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More flooding, new evacuations underway in Isaac's wake

August 31, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Becky Melkin sloshes through her still-flooded home in the West End neighborhood of New Orleans along Lake Pontchartrain.
Becky Melkin sloshes through her still-flooded home in the West End neighborhood… (David J. Phillip / Associated…)

Isaac may have been headed away from the Gulf Coast on Friday, but officials in Louisiana and Mississippi were continuing to cope with flooding, and new evacuations and rescues were underway.

In Ascension Parish, about 60 miles west of New Orleans, officials were calling for a voluntary evacuation due to flooding from nearby Lake Maurepas. Louisiana National Guard troops were on hand to assist with the pumping out of floodwater and the evacuation of residents, Gov. Bobby Jindal said at a Friday briefing.

Search-and-rescue efforts were underway in St. Charles Parish, about 30 miles west of New Orleans, which also faced widespread flooding, Jindal said.

PHOTOS: Isaac lashes Gulf Coast

“Even though the storm has moved out of Louisiana, we continue to see lakes and rivers with elevated levels. Some of these rivers could be at flood levels well into next week,” Jindal said.

On the west side of Lake Ponchartrain water levels were receeding Friday but were still four feet above normal, he said.

Just across the Mississippi border, the Pearl River was expected to crest at 18.5 feet on Monday, remaining elevated over the weekend, he said, and “that could cause challenges up there.”

To the northwest of New Orleans, the Tangipahoa River at Kentwood, La., crested at 15.8 feet late Thursday, dropped to 15 feet Friday afternoon and was expected to reach 13 feet by Saturday morning, Jindal said. The lower levels were attributed to an emergency effort to intentionally breach an earthen dam upriver at Lake Tangipahoa in Mississippi; that dam had threatened to give way due to rising water.

Jindal said the work on the dam, which prompted a massive evacuation Thursday of up to 60,000 residents along the river in both states, was expected to take several days, but had been successful so far, clearing a spillway near the dam and reducing pressure on it.

“Lake levels are dropping slowly, and teams are moving forward with enacting the controlled release that will reduce the threat from this situation,” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said Friday in a statement.

Another intentional breach to relieve Isaac-related flooding — this time of a failing levee to the south of New Orleans in Plaquemines Parish — was also successful, Jindal said.

“They expect 70% of the water to be out by 3 p.m.” on the parish’s east bank, he said, aided by winds that had changed direction since the storm passed.

At least 5,186 people remained in shelters Friday across Louisiana, about 1,000 fewer than Thursday, Jindal said. Although some parish shelters closed, the number of evacuees in state shelters continued to rise, he said.

“These storms are presenting challenges to our people, and there are still people who will be out of power for some time,” Jindal said.

About 29% of Louisiana remained without electricity Friday, down from 40% Thursday, and Jindal said that could be reduced to 10% by Saturday.

In Mississippi, more than 1,000 people were at shelters Friday and 60,000 were without power, according to the state’s emergency management agency.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was expected to arrive in New Orleans on Friday to tour flooded areas to the south in Jefferson Parish, including Lafitte and Grand Isle, Jindal said. President Obama is expected to arrive Monday, he said.

Jindal said that his touring of storm-ravaged areas Thursday left him “in awe of the resilience and generosity of our people.”

He highlighted one man in particular, a caretaker at a nursing home in Plaquemines Parish who stayed on the job during Isaac just as he had during Hurricane Katrina. This time, just as had happened during Katrina, the man lost his home.

Many of those who fell victim to Isaac-related flooding blamed the $10-billion system of levees rebuilt around New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

On Friday, Col. Edward R. Fleming, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans district commander, said he was aware of the criticism, particularly in the city of LaPlace, to the west of New Orleans, where more than 3,000 residents had to be evacuated late Wednesday.

Fleming said he had talked about the issue with both of Louisiana’s senators. He added that his staff planned to survey high-water marks, fly over the city to assess damage and consider the flooding in future projects.

“I’ve directed my team to go back and review our model that we did before construction, the model that underpins the design of the whole system” of hurricane protection in New Orleans, Fleming said during a Friday briefing in New Orleans with Mayor Mitch Landrieu. He stressed  that the corps wants to “make sure we got that right.”

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

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