Isaac was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm Wednesday. But the slow-moving storm was hovering over New Orleans, Louisiana, on the Gulf of Mexico, generating tremendous rain and high winds. Isaac is testing the city’s improved levees that were breached exactly seven years ago by Hurricane Katrina.
Tropical Storm Isaac is a much weaker weather event than Hurricane Katrina, which left 1,800 people dead in Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005. Still the threat of dangerous storm surges and flooding is increasing as Isaac slowly moves across Louisiana.
Storm surges are testing the New Orleans levee system that failed during Katrina and has since been bolstered by $14 billion in federal repairs and improvements. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says that so far the stronger levees are withstanding the assault.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says officials might need to cut a hole in a levee in a flooded area to relieve pressure on the structure and prevent a major breach. He says that as many as 40 people in the area need to be rescued.
“Bottom line: This storm is a very slow moving storm. It will be moving through our state. We’ll be dealing with this storm through early Friday morning. So this is a storm that we will be dealing with not only today and tomorrow, but we’re going to continue to see the weather effects especially as it moves to the northern part of our state,” Jindal said.
Earlier Wednesday, Isaac packed 120 kilometer-per-hour winds, driving a wall of water nearly 3.4 meters high inland and soaking a stretch of land that extends into the Gulf of Mexico. The storm stalled for several hours before resuming its slow trek inland. Isaac’s slow movement over land means it could dump up to 50 centimeters (about 20 inches) of rain in some areas. In New Orleans, one district on the west bank of the Mississippi River has ordered a mandatory evacuation because of concerns of a sustained storm surge. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has issued a curfew for the city.
In areas of southeastern Louisiana, people in boats and trucks have rescued residents stranded by floodwaters. Authorities fear that many others could need help following fierce winds and rain that knocked out power to more than 600,000 households and businesses on Tuesday night.