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Isaac: Significant flooding, power outages on Gulf Coast

11:28 AM, Aug 31, 2012   |    comments
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(CBS/AP) NEW ORLEANS - The storm that was Hurricane Isaac - and which is now a tropical depression - swirled into the central U.S. Friday, leaving behind a darkened, soggy mess in Louisiana. Neighborhoods were underwater, and even homes that stayed dry didn't have lights, air conditioning or clean water.

There's still significant flooding along the Gulf Coast, and thousands of people are in shelters this morning, said CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts. .

New Orleans broke an all-time rainfall record, getting more than 18 inches in 24 hours - and more rain is headed north toward the Midwest.

The remnants of Isaac are slowly crossing Arkansas, downing power lines and trees. Forecasters say an additional 2 to 4 inches of rain is possible as Isaac heads into Missouri. The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings for parts of Arkansas, Jefferson and Lincoln Counties in Ark.

Isaac has lost strength since coming ashore late Tuesday as a Category 1 hurricane, but it's still expected to provide a dousing for much of the nation's midsection - from Arkansas north to Missouri and into a corner of Iowa, then east through Illinois and Indiana to Ohio - in coming days. Rainfall totals could reach up to 7 inches, according to a U.S. Drought Monitor weekly update Thursday.

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The storm cut power to early half the homes and businesses in Louisiana. By Thursday evening, 821,000 customers were still without power, the Public Service Commission said. In neighboring Mississippi, utility companies said they are working to restore power to more than 150,000 customers in south and central parts of the state.

Entergy said more than 16,000 customers in Arkansas are also without electricity because of Isaac. Entergy - which serves customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas - says Isaac has been the utility's fourth-largest storm in terms of power outages.

This is the first morning without bad weather in this region since Monday. That means the work crews can pick up the pace today restoring electricity. More than 15,000 utility workers are at work in Louisiana and Mississippi, but officials said it would be at least two days before power is fully restored.

At least five deaths in Louisiana and Mississippi were blamed on the storm.

Louisiana

It will be a few days before the soupy brown water recedes and people in flooded areas can return home. New Orleans itself was largely spared, thanks in large part to a levee system fortified after Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005.

In hard-hit Plaquemines Parish, officials confirmed the deaths of a man and woman who were found in a home in Braithwaite.

In other neighborhoods, some residents barely made it out alive.

Crews intentionally breached a levee that was strained by Isaac's floodwaters. In three days, the slow-moving storm dumped more than 20 inches of rain on this stretch of the Gulf Coast, submerging entire neighborhoods, taking down trees and power lines. At one point, more than 700,000 households and businesses lost electricity.

Much of Isaac's destructive power fell hard on rural communities and small towns. While some are pledging to rebuild, others plan to leave for good.

"We're going to try to get a rental car wherever we stop at and go to Georgia," one woman said. "I'm not coming back. I can't take no more hurricanes, I can't."

On a street-turned-river in Reserve, on the east bank of the Mississippi River, Cisco Gonzales, a heating and air conditioning business owner, said he got his boat and truck and headed for higher ground when he heard the water was rising quickly, to 6 feet of water in five minutes.

"I've never seen so much water in my life," said Gonzales, who built a home in Braithwaite, southeast of the city, after his previous home was damaged by Katrina in 2005.

He rode out the storm at a ferry landing and when the weather calmed, he went out and rescued about a dozen people.

Lucien Chopin, 29, was last to leave his house, waiting until his wife and three kids, ages 7, 5 and 1 were safely away. His van was underwater and water flowed waist-high in the house he'd rented.

"It's like, everything is down the drain. I lost everything. I've gotta start all over," he said.

Mississippi

Several coastal communities struggled with all the extra water, including Pascagoula, where a large portion of the city flooded and water blocked downtown intersections.

Officials were pumping water from a reservoir to ease the pressure behind an Isaac-stressed dam in Mississippi on the Louisiana border. Crews scrambled to keep the earthen dam on Lake Tangipahoa from bursting Thursday and save nearby towns from 17 feet of floodwaters.

Dam, levee intentional breachings due to Isaac

Some 60,000 people were told they had 90 minutes to pack what they could and go. "I think it's crazy," evacuee Kim Garmillion told CBS News. "We moved here after Katrina, and we're just praying that everything will be fine."

Officials plan to punch a hole in the dam to release excess water in a controlled fashion, but were waiting for daylight Friday to decide exactly where and when, said Donnie Hodges with the Pike County, Miss., Office of Civil Defense.

Arkansas

Lake wind advisories have been posted for dozens of Arkansas counties as tropical depression Isaac rolls through the state. The National Weather Services has issued the advisories for 45 counties through tonight and 10 through tomorrow morning. Forecasters say boaters should use caution.

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