'Our Own Little Katrina': Tropical Storm Isaac Sends Louisiana Locals to Attics and Roofs Awaiting Rescue

A dusk-to-dawn curfew has been issued in New Orleans.

ByABC News
August 29, 2012, 1:28 AM

Aug. 29, 2012 — -- Isaac continues to spin slowly through Louisiana, pushing huge amounts of sea water, dumping torrents of rain and leaving locals scrambling up to attics and onto roofs as floodwaters threaten to overtake them.

"It's our own little Katrina," said Tania Trege, wife of St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Mike Trege, describing the situation in Laplace, La.

Officials there already have rescued 200 people from flooded homes and believe hundreds more are stranded. The sheriff's office said rescuers continue to try to reach stranded locals with flat-bottomed boats and other vessels in what was described as the worst flooding in decades -- even worse than that caused locally by Katrina seven years ago.

State officials said there are as many as 3,000 people being evacuated from Laplace, with 40 to 80 buses waiting to take people out.

Overall, more than 700,000 people have been left without power in four states as Isaac, now a tropical storm, continues to pummel the Gulf Coast with rain and maximum sustained winds of 60 mph.

Forecasters at NOAA warned that Isaac could create "life-threatening hazards from storm surge and inland flooding as it moves slowly across southeastern Louisiana."

PHOTOS: Pets Escape Hurricane Isaac's Path

As of 10 p.m. CT, Isaac's center was located about 70 miles west-northwest of New Orleans and 15 miles south of Baton Rouge, La., and it was moving northwest at approximately 6 mph. Its center was expected to remain in Louisiana until early Friday, when it was forecast to cross into Arkansas shortly after gradually weakening into a tropical depression.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared a curfew in the city in order to make things easier for utility crews working through the night, The Associated Press reported.

An unofficial rainfall total of 22.5 inches was reported in Arabi, La., near the city's 9th Ward. An official report from Audubon Park in New Orleans listed 17 inches of rainfall.

Three helicopters were in the New Orleans area in case residents needed to be rescued from floodwaters. Each crew was equipped with hoist capability and a rescue swimmer, according to Coast Guard officials.

Hurricane Isaac weakened into a tropical storm this afternoon -- but not before its powerful storm surge overtopped levees, raising water levels as far as 314 miles up the Mississippi River.

As of 10 p.m. CT, a tropical storm warning remained in effect from Cameron, La., to the Mississippi-Alabama border, though the range and magnitude of the warning had slowly decreased.

Despite the downgrade, forecasters said Isaac wasn't running out of steam just yet.

Five to 10-foot storm surges were expected in Mississippi and southeastern Louisiana, with 7 to 14 inches of rainfall.

The Central Gulf Coast region and part of the Lower Mississippi Valley could experience tornados through Thursday.

PHOTOS: Isaac Hits Land With Force

Isaac, which at its peak was a weak Category 1 hurricane, showed storm surge heights more characteristic of a strong Category 2 storm.

The hurricane overtopped levees, knocked down trees and cut power to 716,068 in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi

There were no reports of injuries but dozens of residents of Plaquemines Parish, La., were stranded atop a levee, while there were multiple reports of people trapped in attics by rising waters.

As of mid afternoon, fewer people had been evacuated than during Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans seven years ago today.

Nevertheless, speaking with ABC News affiliate WFAA at the scene of a water rescue conducted by the local fire department in Plaquemines Parish, Cheryl Hicks said that the waves crested above her head.

"It's over 20 feet," she said. "It is horrible. Everybody's home is gone. Nobody has a house in Braithwaite. Nobody.

"This is a g**damn shame," Hicks added. "I've lived in Braithwaite for 53 years and this is my first time seeing something like this. This hasn't ever happened to us. This is a shame."

A total of 56 parishes in Louisiana declared states of emergency, according to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who added that there was a breakaway of a non-federal levee on the East Bank in Plaquemines Parish. The parish had a mandatory evacuation at noon Tuesday.

Officials were considering conducting an intentional breach to release some of the water at that levee.

At 9 a.m., 30 to 40 vehicles were stranded atop the levee in Plaquemines waiting for a ferry, with water all around, according to a contractor who works for the parish. That ferry was the only way off that flooded spit of land. A source told ABC News that nearly the entirety of the area flooded, and winds howled at 35-40 mph, preventing a ferry from approaching.

It was estimated that it would be six to eight hours before it was safe for the ferry to motor out to the stranded people, who were without power but had cell phone service.

Thousands who live in the area were stuck in their homes or attics, and rescuers were out in boats helping those who needed it most.

There were 19 parishes included in the federal disaster declaration, while approximately 8,200 national guardsmen were available to help with search and rescue efforts, according to Gov. Jindal. There were 4,130 people in shelters across the state -- 730 in state-run shelters and 3,237 evacuees in parish run shelters, according to Jindal.

"I've got a four-by-four hole in my roof, several pieces in the front yard, the back wall of my house moved a couple of feet, and with each gust of wind, it's like you're breathing in and out," William Harold "Billy" Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, told "Good Morning America."

Nungesser confirmed that a levee in Plaquemines Parish was overtopped with water, causing flooding. There were no reports that the $14 billion of levees and pumps put up around New Orleans after Katrina have been breached, but officials had not fully assessed the situation.

"The water came up so quickly and overtopped the levees from Breakaway to White Ditch on the east back of the north end of the parish. It's an area that we called for a mandatory evacuation," he said.

At the first crack of daylight today, parish officials were out examining the damage, according to James Madere, a parish geographic information system analyst.

In New Orleans, power lines were down, snaking and sparking across city streets after transformers exploded across the city Tuesday night.

The city saw handfuls of arrests as looters took advantage of the chaos. Police and the National Guard were all out in force.

The hurricane promised to lend even more solemnity to commemoration ceremonies Wednesday for Katrina's 1,800 dead in Louisiana and Mississippi, including the tolling of the bells at St. Louis Cathedral overlooking New Orleans' Jackson Square.