Friday August 31, 2012
After drenching New Orleans, Isaac threatens dam
NEW ORLEANS: Authorities in two states along the US Gulf Coast urged residents to seek shelter Thursday amid fears a dam could fail as a weakening Isaac doused an already drenched region.
Local officials in Mississippi called for precautionary evacuations of the area near Lake Tangipahoa after the Percy Quin Dam showed signs of damage due to the storm, a statement said.
But they insisted the dam had not been breached, showing instead "impaired portions", and that crews are going to carry out a controlled release of water into the river below to ease pressure on the dam.
In Louisiana, Tangipahoa Parish President Gordon Burgess called for a mandatory evacuation for anyone living within a mile of the Tangipahoa River on either side.
Between 40,000 and 60,000 people could be affected by flooding if the dam breaks, a statement from the office of state governor Bobby Jindal said.
The dam scare came as forecasters warned of life-threatening floods, tornadoes and storm surges due to the slow-moving and ferocious mix of wind and rain generated by Isaac, which made landfall as a hurricane but has lost steam.
At 2100 GMT, the National Hurricane Center said Isaac had weakened further to a tropical depression with maximum sustained winds of 35 miles (55 kilometers) per hour.
"Even though Isaac is no longer a tropical storm, dangerous hazards from storm surges, inland flooding and tornadoes are still occurring," a statement from the Miami-based center said.
The area hardest hit by the storm was coastal Plaquemines Parish, where officials on Wednesday ordered the evacuation of some 3,000 people.
The storm has revived memories of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the region exactly seven years ago, flooding New Orleans and killing at least 1,800 people in the broader Gulf Coast area.
But this time around, new multi-billion-dollar post-Katrina flood defenses appeared to be holding but authorities still urged residents to stay indoors and three regional airports remained closed.
Rescue workers headed to Slidell on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain after floodwaters began rising rapidly. About 100 people were rescued with high-water trucks and boats.
Officials said some areas were under about five feet (1.5 meters) of water after a canal swollen by two days of heavy rains overtopped raised railway tracks.
Dozens more remained trapped in their homes as roads became impassable. "We weren't expecting it," police chief Randy Smith said.
Latoya Sanders, 26, said she was ready to move back to California after riding out her first hurricane in Slidell.
"I'm scared," she said after police carried her five children aged one to seven into a truck.
Isaac could dump up to 14 inches (35 centimeters) of rain over much of Louisiana, Mississippi, southwest Alabama and Arkansas through Friday. Some areas could see rainfall of up to 25 inches, the NHC said.
The storm may wind up causing as much as $2.5 billion in damage in and around Louisiana and in the offshore oil sector in the Gulf of Mexico, according to early estimates from natural disaster modeler Eqecat.
The Louisiana state government urged people in about a dozen areas to boil their tap water before cooking with it, drinking it or using it to brush their teeth.
The Mississippi River flowed backwards for nearly 24 hours due to pressure from Isaac, the US Geological Survey said.
The waterway similarly went into reverse gear during Katrina, cresting at 13 feet (nearly four meters) about its previous level.
More than 760,000 people were without electricity in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas, local power company Entergy said as the weather system snapped utility poles and downed transmission lines.
Across Louisiana, more than 4,000 people were crammed into shelters.
Dozens of nursing home residents, many in wheelchairs, were among those taken to higher ground by the National Guard in high-water trucks.
US President Barack Obama, who has been regularly briefed on the storm, late Wednesday declared a "major disaster" exists in Louisiana and Mississippi, paving the way for more federal aid to local authorities.
"We've got to make sure everybody's safe, then we'll start looking at what it'll take to recover," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said after surveying some of the damage on Wednesday. -AFP