Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Levees in New Orleans fend off Isaac

Fishing towns most at risk

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NEW ORLEANS -- Hurricane Isaac sidestepped New Orleans on Wednesday, sending the worst of its howling wind and heavy rain into a cluster of rural fishing villages that had few defences against the slow-moving storm that could bring days of unending rain.

Isaac arrived exactly seven years after the devastation of hurricane Katrina and passed slightly to the west of New Orleans, where high wind and sheets of rain appeared to be no match for a levee system bolstered by $14 billion in federal improvements after the catastrophic failures during Katrina. Isaac had top sustained winds of 112 km/h, just below the hurricane threshold of 119 km/h.

New Orleans' biggest problems seemed to be downed power lines, scattered tree limbs and minor flooding. Just one person was reported killed, compared with 1,800 deaths from Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi. And police reported few problems with looting. Mayor Mitch Landrieu ordered a dusk-to-dawn curfew just to be sure.

The hurricane also cancelled commemoration ceremonies Wednesday for Katrina's 1,800 dead.

But in Plaquemines Parish, a sparsely populated area south of the city that is outside the federal levee system, dozens of stranded people were rescued by boat in flooded coastal areas. The storm pushed water over a 28-kilometre levee and put so much pressure on it authorities planned to intentionally puncture the floodwall to relieve the strain.

The storm knocked out power to as many as 700,000 people, stripped branches off trees and flattened fields of sugar cane.

By mid-afternoon, Isaac had been downgraded to a tropical storm. Even at its strongest, it was far weaker than the 2005 hurricane that crippled the city. Because its coiled bands of rain and wind were advancing at only 8 km/h -- about the pace of a brisk walk -- the threat of storm surges and flooding was expected to last into a second night as the immense comma-shaped system crawled across Louisiana.

Rescuers were waiting for the strong winds to die down before moving out to search for other people.

After wind-driven water spilled over the levee in Plaquemines Parish, state officials said they would cut a hole in it as soon as weather allowed and equipment could be brought to the site. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said as many as 40 people needed to be rescued.

The storm drew massive attention because of its timing -- coinciding not only with the Katrina anniversary, but also the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2012 A12

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