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Isaac pounds Gulf Coast, pushes water over levee

11:39 AM, Aug 29, 2012   |    comments
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(CBS/AP) NEW ORLEANS - Hurricane Isaac pushed water over a rural levee to flood some homes, knocked out power and immersed beach-front roads in Louisiana and Mississippi early Wednesday as it began a drenching slog inland from the Gulf of Mexico with a newly fortified New Orleans in its path.

Wind gusts of more than 60 miles per hour and sheets of rain pelted New Orleans, where people braced themselves for the storm behind levees that were strengthened after the much stronger Hurricane Katrina hit seven years ago to the day. Late Wednesday morning, the Army Corps of Engineers said New Orleans' protection system was working as expected.

Spokeswoman Rachel Rodi said the corps expected to be on "high alert" for the next 12 to 24 hours, but they're confident it's going well so far. She said a pumping station at the 17th Street canal -- which was built at the site of a levee that breached during Katrina -- briefly went down early Wednesday, but operators were able to manually get it working again.

Isaac's dangerous storm surges and flooding threats from heavy rain were expected to last all day and into the night as it crawls over Louisiana, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami warned.

Water driven by the large and powerful storm pushed over the top of an 18-mile stretch of one levee in Plaquemines Parish south of New Orleans, flooding some homes in a thinly populated area. The levee is one of many across the low-lying coastal zone and not part of New Orleans' defenses.

"When this is over, I think we need to check the wind speeds because I lost a good portion of my roof, my fence is down, and water is blowing through the sockets in my house from the back wall," Parish President Billy Nungesser said in a phone call to CBS New Orleans affiliate WWL-TV. "That only happened in Katrina."

Plaquemines Parish resident Gene Oddo called WWL-TV while riding out the storm with his wife and baby girl in their attic Wednesday morning in Braithwaite, La. He said the water level was up to his house's doorframe.

"The water came up so quick," Oddo told WWL-TV. "It looks like we lost everything. If I have to, I'm going to have to shoot a hole in my attic here to get out on our roof, but it looks like the water's not coming up anymore."


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Video | News | Weather | Sports
Video | News | Weather | Sports
Video | News | Weather | Sports

Wed Aug 29 04:15:59 PDT 2012

Trapped in attic with wife and baby, man talks to WWL live for help - Part I

Gene Oddo was trapped in his home, in his attic, with his wife and baby, talks to WWL-TV anchors in an attempt to get help as winds howled and water was in the streets. view full article

Wed Aug 29 04:15:59 PDT 2012

Trapped in attic with wife and baby, man talks to WWL live for help - Part I

Gene Oddo was trapped in his home, in his attic, with his wife and baby, talks to WWL-TV anchors in an attempt to get help as winds howled and water was in the streets. view full article

Wed Aug 29 04:15:59 PDT 2012

Trapped in attic with wife and baby, man talks to WWL live for help - Part I

Gene Oddo was trapped in his home, in his attic, with his wife and baby, talks to WWL-TV anchors in an attempt to get help as winds howled and water was in the streets. view full article

Wed Aug 29 04:15:59 PDT 2012

Trapped in attic with wife and baby, man talks to WWL live for help - Part I

Gene Oddo was trapped in his home, in his attic, with his wife and baby, talks to WWL-TV anchors in an attempt to get help as winds howled and water was in the streets. view full article

Oddo said authorities told him about storm surge going over the levee around 2 a.m. "The threat was for flood, which I knew that, and I'd rather be here to save what I can because the insurance doesn't cover all that much," Oddo said.

Authorities in Plaquemines Parish were not sure how many may have remained despite an earlier evacuation order. Rescuers were waiting for the strong winds to die down later in the day before moving out to search.

"We did have two parish police officers that were stuck in a car there. We just found out they were rescued and are safe," said emergency management spokeswoman Caitlin Campbell. Two other parish workers in a boat rescued them.

CBS News hurricane consultant David Bernard reports that the storm is moving northwest across Louisiana at 6 mph, keeping its 80 mph winds moving slowly across the state all day Wednesday. Isaac's path is expected to take it to central Louisiana by late Wednesday or early Thursday.

WFOR Miami's interactive storm tracker

In Houma, La., about 60 miles southwest of New Orleans, CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez reports that Isaac's slower ground speed dumps more rain while leaving locals and cleanup crews at a standstill with no clear sign of when the storm will clear up or clear out. Bernard reports that areas at Isaac's center may see as many as 15 inches of rain Wednesday.

