The Aftermath: Hurricane Isaac 2012

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With the remnants of Hurricane Isaac retreating from the Gulf Coast north, leaving massive devastation in their wake, piles of dead nutria - large semiacquatic rodents have been spotted littering the shore in Waveland, Mississippi, on Friday.   But perhaps one of the most striking images to have come out of the natural disaster was the sight of tombstones and caskets from an above-ground cemetery floating among the debris.  Dozens of damaged headstone were spotted sitting washed atop a levee by flood waters after a breach in Braithwaite, Louisiana. The breach occurred as Isaac made landfall Tuesday night.

A couple have been found dead in their kitchen after flood waters dumped by Isaac swamped their Louisiana home and blocked their escape, bringing the U.S. death toll from the lumbering storm to four.  The unidentified man and woman were found inside their house in Braithwaite - one of the towns hardest hit after flood waters topped a nearby levee - following a report to authorities that they had apparently not escaped as the town was ravaged by the storm.

Their deaths come after Greg Parker, 52, was killed by a tree falling on his truck in Picayune, Mississippi on Wednesday, while on Tuesday, Carlos Medellin-Guillen, 36, died after falling 18ft from a tree in Vermilon Parish, Louisiana in an attempt to help two friends move a vehicle trapped beneath it.

As Isaac whirls north - expecting to hit Missouri and Arkansas later today - it continues to cause headaches, bringing heavy rainfall and the threat of flash flooding to the lower Mississippi Valley as Gulf Coast residents get ready to start their cleanup efforts.  In some areas, Isaac, which has been downgraded to a tropical depression after winds dropped to 35 mph, dumped as much as 16 inches of rain. Around 500 people had to be rescued by boat or high-water vehicles.  New Orleans' Audubon Park recorded 18.7 inches of rain in a 24-hour period during Isaac. That exceeded all records dating back to 1871, said Jeff Masters of Weather Underground. Many other locations in Louisiana and Mississippi logged more than 10 inches of rain.

It can still trigger tornadoes in Mississippi and Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center said - among the final acts of a storm that punched above its weight in terms of impact and often confounded forecasters.  The storm caused anywhere from $700 million to $2 billion in insured onshore losses, disaster modeler AIR Worldwide said. That would still leave Isaac, which came onshore as a Category 1 hurricane, well outside the 10 most costly U.S. hurricanes.  Through it all New Orleans sustained mostly cosmetic damage such as downed trees and street lights. A massive police and National Guard presence - and a dusk-to-dawn curfew, now lifted - also helped keep things calm even as much of the city lost power.

The Port of New Orleans and the city's airport were ready to reopen on Friday, authorities said.  Surrounding areas, though, without the new protective federal flood barriers, did not fare as well from the relentless rain and huge storm surges brought forth by Isaac.  Some of the worst flooding was in Plaquemines Parish, southwest of New Orleans, where flood waters overtopped at least one levee and left many homes under about 12 feet of water.

Slidell, a town of about 27,000 people northeast of New Orleans, took the brunt of a storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain, which left some neighborhoods under about a foot of water.  You'd have never made me believe a Category 1 would dump this much water,' said Sam Caruso, 71, a former mayor of Slidell who toured the town in his pickup truck on Thursday.

The growing waters sparked fear on Thursday when officials ordered the immediate evacuation of 60,000 people in the area of Kentwood, along the Louisiana-Mississippi border as a swollen river threatened to break a dam.  After giving people just three hours to evacuate, officials swooped in to begin a controlled release of the water at Lake Tangipahoa in Percy Quinn State Park in Mississippi. A break in the dam could have raised the level of the already swollen River from around 11 feet to 17 feet in Kentwood.  The warning came after Isaac smashed into the Gulf Coast with winds of up to 80 mph on Tuesday night, rattling towns, swamping thousands of homes and businesses, leaving 930,000 people without power in Louisiana - and terrifying residents on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

But as the storm continue inched further north at no more than a walking pace, it continued to lose its strength.  Amid the chaos and destruction, there were great feats of kindness and bravery. A father-son duo saved dozens of lives in their small Louisiana town after plucking neighbours and their pets from flooded homes ravaged by the storm.

