- Hurricane Isaac lashed New Orleans as it approached the storied city Wednesday exactly seven years after the devastating Katrina, stranding dozens of people in cars and homes as it pushed flood waters over defenses in one rural area.
Louisiana officials said they may have to intentionally breach a levee in a flooded area as Hurricane Isaac made a slow, drenching slog inland from the Gulf of Mexico and a dawn-to-dusk curfew was declared in New Orleans.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said officials may cut a hole in a levee on the east bank of Plaquemines Parish to relieve pressure on the structure. At a news conference in Baton Rouge, Jindal said there was no estimate on when that might occur.
He said as many as 40 people are reportedly in need of rescue in the area.
Plaquemines Parish has also ordered a mandatory evacuation for the west bank of the Mississippi River below Belle Chasse, worried about a storm surge. The order affects about 3 000 people in the area, including a nursing home with 112 residents.
Officials said the evacuation was ordered out of concern that more storm surge from Isaac would be pushed into the area and levees might be overtopped.
Meanwhile in New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued a curfew for the city as Hurricane Isaac lashed the city on the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's destructive arrival.
Police cars had been patrolling the nearly empty streets since Isaac began bringing fierce winds and heavy rains to the city Tuesday night. The curfew was set to start Wednesday night and would last until further notice.
Rescuers in boats and trucks plucked a handful of people who became stranded by floodwaters in thinly populated areas of southeast Louisiana. Authorities feared many more could need help after a night of slashing rain and fierce winds that knocked out power to more than 600,000 households and businesses.
Although Isaac was much weaker than Katrina, which crippled the city in 2005, the threat of dangerous storm surges and flooding from heavy rain was expected to last all day and into the night as the immense comma-shaped storm crawled across Louisiana.
Army Corps spokeswoman Rachel Rodi said the city's bigger, stronger levees were withstanding the assault.
“The system is performing as intended, as we expected,” she said. “We don't see any issues with the hurricane system at this point.”
There were initial problems with pumps not working at the 17th Street Canal, the site of a breach on the day Katrina struck, but those pumps had been fixed, Rodi said.
The extent of the damage was not entirely clear because officials did not want to send emergency crews into harm's way. In Plaquemines Parish, a fishing community south of New Orleans, about two dozen people who stayed behind despite evacuation orders needed to be rescued.
As Isaac's eye Isaac passed overhead, authorities in armored vehicles saved a family whose roof was ripped off, Larpenter said.
Two police officers had to be rescued by boat after their car became stuck. Rescuers were waiting for the strong winds to die down before moving out to search for other people.
Water driven by the large and powerful storm flooded over an 18-mile (30-kilometer) stretch of one levee in Plaquemines Parish. The levee, one of many across the low-lying coastal zone, is not part of the new defenses constructed in New Orleans after Katrina.
Isaac was packing 75 mph (120 kph) winds Wednesday, making it a Category 1 hurricane. It came ashore at 7:45 p.m. EDT (1145 GMT) Tuesday with 80 mph (130 kph) winds near the mouth of the Mississippi River, driving a wall of water nearly 11 feet (3.4
meters) high inland and soaking a neck of land that stretches into the Gulf.
The storm stalled for several hours before resuming a slow trek inland, and forecasters said that was in keeping with the its erratic history. The slow motion over land means Isaac could be a major soaker, dumping up to 20 inches (50 centimenters) of rain in some areas. But every system is different.
“It's totally up to the storm,” said Ken Graham, chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Slidell, Louisiana.
Isaac's winds and sheets of rain whipped New Orleans, where forecasters said the city's skyscrapers could be subject to gusts up to 100 mph (160 kph).
Tens of thousands of people had been told ahead of Isaac to leave low-lying areas of Mississippi and Louisiana, including 700
patients of Louisiana nursing homes. Mississippi shut down the state's 12 shorefront casinos.
The hurricane also canceled commemoration ceremonies Wednesday for Katrina's 1,800 dead in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The storm drew attention because of its timing Ä coinciding with the Katrina anniversary and the first major speeches of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.
Isaac promised to test a New Orleans levee system bolstered by $14 billion in federal repairs and improvements after the catastrophic failures during Katrina. But in a city that has already weathered Hurricane Gustav in 2008.
Isaac also posed political challenges with echoes of those that followed Katrina, a reminder of how the storm became a symbol of government ineptitude.
President Barack Obama sought to demonstrate his ability to guide the nation through a natural disaster, and Republicans tried to reassure residents as they formally nominated former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as their presidential candidate.
There was already simmering political fallout from the storm. Republican Gov. Jindal, who canceled his trip to the convention in Tampa, said the Obama administration's disaster declaration fell short of the federal help he had requested. Jindal said he wanted a promise from the federal government to be reimbursed for storm preparation costs. - Sapa-AP