MORGAN CITY, La. — Hurricane Juan moved inland over southeast Louisiana today with 75-m.p.h. winds, driving floodwaters and toppling a third oil-drilling rig as the Coast Guard launched a second day of rescue efforts.
Three deaths and the disappearance of a dozen people were blamed on the storm.
Forecasters said the surprising late-season storm had moved well inland and was losing strength as less of its swirling mass remained over water. Juan, the third hurricane to hit the area this season--a battering unprecedented in National Hurricane Center records--spewed rain from the Atlantic coast to the upper Mississippi Valley.
After stalling off the western Louisiana coast Monday, the storm began backtracking eastward, and its eye crossed southeast Louisiana's desolate marshlands near Morgan City about 5 a.m. and moved toward more populated areas.
Oil Workers Trapped
Among those missing in the storm were three men believed trapped in an oil drilling rig that capsized today and five men aboard a 100-foot crew boat, the Gary Ellen, that was under tow until the storm snapped a towline this morning and set it adrift, officials said.
A helicopter sent early today to search for the missing men was recalled because of high winds, Coast Guard spokeswoman Debbie Westerberg said.
The oil rig that capsized today was the third to be toppled by the storm. It overturned in shallow water about six miles off Hopedale, south of New Orleans.
"We are told that there were four men aboard, and the rig master is the only one who escaped," Coast Guard Petty Officer Stacey Jaudon said. "He got out, waved down a vessel and told them that he believed three men were trapped inside the rig."
Divers Search Rig
Divers from the Coast Guard and the Louisiana Wild Life and Fisheries Department were searching the capsized rig.
At noon Central Standard Time, Juan's center was wobbling northward and was well inland about 95 miles west-northwest of New Orleans, the National Weather Service said.
Juan's maximum sustained winds weakened to 75 m.p.h., mostly in squalls over the open water, the weather service said.
Louisiana Office for Emergency Preparedness operations officer D. C. Jensen said he believed that more than 2,000 state residents had fled their homes as rivers, lakes and bayous spilled over their banks and topped levees after three days of heavy rains.
A Morgan City shelter for evacuees had to be evacuated itself as floodwaters entered, and in the town of Lafitte, flooding in a graveyard's mausoleums sent caskets bobbing away.
The Coast Guard said nearly 150 people were plucked from the Gulf of Mexico on Monday and today, including about 80 from a collapsed oil rig's escape-capsule lifeboat.