x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Isaac weakens to tropical storm, sparing New Orleans

A weakening Isaac pounded the Gulf Coast with wind, rain and flooding, and while levees protecting New Orleans held, residents had to be rescued from rooftops in inundated southeastern Louisiana.

A weakening Isaac pounded the Gulf Coast with wind, rain and flooding, and while levees protecting New Orleans held, residents had to be rescued from rooftops in inundated southeastern Louisiana.

Dozens were trapped in their homes in Plaquemines Parish after water spilled over a flood barrier. Officials may breach a levee there to relieve the pressure and are evacuating residents, Governor Bobby Jindal said at a news briefing in Baton Rouge. New Orleans is imposing a dusk-to-dawn curfew, Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu said at a news conference there.

Now a tropical storm, Isaac made landfall as a hurricane yesterday, evoking memories of Hurricane Katrina, which struck seven years ago today, flooding New Orleans after levees failed and killing 1,800 people. As of 3 p.m. New York time, Isaac was 80 kilometres west-southwest of the city, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm was creeping northwest at 6 mph, with sustained winds of 70 mph, and dumping sheets of rain.

New Orleans’s rebuilt storm protection – which includes strengthened and improved levees, floodwalls, pump stations and surge barriers – is “functioning as designed,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Major General John Peabody said at the Baton Rouge briefing.

“We have done exactly what we needed to do to protect the city of New Orleans,” Peabody said. “However, there are a lot of folks outside New Orleans, outside that system, who are at risk.”

With winds extending 282 kilometres from its centre, Isaac is bringing torrential rain and storm surges to parts of southern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The storm may produce 20 inches of rain during the next two days, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Isaac has stopped 95 percent of U.S. oil production in the Gulf of Mexico and 72 percent of natural-gas output, and forced evacuations from 505 production platforms and 50 rigs, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said today.

The storm will probably cause from $500 million to $1.5 billion in damage in insured losses before it dissipates over the weekend, according to Eqecat Inc., a catastrophe risk modeling company. In 2008, Hurricane Gustav, a more powerful system, caused about $2 billion in damage when it struck near where Isaac has come ashore, the company said.

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Louisiana and Mississippi.

“When things like this happen, there are no Democrats or Republicans, they’re just Americans and we stand by Americans in their hour of need,” he said today in Charlottesville, Virginia.

As many as 40 people were rescued in Plaquemines Parish, Jindal said.

An 8.5-foot levee from the town of Braithwaite to White Ditch was overtopped, said Caitlin Campbell, a spokeswoman for the parish, which has a population of about 24,000. As much as 12 feet of water has flooded the area, she said.

Jesse Shaffer, 25, of Braithwaite, and his father, Jesse Shaffer Sr., 53, used their boat to rescue people -- including a woman and her 5-month-old baby from a roof, according to the Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

The Plaquemines Parish levee isn’t part of the $14.5 billion system rebuilt after Katrina to protect New Orleans, said Rachel Rodi, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans.

New Orleans reported street flooding in about 40 locations, according to its website. Broken branches and leaves covered the city’s Magazine Street. Awnings were torn apart. The black siding at Rendezvous Tavern was ripped off in places.

Jonathan and Marybeth Green, who live with their three and four-year-old girls at the corner of Magazine Street and Jefferson Avenue, said they lost power last night and slept poorly as their condominium shook and transformers exploded.

“We’re just waiting it out,” said Jonathan Green, 35, sitting on his porch watching police and National Guard troops drive past. They have enough supplies to last about three days and they will “sit in the car when it gets too hot or we need to charge our phones,” he said.

About 656,000 Louisiana households are without power, or about 31 per cent of the state, Jindal said.