, sitting on his porch watching police and National Guard troops drive past. They have enough supplies to last about three days and they will “sit in the car when it gets too hot or we need to charge our phones,” he said.

Power Outages

About 546,000 customers of Entergy (ETR:US) Corp. in Louisiana were without power at 11:46 a.m., according to the company’s website.

Isaac has stopped 93 percent of U.S. oil production in the Gulf of Mexico and 67 percent of natural-gas output, and forced evacuations from 503 production platforms and 49 rigs, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said yesterday. Six Louisiana refineries were shut.

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Water pushed by the hurricane could cause flooding to reach as much as 12 feet in normally dry parts of southeast Louisiana and Mississippi if the peak occurred at high tide, meteorologists said.

In Baton Rouge, northwest of New Orleans, residents were stocking up on food and movies as the storm crept toward them.

Carlton Jones, 64, who already had bought food and and water, went in search of milk as the wind picked up.

“We’ve weathered all these storms before, so we know what to do,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Duane D. Stanford in Larose, Louisiana at dstanford2@bloomberg.net; Esme E. Deprez in New York at edeprez@bloomberg.net; Mark Niquette in Columbus at mniquette@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net


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