Jesse Shaffer, 25, and his 53-year-old father, also named Jesse, scooped more than 120 people to safety using their fishing boat on the flooded streets of Braithwaite, where water topped a levee on Wednesday after Isaac lumbered towards the coastal town.

Braithwaite was one of the hardest hit areas after the Plaquemines Parish levee - which was not reinforced during the multi-billion dollar levee upgrade system following Katrina - failed to keep out the storm surge.

From 5 a.m. on Wednesday, the Shaffers went from house-to-house in fishing boats, searching for anyone left stranded as floodwaters swept through the town. 

'They were all on there, screaming their lungs out,' the elder Shaffer said, fighting back tears. 'We rescued a lot of people, saw a lot of things you never thought you'd see.'  In another example of their determination the men rescued 10 people, including a baby and an elderly man, from a local auditorium. They had to smash through the attic ventilation system to reach the victims, they told ABC.

'We had to scramble and try to find a boat 'cause none of the sheriff's department or anybody could come to this end of the parish,' the elder Shaffer said.

The men are victims of the storm, too. On Wednesday, water inside their home had risen to 12 feet and they had to move their belongings to the attic - which was then flooded. The water was rising six inches every four minutes, the older Shaffer said.

Parish President Billy Nungesser said U.S. Army National Guard troops and local sheriff's office officials were going house to house through the area on Thursday to ensure that there were no deaths or injuries.

Officials rushed to evacuate more than 100 nursing home residents from Plaquemines Parish, an area with a reputation for residents hunkering down to weather storms. Even the sick and elderly are hardened storm veterans.

'I don't think we had to evacuate to begin with,' said Romaine Dahl, 59, as he sat in a wheelchair. 'The weather was a hell of a lot worse last night than it is now. And I got an idea that after all this is said and done they're going to say everything is over with, go on back home.'

The storm continues to move north, inflicting heavy flooding on New Orleans - but residents agreed the storm, which had been a category 1 hurricane when it hit land, did not pack a fraction of the punch of Katrina, which landed as a category 3 and intensified to a devastating category 5.  City officials had announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Wednesday to help prevent any return of the looting that occurred in New Orleans in the days after Katrina. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu warned that the punishment for a looting conviction is harsh - a mandatory three years' hard labor.  About a dozen looting-related arrests were reported in the city by Thursday morning but the streets were unusually quiet, littered with downed branches, trees and pieces of roofing material. The city reported about 10 inches of rain in some places.

But on Thursday morning, the sun shone on the city as business owners began taking down boards protecting their windows, yet thousands in the area were still without power.


Mark Wallace, 52, had come out to check on his store, Fancy Boutique.  'This one just took forever,' Wallace said of the slow-moving storm which first brought rain to New Orleans on Tuesday. 'Usually they blow through and are done with.'  Wayne Overton, 50, a longshoreman, had come out to inspect a large, fallen tree in front of his home that had knocked down power lines.

'This one lasted a while. It was scary,' Overton said, noting that the storm had damaged the roof of his home. 'There's going to be a lot of clean up to do around here.'

West of New Orleans in St. John the Baptist Parish, flooding from Isaac forced 1,500 people to evacuate. Rising water closed off all main thoroughfares into the parish, and in many areas, water lapped up against houses and left cars stranded.

By Thursday, Isaac's maximum sustained winds had dropped to 45 mph and the National Hurricane Center said it was expected to become a tropical depression by Thursday night, meaning its top sustained winds would drop below 39 mph.  The storm's center was on track to cross Arkansas on Friday and southern Missouri on Friday night, spreading rain as it goes.

As the focus on Isaac shifted from the coast, many in its projected path further north have been praying that it will bring rain desperately needed to ease a drought in the central states, where summer crops are drying up and many rivers and dams are critically low.  Staff Sergeant Denis Ricou, a Louisiana National Guard spokesman, said about 5,800 troops had been deployed in the state due to Isaac and the number could rise to over 8,000 in the coming days.


