“Stay hunkered down.”
That’s the message local, state and federal officials are telling the people of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana in response to a lingering Hurricane Isaac, now Tropical Storm Isaac, that seems in no hurry to move along.
The storm made two separate landfalls in Louisiana, both as a Category 1 hurricane, according to catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide. The first occurred on Aug. 28 at low-lying Plaquemines Parish, La., at around 7:45 p.m. CDT. It then veered sharply to the southwest, re-emerged over the water and made a second landfall just west of Port Fourchon, La., at around 2:15 a.m. CDT on Aug. 29.
The irony that Isaac was pounding New Orleans on the same day Hurricane Katrina devastated the city seven years ago is not lost on its citizenry, said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
“For those of that live here this brings back a very painful memory,” Landrieu said at a mid-day press conference on Aug. 29. “Our lives in this area of the country are defined by before Katrina and after Katrina. We lost 1,836 family members … during that period of time. It has forever scarred our lives, changed our lives and redirected the way we do many, many things.”
Thanking President Obama and other federal officials who earlier in the day pledged their “complete and total support,” Landrieu noted that the post-Katrina $10 billion investment in a federal levee system appeared to be protecting the city and operating as designed.
He acknowledged the suffering of “our brothers and sisters in Braithwaite,” in Plaquemines Parish, where Isaac’s heavy rain and storm surge flooded houses and forced the rescue of at least 118 people.
“Braithwaite is about 20 miles from New Orleans. That levee was a local levee. The individuals involved were outside of the levee protection system that the people of America invested in,” Landrieu said.
As of around noon Isaac was still packing hurricane force winds.
In a separate conference call with media representatives, National Hurricane Center (NHC) Director Dr. Rick Knabb said because of the slow forward movement and large size of the storm system, many folks in the greater New Orleans area and farther inland had not begun to feel the full impact of Isaac.
“For some folks in southern Louisiana, it is roughly about halfway through the event,” Knabb said. Isaac is “roughly the same size storm in the back half as the front half,” he said. “Many people in the coastal regions are only half way or a little over half way through in terms of when the rain started.”
Knabb added that some areas in the southern part of the state may see as much as 20 inches of rain before the storm moves farther north.
Knabb also that the center of the storm may not reach Arkansas until late in the day on Thursday.
“Unfortunately this storm just won’t seem to leave us,” Landrieu said. “Some storms move by very quickly and cause a lot of damage. Other storms that don’t seem to be as strong may stay around for a long time and that continual pounding may cause more damage. I believe we’re beginning to see that across all of Louisiana. To the city of New Orleans I just want to say now is not the time to let your guard down. You have to stay hunkered down.”
Landrieu pointed out that the city is safe — the entire police force was accounted for and on duty, and some 1,000 National Guard troops were on patrol.
But stress from the large, slow moving system was beginning to take its toll on New Orleans infrastructure.
One major problem, Landrieu said, is that because “the water drainage and sewer systems are operating on backup power in much of New Orleans, there has not been enough power to clear sewage out of the system. … We are working right now to balance that power. In the meantime I’m going to ask you to minimize the flushing of toilets.”
“High winds and saturated soil have allowed dozens of trees to be blown over causing damage, downed power lines, and road blockage,” said Dr. Tim Doggett, principal scientist at AIR Worldwide. “Some roof damage has been reported with several roofs being torn off homes from strong winds. In New Orleans, 6-10 inches of rain have fallen. Although some streets in the city have been made impassable by flooding from precipitation and downed trees, the fortified levees have held.”
The massive flood control system built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in response to Hurricane Katrina includes walls, levees, pumps, and huge floodgates that are are designed to withstand a Category 3 hurricane, according to AIR.
The system also includes a 1.8 mile, surge barrier, which was closed for the first time ever on Aug. 28. The surge barrier, which is 26 feet high, “is 13 miles from downtown New Orleans and it is protecting New Orleans East and the lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish,” Mayor Landrieu said.