Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — Tropical Storm Isaac, downgraded from a hurricane about 19 hours after making landfall, drove water over a levee in a lightly populated part of Plaquemines Parish, flattened sugar cane 50 miles west in Terrebonne Parish, forced evacuation of a neighborhood in St. John the Baptist Parish and knocked out power to more than 700,000 households and businesses statewide.
State officials were debating whether to make a hole in the low levee at Braithwaite, where dozens of people who had ignored an evacuation order needed rescue, to relieve pressure on the earthen structure, Gov. Bobby Jindal said Wednesday.
Garret Graves, head of the Coastal Protection Restoration Authority, said if a breach occurs it would be in a section of the levee between Braithwaite and Scarsdale so water could flow back into the bay.
"Until those conditions stabilize, it's way too dangerous" to breach the parish levee, Graves said. But he added of the breach, "right now it looks like it will happen."
Parish spokeswoman Caitlin Campbell said an 18-mile stretch from the St. Bernard Parish line at Braithwaite south to White Ditch was taking water and homes were flooding as storm surge piled up against levees between the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River. Civilian volunteers in boats, Louisiana National Guard troops in high-water vehicles and boats and sheriff's deputies from St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes were going house-to-house.
The Louisiana National Guard brought in 14 high-water vehicles and 10 boats.
"This is a local levee. They knew it's prone to flooding. That's why it was under a mandatory evacuation order. About 20 people or so didn't leave," said Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of Louisiana State Police.
"We're going to get out there to them. We're going to do everything we can to get them out of there. But we're not going to put further people in harm's way," Edmonson said.
With the storm expected to be moving across the state for hours, if not days, he said, "This is something we're going to be in for the long haul. This is not anywhere anytime soon."
Wednesday afternoon brought some good news: the storm was weakening more quickly than expected, with peak winds of 50 mph.
Worry about storm surge in Plaquemines Parish prompted a mandatory evacuation Wednesday for the west bank of the Mississippi River below Belle Chasse, where about 3,000 people live.
In St. John the Baptist Parish, the River Forest subdivision was evacuated. The water rose quickly Wednesday, and higher than it ever has, said Brittney Reid. By noon it was creeping into her family's driveway. "Our street will flood, but it's never been in the driveway before," she said. As she was driving her car from the driveway to the higher back yard, "the sheriff came down in a big rescue truck like a paddy wagon," she said.
Isaac bounced off the mouth of the Mississippi River Tuesday night, making its first landfall. It then stalled over Grand Isle, Louisiana's only inhabited barrier island.
Jesse Delcambre, who stayed in the town hall because her fiance is a town employee, said 2 to 5 feet of water covered the island Wednesday morning, and had fallen about 12 to 18 inches by late afternoon.
"The houses over here are all 12, 14 feet above ground on pilings," she said. The few on slabs are flooded, she added.
Jefferson Parish President John Young said 30 to 40 people stayed on Grand Isle, and all were safe. In the rest of the parish, the drainage system kept up with the storm, averting street flooding in all but the usual flood-prone areas, he said.
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