Photos: Isaac rescues

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by JANET McCONNAUGHEY

Associated Press

Posted on August 31, 2012 at 1:45 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 25 at 5:05 PM

BRAITHWAITE, La (AP) — State officials say about two dozen people were stuck and in need of rescue on the east bank of Plaquemines Parish.

Storm surge driven by Hurricane Isaac overtopped a levee early Wednesday in a thinly-populated part of Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans.

Louisiana National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Kazmierzak says evacuations there are beginning. He says reports are sketchy but he's heard there are "quite a few people on a levee waiting to be rescued."

Kevin Davis, director of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, says the parish's east bank has seen flooding of four to nine feet across 18 miles. He says a levee was overtopped and then breached by scouring. On the parish's west bank, Davis says there are concerns of another levee being overtopped and then scoured like the east side. That area is nine miles south of Belle Chasse.

Although an evacuation order had been issued as Isaac approached, sheriff's deputies from St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes were going house-to-house getting residents who had remained in the area to move to higher ground.

Isaac bounced off the mouth of the Mississippi River Tuesday night, making its first landfall. It then moved onto Grand Isle, a barrier island in Jefferson Parish, where it stalled for several hours.

Jesse Delcambre, who stayed in the town hall because her fiance is a town employee, said the island was still covered by about 2 feet of water on Wednesday morning.

"The houses over here are all 12, 14 feet above ground on pilings," she said. The few on slabs are flooded, she added.

Jefferson Parish President John Young said the island may have been covered by up to 5 feet of water during the storm.

"I've been out and about since 3 o'clock this morning. The pump operators are keeping up, the pump stations are keeping up and working properly, so there's not a lot of street flooding," he said.

Any flooding reported was all in low-lying areas prone to flooding, he said.

"The 30 to 40 people who stayed there are accounted for and safe," he said.

Grand Isle, a resort prized for its sandy beaches — a rarity in marshy coastal Louisiana — is still recovering from the impact of the 2010 BP oil spill. There were no reports of remnant oil washing ashore.

Still Young said he was worried about his communities of Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria. "We're waiting to see what happens with the Intercoastal Waterway. If it rises 5 to 6 feet we may have challenges there with coastal flooding and tidal flooding."

He wasn't aware of any floods there. "If the wind shifts to the south as expected, we're going to have some challenges."

Despite the overtopping of the levee, which stands 8 ½ feet, Campbell said streets in the area were still passable.

Parish President Billy Nungesser said a portion of the roof of his home on the parish's west bank had blown off. He described wind-driven rain coming into his home as "like standing in a light socket with a fire hose turned on."

Elsewhere, the storm drove sheets of rain through the nearly deserted streets of New Orleans as a population mindful of the powerful punch dealt by Hurricane Katrina seven years ago waited for the storm to get out of their lives. Isaac had stalled along the coast early Wednesday before resuming a move to the northwest several hours later.

Forecasters said the storm could drop up to 20 inches of rain, though city of New Orleans spokesman Ryan Berni said only minor street flooding and fallen trees were reported overnight.

He had no immediate reports of injuries or looting though he said one unoccupied structure had collapsed and there was a fire in a home caused by a candle. "Someone was reading by candlelight and the curtains caught fire," he added.

Thousands of law enforcement officers and Louisiana National Guard troops were poised for possible rescue efforts. Roadways in the city's eastern sector were reported flooded and trees were down.

Floodgates were closed on area waterways to block Isaac's storm surge, part of the flood protection system rebuilt with billions of dollars of federal aid after Hurricane Katrina struck seven years ago. Large pumps designed to remove any floodwater from the low-lying level city on the Mississippi River were functioning as planned, Berni said. But he urged residents to remain vigilant and sheltered as long as the winds and rain bands were lashing New Orleans.

"We fully expect people to stay inside and not impede any efforts by our first responders," Berni said.

Early Wednesday, police officers were patrolling and TV news trucks moved about the streets of New Orleans where water ponded along the sides. The still-passable streets downtown didn't appear to be seriously flooded though some wind-blown tree branches and signs littered the ground.

Buildings in the downtown also didn't appear to have any significant damage.

At the International House Hotel, just outside the French Quarter, an early morning false alarm roused guests after windblown debris apparently shattered a window.

Michael DeBaets, 39, and his girlfriend Kelsey Dewis, 27, from Winnipeg, Canada, said they were a bit unnerved.

They were supposed to fly out of New Orleans on Wednesday after a vacation but the flight was canceled. It was deja-vu for the couple as they were trapped for two days in New York City last year when Irene, another hurricane, rolled up the Eastern Seaboard.

About 3 a.m. Wednesday, they were awakened by the sound of their hotel window shattering — possibly by flying debris.

It was a nerve-racking experience.

"I just don't know what to expect," Dewis said. "Hurricanes are so foreign to us."

She and her boyfriend joked that their next vacation probably won't be anywhere near a coastline.

"Definitely inland," she said. "Saskatchewan or something."

Meanwhile, more than half a million people were without power across the state's southern parishes, including more than 300,000 in New Orleans and its suburbs, power provider Entergy reported.

Though Isaac wasn't packing Katrina's punch, evacuations were mandatory in about a half-dozen parishes.

Coastal communities were largely abandoned after evacuation orders.

Houma, an oil patch community about 30 miles inland, was in darkness after power failed. The center of Isaac was expected to pass over the city as the storm slowly moved inland. Traffic signals swayed amid sheets of wind-driven rain as Isaac lurked nearby. Debris littered roadways.

___

Associated Press writer Michael Kunzelman contributed to this report.

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