Days after Isaac, flooding and outages remain
September 2, 2012
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Much of a finger-shaped parish southeast of New Orleans was still covered with floodwater Sunday and more than 200,000 people across Louisiana still didn’t have any power, five days after Isaac ravaged the state. Thousands of evacuees remained at shelters or bunked with friends or relatives.
“My family is split up,” said Angela Serpas, from severely flooded Braithwaite in Plaquemines Parish. Serpas and her daughter were staying with her in-laws while her husband and son were staying in Belle Chasse, a suburban area of the parish.
“This is the second time we’ve lost our home. We lost it in Katrina,” she said.
At least seven people were killed in the storm in the U.S. — five in Louisiana and two in Mississippi. More than 2,800 people were registered at various state, local and Red Cross shelters in the state, down from around 4,000 earlier. State officials were uncertain how many people would eventually need longer-term temporary housing. Kevin Davis, head of the state’s emergency office, said that housing would likely include hotels at first, then rental homes as close as possible to their damaged property.
President Barack Obama was to visit Louisiana Monday, a day ahead of the Democratic National Convention. He will meet with local officials, tour storm damage and view response and recovery efforts before addressing reporters at Saint John the Baptist Parish, the White House said. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney visited the state Friday. Obama’s Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, visited Bay St. Louis, Miss., and Slidell, La., on Sunday.
“We are part of a team to make sure Hurricane Isaac is put to rest as soon as we can for all those affected,” Napolitano said. “In the meantime, please know all of us are thinking about those in Louisiana who are without their homes or without their businesses.”
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Progress was evident in many places. Workers continued their return to offshore oil and gas production platforms and drilling rigs, electricity came on for hundreds of thousands of people and the annual Southern Decadence Festival, a gay pride celebration, carried on in the French Quarter.
In Baton Rouge, thousands of gamblers even gathered for the opening of Louisiana’s newest riverboat casino— an opening that was delayed three days by Isaac.
Crews in the town of Lafitte intentionally breached a levee Sunday night in an effort to help flooding there subside, Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts told The Times-Picayune.
In the New Orleans region, there were signs of a slow recovery. Workers continued to deal with toppled trees and downed power lines, driving remained hazardous in areas without working traffic lights, and New Orleans opened two cooling shelters so those with no electricity could escape the heat.
Much of Plaquemines Parish, a vulnerable finger of land that juts into the Gulf of Mexico, remained under as much as 5 feet of water, Parish President Billy Nungesser said. The Category 1 hurricane walloped the parish, and for many, the damage was worse than that from Katrina in 2005.
“I’ve never seen water come up this quick this fast,” he said.
Nungesser said there were reports that cattle in the largely rural parish took refuge on porches. In one instance, cattle broke through a window and lumbered onto furniture to stay above water.
Controlled breaches of one overtopped levee and additional pumps are being used to get rid of the water.
Business owners and residents who evacuated from the west river bank of flooded south Plaquemines Parish will be allowed to return temporarily with police escorts on Monday.
Suburban communities farther north also had problems. Near Lake Pontchartrain, St. Tammany Parish officials kept watch over potential trouble spots along Isaac-swollen waterways.
An evacuation near the community of Bush was dialed back Sunday after authorities stabilized a lock in danger of failing on the Pearl River Diversion Canal. But St. Tammany authorities also were keeping an eye on the West Pearl River. Parish spokeswoman said about 5,000 homes near that waterway could be affected if it floods.
But St. James Parish officials ordered a curfew until 6 a.m. Monday as the Blind River stayed at a 5.6-foot crest for 24 hours, and about 20 houses flooded. A state news release said 10 buses had been sent to the parish in case evacuation was necessary, and that about 150 National Guard soldiers had also been directed there.
In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant reported 125,000 people were evacuated, though most returned home Sunday. Less than 100 people remained in shelters. Bryant said 924 people had to be rescued during Isaac.
Entergy, which provides power to most of the people who lost it, was under fire over the weekend from local government officials for what they said was a slow pace of restoration. Jefferson Parish President John Young said widespread outages were hampering businesses’ recovery from the storm and he would ask the state Public Service Commission to investigate.
Entergy spokesman Chanel Lagarde noted that Isaac had lingered over the state after Tuesday’s landfall and said Friday was the first day the corporation could get restoration efforts into high gear.
“We are working hard. We do have a good plan and we’re going about it in an approach that we think is going to be effective,” Lagarde said.
In Mississippi, about 1,600 Entergy customers awaited power. Roughly 5,000 served by not-for-profit electric associations also had no service.
Napolitano met with Mississippi emergency officials and Bryant at a fire station in Bay St. Louis, Miss., and was scheduled to make a stop in Louisiana later in the day.
Bay St. Louis was devastated by Katrina seven years ago, but this time it was protected from Isaac’s surge by a new seawall.