In Gulfport, Miss., CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports Isaac has made many roads unsuitable for driving. Floodwaters prevented firefighters from reaching a house fire in Bay St. Louis, Miss. By the time they arrived, by boat, the vacant house had burned down to the stilts.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning late Wednesday morning for the area in Mississippi including Gulfport and the neighboring Gulf Coast city of Long Beach.

As the rain continued and winds pushed across the Gulf Coast, it remained far too soon to determine the full extent of the damage.

Isaac was packing 80 mph winds, making it a Category 1 hurricane. It came ashore at 7:45 p.m. EDT Tuesday near the mouth of the Mississippi River, driving a wall of water nearly 11 feet high and soaking a neck of land that stretches into the Gulf.

The storm stalled for several hours before resuming a slow trek inland, and forecasters said that was in keeping with the its erratic history.

Isaac's winds and sheets of rain whipped New Orleans, where forecasters said the city's skyscrapers could feel gusts up to 100 mph. The National Weather Service said more than 9 inches of rain had fallen in New Orleans in the 24 hours up to 7 a.m. 

In Pass Christian, a Mississippi coastal community wiped out by hurricanes Camille and Katrina, Mayor Chipper McDermott was optimistic Isaac would not deal a heavy blow.

"It's not too bad, but the whole coast is going to be a mess," he said early Wednesday.

McDermott stood on the porch of the $6 million municipal complex built after Katrina, with walls of 1-foot-thick concrete to withstand hurricane winds. As he looked out toward the Gulf of Mexico, pieces of a structure that had stood atop the city's fishing pier washed across the parking lot.

The state transportation department said Mississippi Highway 43 and Mississippi Highway 604, both in Hancock County, were not passable because of storm surge driven inland.

In largely abandoned Plaquemines Parish, Campbell said an 18-mile stretch along the thinly populated east bank was being overtopped by surge. The levee had not broken.

Campbell said officials believe some people may be trapped in their homes by water from the overtopped levee but were not sure how many might still be in the area. Strong wind was hampering efforts of rescuers to get into parts of the area.

She said officials expected the water to recede to the Gulf as wind direction changes with the storm's movement.

Tens of thousands of people had been told ahead of Isaac to leave low-lying areas of Mississippi and Louisiana, including 700 patients of Louisiana nursing homes. Mississippi shut down the state's 12 shorefront casinos.

The hurricane promised to lend even more solemnity to commemoration ceremonies Wednesday for Katrina's 1,800 dead in Louisiana and Mississippi, including the tolling of the bells at St. Louis Cathedral overlooking New Orleans' Jackson Square.

The storm drew intense scrutiny because of its timing - coinciding with Katrina and the first major speeches of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., already delayed and tempered by the storm.

Isaac promises to test a New Orleans levee system bolstered by $14 billion in federal repairs and improvements after the catastrophic failures during Katrina. But in a city that has already weathered Hurricane Gustav in 2008, many had faith.

"I feel safe," said Pamela Young, who was riding out the storm in the Lower 9th Ward with her dog Princess in a new, two-story home built to replace the one destroyed by Katrina.

"If the wind isn't too rough, I can stay right here," she said, tapping on her wooden living room coffee table. "If the water comes up, I can go upstairs."

Isaac posed political challenges with echoes of those that followed Katrina, a reminder of how the storm seven years ago became a symbol of government ignorance and ineptitude.

President Obama sought to demonstrate his ability to guide the nation through a natural disaster and Republicans reassured residents they were prepared Tuesday as they formally nominated Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, as the Republican Party's presidential candidate.

There was already simmering political fallout from the storm. Louisiana's Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who canceled his trip to the convention in Tampa, said the Obama administration's disaster declaration fell short of the federal help he had requested. Jindal said he wanted a promise from the federal government to be reimbursed for storm preparation costs.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said such requests would be addressed after the storm.

Mr. Obama promised that Americans will help each other recover, "no matter what this storm brings."

"When disaster strikes, we're not Democrats or Republicans first, we are Americans first," Mr. Obama said at a campaign rally at Iowa State University. "We're one family. We help our neighbors in need."

Along the Gulf coast east of New Orleans, veterans of past hurricanes made sure to take precautions.

Bonnie Chortler, 54, of Waveland, Miss., lost her home during Hurricane Katrina. After hearing forecasts that Isaac could get stronger and stall, she decided to evacuate to her father's home in Red Level, Ala.

"A slow storm can cause a lot more havoc, a lot more long-term power outage, 'cause it can knock down just virtually everything if it just hovers forever," she said.

Those concerns were reinforced by local officials, who imposed curfews in three Mississippi counties.

"This storm is big and it's tightening up and it sat out there for 12 hours south of us and it's pushing that wave action in and there's nowhere for that water to go until it dissipates," said Harrison County Emergency Operations Director Rupert Lacy.


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