N.O. levees hold; LaPlace homes flood
Authorities are planning to intentionally breach a levee in Plaquemines Parish on Thursday to relieve flooding from Hurricane Isaac, while in St. John the Baptist Parish 2,000 to 3,000 people were being evacuated because of flooding from Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain, officials said.
Farther east on Interstate 10 in New Orleans, Isaac littered the streets with tree limbs Wednesday, but the city’s mayor said the rebuilt levees and floodwalls are “holding.”
Meanwhile, 35 people were rescued in Plaquemines Parish and about 800 homes are believed to have significant water damage in that southeast Louisiana parish that has received the brunt of the storm since Tuesday night, Gov. Bobby Jindal said, adding that the storm may not leave the state until Friday.
Late Wednesday, Jindal requested and received an “expedited major disaster declaration” from the federal government.
At Riverbend Nursing Home in Jesuit Bend, 120 residents evacuated ahead of an expected evening overtopping of the back levee in Plaquemines Parish. State and parish officials were concerned about reports that an 8-foot levee near the nursing home might be overtopped.
Ambulances lined up at the facility’s door — the southernmost nursing home in Plaquemines — as Jindal arrived to check on the evacuation.
Romaine Dahl, 79, sat near the entrance waiting to be lifted into an ambulance.
A notecard attached to his shirt listed his name, birthdate and medical problems.
“I’ve lived through too many storms (to be scared),” Dahl said.
Down the hall, resident Irmgard Kindermann said she is an old hand at storms. “This is really nothing — not bad at all,” said Kindermann, 83.
Nursing home ward clerk Charlet Johnson said the evacuation was progressing well.
“They’ve been really calm,” she said.
The breach in the levee on the east side of Plaquemines Parish, is needed to direct water into the bay to ease flooding near Braithwaite and Scarsdale, said Garret Graves, Jindal’s director for Coastal Activities. The affected communities are on the east bank of the Mississippi River near English Turn, which is south of New Orleans.
The storm blew water over the back levees that protected the communities from Black Bay and Lake Borgne, which are connected to the Gulf of Mexico. The water stacked up against the much larger Mississippi River levees. Scarsdale experienced up to 12 feet of water.
Graves said state officials had hoped the waters could drain to a point that it could be pumped.
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said previous storms showed it would take three to four days to drain with a levee punch and 14 days with a pump.
Graves said the levee would be scraped with a backhoe or excavator to create a hole.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate urged residents to avoid venturing outside their homes.
“Stay home if you don’t need to go anywhere,” he said. “Trust me, search-and-rescue folks have their hands full.”
President Barack Obama officially announced a “major disaster” declaration for 35 Louisiana parishes shortly before midnight Thursday.
The declaration for federal funds to flow on larger basis — but on a 75 percent federal share — came shortly after Gov. Bobby Jindal requested an expedited major disaster declaration. However, Jindal wants the federal government to sign off on covering 100 percent of the costs.
Obama on Monday had approved a pre-landfall disaster declaration for Louisiana in advance of Hurricane Isaac.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate has maintained that additional requests to waive state cost shares would be reviewed after the storm. Such was also the process for Hurricane Gustav in 2008 under President George W. Bush.
In his latest request, Jindal cited the states disaster struggles dating back to hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, Gustav and Ike in 2008 and the 2010 BP oil disaster.
“All of these successive incidents have depleted the State and local governments’ ability to respond to a strengthening hurricane rapidly approaching,” Jindal wrote.
Obama also declared a “major disaster” for Mississippi.
Flooding in LaPlace
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne described the situation in St. John as “pretty bad and unexpected.”
Waters from Lake Pontchartrain were fast rising, necessitating evacuation of 1,500 to 3,000 people. Dardenne, riding with Jindal, said many people got out on their own but rescues were taking place and 40 to 50 buses were en route “to make sure they could get out of there.”
Those rescues were accomplished by the use of boats, airboats, school buses, military trucks, pickup trucks and even air mattresses.
And neighbors were helping neighbors.
St. John the Baptist Parish Councilman Marvin Perrilloux was among more than 2,500 city residents he estimated to be trapped inside their homes by floodwaters in parish subdivisions.
One couple off Old Highway 51 were trapped in their attic, Perrilloux said at 2:30 p.m. But he received word minutes later that the people were able to escape their flooded home.
More than a 1,000 soaked residents of the Cambridge, River Forest and other LaPlace subdivisions — and their pets — were taken to a large New Line Christian Fellowship building on Airline Highway.
Where they would be bused from there was not specifically known. Some residents said they were told their next destination would be west or north, possibly as far as Shreveport. They were to be taken to state shelters in Shreveport and Alexandria.
Elizabeth Lindsey, 65, her husband, Robert, and their two dogs and one cockatoo were rescued from their Warwick Street home in the River Forest subdivision via airboat.
Elizabeth Lindsey said that was not how she expected to make her first airboat ride.
“All of a sudden the water started rising. It rose and rose and rose. It wasn’t stopping,” she said at the New Line building.
“We’ve never flooded back there. We’ve been there 16 years,” she said, adding that she did not flood during Hurricane Katrina.
The Lindseys made it out of their home with only two small bags of clothes.
Deborah Warren, 47, had three feet of water in her Lexington Street home in the Cambridge subdivision.
“I’m disgusted and disappointed. I had trust in the drainage. Maybe they don’t have enough drainage. They need more,” she said while standing in a neighbor’s home.
Warren said she experienced street flooding during Katrina, but nothing like this.
“This is just about as devastating as it was for the people in New Orleans during Katrina,” she said.
Warren said all she managed to take from her house was some clothes and insurance and mortgage papers.
“It’s a devastating shock for us. It was unexpected. We were fortunate enough to get out of our house,” she said.
Edwin Watson, 31, watched anxiously as floodwaters lapped well into his Cambridge Street yard. He was on the higher end of the street.
“This is ridiculous. I don’t know where the water is coming from,” he said.
“It hurts to see,” Watson said standing just inside his front door as rescue vehicles and boats passed back and forth in front of his house.
Watson stressed that there was no mandatory evacuation ordered in St. John the Baptist Parish for Isaac.
Little damage in N.O.
Across New Orleans, Isaac downed some trees and power lines and broke some street lights, but street flooding was only sporadic.
Rain has fallen constantly Wednesday morning accompanied by tropical force winds with gusts of more than 60 mph.
Isaac’s winds and sheets of rain whipped New Orleans, where forecasters said the city’s skyscrapers could feel gusts up to 100 mph.
The weather service said more than 9 inches of rain had fallen in New Orleans in the 24 hours up to 7 a.m.
Numerous traffic lights were out and cars lined neutral grounds in search of higher ground.
A large oak tree on historic St. Charles Avenue in Uptown uprooted and took a large chunk of the sidewalk with it, but largely spared the house it struck. The uprooted tree is on St. Charles near Arabella Street.
“Everything is holding just as it was expected to do,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said of the city’s levees and floodwalls — several of the of which failed with catastrophic consequences during Katrina.
In a related development, Entergy Corp. and Cleco Corp. said the 720,000 customers statewide without power included more than 400,000 in the metro New Orleans area, including 54,000 in St. Tammany Parish.
The Associated Press
contributed to this story.