ANEW ORLEANS — Hurricane Isaac pushed water over a rural levee, knocked out power and flooded beach-front roads before dawn in Louisiana and Mississippi as it began a slow, drenching slog inland from the Gulf of Mexico with a newly fortified New Orleans in its path.
Wind gusts and sheets of rain pelted the nearly empty streets of New Orleans, where people watched the incoming Isaac from behind levees that were strengthened after the much stronger Hurricane Katrina hit seven years ago to the day.
Water driven by the large and powerful storm flooded over an 18-mile stretch of one levee in Plaquemines Parish south of New Orleans, flooding some homes in a thinly populated area. The levee, one of many across the low-lying coastal zone, is not part of New Orleans’ defenses.
Parish authorities believe some people may be trapped but were not sure how many may have remained despite an earlier evacuation. Rescuers were waiting for the strong winds to die down later in the day before moving out to search.
“We did have two parish police officers that were stuck in a car there. We just found out they were rescued and are safe,” said emergency management spokeswoman Caitlin Campbell. Two other parish workers in a boat rescued them..
Isaac was packing 80 mph winds, making it a Category 1 hurricane. It came ashore at 7:45 p.m. EDT Tuesday near the mouth of the Mississippi River, driving a wall of water nearly 11 feet high inland and soaking a neck of land that stretches into the Gulf.
The storm stalled for several hours before resuming a slow trek inland, and forecasters said that was in keeping with the 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, and every storm is different, said Ken Graham, chief meteorologist at the National, Weather Service office in Slidell, La.
“It’s totally up to the storm,” he said.
Isaac’s winds and sheets of rain whipped New Orleans, where forecasters said the city’s skyscrapers could feel gusts up to 100 mph. Ryan Berni, a spokesman for the city of New Orleans, said the storm had caused only some minor street flooding before dawn and felled trees but had left roughly 125,000 customers in the city without power.
In Mississippi, the main highway that runs along the Gulf, U.S. 90, was closed in sections by storm surge flooding. At one spot in Biloxi, a foot of water covered the in-town highway for a couple of blocks and it looked like more was coming in. High tide around 9:30 a.m. was likely to bring up more water.