Isaac: New Orleans spared direct blow

2012-08-30 07:49
Chuck Cropp, centre, his son Piers, left, and wife Liz, right, wade through floodwaters from Hurricane Isaac in New Orleans. (David J Phillip, AP)

Chuck Cropp, centre, his son Piers, left, and wife Liz, right, wade through floodwaters from Hurricane Isaac in New Orleans. (David J Phillip, AP)

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New Orleans - Hurricane Isaac pounded New Orleans with fierce winds and torrents of rain on Wednesday, but the multi-billion-dollar flood defences built after Katrina swamped the city seven years ago held firm.

Officials ordered the evacuation of about 3 000 people in coastal Plaquemines Parish, the area hardest hit by the storm with top winds still gusting at 90km/h, triggering widespread flooding.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said at least one person may have died as a result of Isaac, which was downgraded to tropical storm status after making landfall late on Tuesday.

Dozens of people were forced to huddle on roofs and in attics waiting hours for rescue from their submerged homes after a massive storm surge overtopped levees in low-lying areas outside the stronger defences built around New Orleans.

"Life-threatening hazards from storm surge and inland flooding are still occurring," the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre (NHC) cautioned.

It may be nowhere as strong as Hurricane Katrina, which struck exactly seven years ago, but Isaac has already caused significant damage to about 800 homes in Plaquemines Parish alone, Jindal told reporters.

$2.5bn in damage

Residents were urged to stay indoors, with officials warning it would be at least a day before winds calmed enough for crews to try to repair downed power lines.

Heavy rains - up to 64cm in some areas - will continue overnight into Thursday and through Friday, the NHC said, as the swirling vortex of cloud and storm-force winds was moving painfully slowly.

Isaac may wind up causing as much as $2.5bn in damage in and around Louisiana and in the offshore oil sector in the Gulf of Mexico, according to early estimates from natural disaster modeller Eqecat.

More than half a million people were left without power in Louisiana, and tens of thousands more huddled in darkened homes in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi after Isaac snapped utility poles and downed power lines.

In New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew after Isaac made landfall twice as a category one hurricane.

Plaquemines Parish president Billy Nungesser said damage from Isaac in some areas was worse than that wrought by Katrina, citing his own home as an example.

"I stopped there to change clothes earlier. Part of my roof is missing. The back wall has moved and the water is being pushed through the bricks into the house," he said.

Trapped

Across the state, more than 4 000 people were crammed into shelters.

Dozens of nursing home residents, many in wheelchairs, were among those taken to higher ground by the National Guard in high-water trucks.

Rescues were also underway in suburbs west of New Orleans late on Wednesday after the storm surge swelled Lake Pontchartrain on the city's north side.

Claude Jones, aged 61, was trying to nap on a cot in the Belle Chasse high school gymnasium without much luck. He spent two nights there already and with his trailer likely totally destroyed, he could be there for many more.

"I'm worried about my family," he said. "My cousin's still down there and they say they can't rescue him because the weather's so bad."

Sharon Sylvia said she spent the night trapped on her roof in the pounding rain, calling for help that did not arrive until morning.

Recovery


"Water's over the top of the roof," she told WWL television. "We had to break through the ceiling and out through the attic. It's very bad down there. Very bad."

US President Barack Obama was briefed on the hurricane and instructed disaster-relief agency Fema to makes sure all available resources were mobilised to help state and local officials.

"We've got to make sure everybody's safe, then we'll start looking at what it'll take to recover," Fema Administrator Craig Fugate said after surveying some of the damage.

Katrina left behind a devastating sprawl of destruction and death when it hit New Orleans on 29 August 2005, and a bungled response by then president George W Bush's administration tarnished his second term in office.

About 1 800 people were killed along the US Gulf Coast while thousands were left stranded for days on the roofs of their New Orleans homes after Katrina's storm surge smashed levees long-warned to be inadequate.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  us  |  weather  |  floods

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