The Louisiana National Guard wrapped up rescue operations in Plaquemines Parish, saying they felt confident they had gotten everyone out and there were no serious injuries but would stay in the area over the coming days to help, National Guard spokesman Capt. Lance Cagnolatti said.  The slow-moving storm prevented Louisiana utilities from sending teams out to assess storm damage. New Orleans-based Entergy said 17 substations and 32 transmission lines were damaged by the storm.  Flooding slowed some power restoration work along the Mississippi coast, and gusty winds resulted in increased outages.

Late Wednesday, President Obama signed declarations terming the impact of the storm on Louisiana and Mississippi major disasters and ordering federal aid to help with their recovery.

Because Isaac's coiled bands of rain and wind were moving at only 5 mph - about the pace of a brisk walk - the threat of storm surges and flooding was expected to last into a second night as the immense comma-shaped system crawled across Louisiana.  'We didn't think it was going to be like that,' Brockhaus said. 'The storm stayed over the top of us. For Katrina, we got 8 inches of water. Now we have 13 feet.'  'I think a lot of people were caught with their pants down,' said Jerry Larpenter, sheriff in nearby Terrebonne Parish.  'This storm was never predicted right since it entered the Gulf. It was supposed to go to Florida, Panama City, Biloxi, New Orleans. We hope it loses its punch once it comes in all the way.'

In New Orleans, the storm canceled remembrance ceremonies for those killed by Katrina. Since that catastrophe, the city's levee system has been bolstered by $14 billion in federal repairs and improvements. The bigger, stronger levees were tested for the first time by Hurricane Gustav in 2008.  Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Rachel Rodi said the flood-control measures were working 'as intended' during Isaac.  'We don't see any issues with the hurricane system at this point,' she said.

Isaac came ashore late Tuesday as a Category 1 hurricane, with 80 mph winds near the mouth of the Mississippi River. It drove a wall of water nearly 11 feet high inland.  The storm stalled for several hours before resuming a slow trek inland, and forecasters said that was in keeping with its erratic history. The slow motion over land means Isaac could be a major soaker, dumping up to 20 inches 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.  Slashing rain and wind gusts up to 100 mph buffeted New Orleans skyscrapers.  In the French Quarter near Bourbon Street, Jimmy Maiuri was shooting video from outside his second-floor apartment. Maiuri,  who fled from Katrina at the last minute, stayed behind this time with no regrets. He was amazed at the storm's timing.  'It's definitely not one to take lightly, but it's not Katrina,' he said. 'No one is going to forget Aug. 29, forever. Not here at least.'

As hard wind and heavy rain pelted Melba Leggett-Barnes' home in the Lower 9th Ward, an area leveled during Katrina, she felt more secure than she did seven years ago.  'I have a hurricane house this time,' said Barnes, who has been living in her newly rebuilt home since 2008. She and her husband, Baxter Barnes, were among the first to get a home through Brad Pitt's Make It Right program.


Her yellow house with a large porch and iron trellis was taking a beating but holding strong. 'I don't have power, but I'm all right,' said Barnes, a cafeteria worker for the New Orleans school system.  In Mississippi, some sections of the main highway that runs along the Gulf, U.S. 90, were closed by flooding.

In Pass Christian, a Mississippi coastal community wiped out by hurricanes Camille and Katrina, Mayor Chipper McDermott was optimistic that Isaac would not deal a heavy blow. 'It's not too bad, but the whole coast is going to be a mess,' he said.  Isaac has already left a trail of suffering across the Caribbean.

The tropical storm bore down on Haiti's southern peninsula and on Cuba on Saturday, leading to 24 deaths and dumping torrential rain on a nation still trying to recover from the horrific 2010 earthquake.

Isaac's rain and winds lashed Haiti's southern coast on Saturday, flooding parts of the capital Port-au-Prince and ripping through flimsy resettlement camps that house more than 350,000 survivors of the earthquake.  The government and aid groups tried to evacuate thousands of tent camp dwellers on Friday but many Haitians chose to remain in their flimsy, makeshift homes, apparently fearing they would be robbed, said Bradley Mellicker, head of disaster management for the International Organization for Migration.


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