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Isaac stalls over Gulf Coast; rescues begin amid flooding

August 29, 2012|By David Zucchino and Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Hurricane Isaac stalled over southeastern Louisiana on Wednesday morning, dumping torrential rains across the Gulf Coast and pounding low-lying areas with 8- to 10-foot storm surges and 75-mph winds. The National Hurricane Center warned that hurricane conditions would persist all day and into the evening for storm-battered coastal residents.

The huge, slow-moving storm knocked down trees and power lines, flooded roads and highways and sent bands of wind and rain pelting an area from New Orleans to the Florida panhandle. Isaac, a Category 1 hurricane, is expected to be downgraded to a tropical storm late Wednesday as it slowly crawls north toward Arkansas and the Mississippi River Valley.

"This is one for the history books,’’ National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Schott told the Los Angeles Times, referring to Isaac’s unusually large span – tropical-force winds extended 175 miles from the storm center – and sluggish 6-mph movement over land.

The center of the storm was essentially parked over southeastern Louisiana and portions of southern Mississippi, drenching areas already saturated by previous rains.  The hurricane center said Isaac is likely to deliver 7 to 14 inches of rain in many areas, with downpours as high as 20 inches in some spots.

At 10 a.m. CDT, Isaac’s eye was about 45 miles southwest of New Orleans, with the hurricane center continuing to warn of a  "dangerous storm surge and flood threat’’ on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

In Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans, emergency crews were attempting to rescue residents stranded when floodwaters spilled over an 18-mile stretch of levee in the sparsely populated parish of about 26,000 people, flooding the area with 12 feet of water.

Sheriff's deputies, state police, National Guard members and resident volunteers set out in about 14 boats Wednesday morning to aid another 150 people who had called for help, stranded in attics and on rooftops by rising water, a sheriff's spokesman said.

"When we first started getting the overtopping and flooding, our deputies started doing rescues until the water just got too deep,’’ parish Sheriff commander Terry Rutherford told The Times.

More than 90 people were rescued from attics and rooftops, Rutherford said, with more calling in to report that they were stranded.

Rutherford said the flooding was different than during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"We didn’t experience that type of topping during Katrina for a sustained amount of time,’’ he said. "Katrina continued to move — Isaac  stalled on us.’’

Meteorologist Schott said that even after Isaac is downgraded to a tropical storm, the winds and flooding might ease but will not stop.  Rain and winds will continue into Thursday.

"If you’re dealing with 10-plus inches of rainfall, it doesn’t really matter too much if a storm is downgraded to a tropical storm,’’ he said, adding that '"extreme storm surges’’ will persist for much of the day Wednesday. 

Isaac's size and slow movement make it unusually destructive for a Category 1 storm, Schott said.

"It’s a Category 1 storm, but in some ways its impacts are very extreme,’’ he said.

In Mississippi, officials said they were concerned about how long Isaac was lingering.

"What worries me is the duration of this storm,’’ Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant told CNN. "We’re hearing 48 hours of rain. There’s going to be a lot of flooding.’’

He added: "We just wish this storm would move on.’’

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david.zucchino@latimes.com

Join Molly on Google+ and Twitter @mollyhf. Email: molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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