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Isaac's legacy grows: New flooding, death toll now at 7

September 01, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Isaac may have left, but its legacy along the Gulf Coast was still developing Friday. Authorities and residents of Louisiana and Mississippi were contending with flooding, evacuations and cleanup, and the official death toll rose to seven.  

In Ascension Parish, about 60 miles west of New Orleans, a voluntary evacuation was announced because of flooding from nearby Lake Maurepas that struck at least 10 homes. The parish, home to about 120,000, saw the worst flooding in many residents’ lifetimes — worse than during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or floods in 1983 and 1977, according to Ascension Parish spokesman Lester Kenyon.

“This is a historical event,” Kenyon said, “So much water has remained here, the whole region, the Lake Pontchartrain basin and Lake Maurepas is filling up.”

PHOTOS: Isaac pounds Gulf Coast

"It was the storm’s path, the way it came up and then parked itself right off of the coast, just feeding in rain bands to our parish and the parishes all around us. All of that filters down eventually to the Lake Pontchartrain basin,” Kenyon said, leaving it “swollen up.”

Five pumps at a levee on the east side of the parish were “just blasting” Friday, he said, pumping 1,000 cubic feet of water per second back into Lake Maurepas. But that was causing another problem, Kenyon said: “It’s backing up toward us.”

In St. Charles Parish, about 30 miles west of New Orleans, about 70% of the area was without power Friday -- 15,000 residents. But many were grateful to have avoided the widespread flooding that occurred to the north across the Mississippi River at the west end of Lake Pontchartrain in St. John The Baptist Parish. There, more than 3,000 residents were forced to evacuate from the town of LaPlace overnight Thursday as water engulfed entire neighborhoods.

“We’re very lucky. With the lack of protection we have on our west bank, if Isaac would have turned, we could have easily looked like St John Parish,” said parish spokeswoman Renee Simpson. “People that I know, my friends’ homes are under four, five feet of water. The quest goes on to lobby our legislators in Washington, D.C., to start getting more levee protection out here.”

Western Lake Pontchartrain water levels were receding Friday but were still 4 feet above normal, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said at a news conference.

“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.

Just across the border in Mississippi, 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.”

Northwest of New Orleans, an emergency effort to intentionally breach an earthen dam and avoid flooding at Lake Tangipahoa in Mississippi appeared to be a success Friday.

Jindal said the work on the dam, which prompted a massive evacuation of as many as 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 at a failing levee to the south of New Orleans in Plaquemines Parish — was also successful, Jindal said.

State agencies in Louisiana have spent $56.42 million on storm response so far, and parishes about $10.1 million, according to Christina Stephens, spokeswoman for the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

The latest death toll from Isaac stands at seven.

Five deaths in Louisiana are being blamed on the storm, Stephens said.

A 36-year-old man in Abbeville died Tuesday when he fell out of a tree while preparing for the storm. A couple in Braithwaite died after braving rising water Thursday to stay in their home. A 75-year-old man was killed when he drove his SUV off of a flooded highway ramp in Slidell. And the body of a man was recovered Thursday after a fire that occurred during the storm.

Two storm-related deaths were reported in Mississippi on Thursday when trees fell on the cab of 62-year-old Greg Parker's tow truck in Picayune and on a woman's car in Holmes County.

Late Friday, 4,368 people remained in shelters across Louisiana, and at least 554,949 people were still without power, about 26% of the state, Stephens said.

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 toured flooded areas south of New Orleans in Jefferson Parish on Friday, and President Obama is expected to arrive Monday, Jindal said.

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

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