Isaac whips New Orleans on Katrina anniversary
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Exactly seven years after devastating Hurricane Katrina, Tropical Storm Isaac unleashed fierce winds on New Orleans Wednesday and drove walls of water inland but officials said the city’s reinforced flood protections were holding out.
AFP - Storm-weary residents hunkered down for a hot, wet and windy wait on Wednesday as Hurricane Isaac slowed to storm force but looked set to linger over southern Louisiana.
Officials urged residents to stay indoors and warned it would be at least a day before winds calmed enough for crews to try to repair downed power lines, which meant a half a million people would spend another night in the dark.
Dozens of people who refused to heed mandatory evacuation orders were trapped by flood waters after a massive storm surge rolled water over the levees protecting low-lying Plaquemines Parish overnight.
The pressure from the pounding waves remained so strong that engineers were considering puncturing at least one levee to release some of the water.
Some 118 people were rescued by midday and at least 25 more were still waiting on their rooftops in the pouring rain and pounding winds, parish president Billy Nungesser said.
Damage from Isaac was worse than that wrought by Katrina in some areas of this narrow strip of land south of New Orleans, Nungesser said, 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.
Sharon Sylvia said she spent the night trapped on her roof, calling for help that didn't arrive until morning.
"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."
About 350 people were crammed into three emergency shelters by midday Wednesday and officials were working on opening more after ordering the evacuation of another 3,000 threatened by the flooding in the parish.
Claude Jones, 61, was trying to nap on a cot in the Belle Chasse High School gymnasium without much luck.
He has spent two nights here already and with his trailer in Empire likely totally destroyed by the storm surge, he could be here for many, many more.
"I'm worried about my family," he told AFP. "My cousin's still down there and they say they can't rescue him because the weather's so bad."
Keeping the kids occupied has been exhausting, said 34-year-old Kylie Polk.
"It's hard. I'm just so ready to go home. I'll be glad when this storm do what it's going to do," she said.
But Polk was counting her blessings. She was confident her home would survive the storm, unlike some of her family members who live on the wrong side of the levees.
"I just feel so sorry for them, starting all over again," she told AFP.
Isaac was a relatively weak category one hurricane when it made landfall late Tuesday, but it still packed a punch.
Trees were torn out of the rain-soaked earth, roofs were ripped off and streets were littered with debris.
Officials warned that many downed lines remained live and posed deadly hazards for anyone who set foot in the wrong puddle.
But the multi-billion-dollar flood defenses built after Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans and killed 1,800 people across the Gulf Coast seven years ago held firm, allowing the Big Easy to escape largely unscathed.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said he had unconfirmed reports that one person had died in a house fire triggered by flooding, but the casualty toll was limited after most people obeyed evacuation orders.