NEW ORLEANS — Isaac soaked Louisiana for yet another day and pushed more water into neighborhoods all around the city, flooding homes and forcing last-minute evacuations and rescues. New Orleans itself was spared, thanks in large part to a levee system built after Katrina.
As the storm slogged its way across the state and windy conditions calmed, the extent of some of the damage became clear. Hundreds of homes, perhaps more, were underwater, thousands of people were staying at shelters and half of the state was without power. About 500 people had to be rescued by boat or high-water vehicles, and at least two people were killed.
And the damage may not be done. Waters continued to rise and a dam at a lake near the Louisiana-Mississippi border was under a lot of pressure and power lines and trees were felled as Isaac moved into Arkansas.
Farther south, evacuations were ordered in a lot of places ahead of the storm, but Isaac’s unpredictable, meandering path and the amount of rain — as much as 16 inches in some places — caught many off guard.
“I was blindsided, nobody expected this,” said Richard Musatchia, who left his home in LaPlace, northwest of the city.
Musatchia said 5 feet of water filled his home before a neighbor passed by with a boat and evacuated him and his 6-year-old boxer, Renny.
He piled two suitcases, a backpack and a few smaller bags onto the boat and said that’s all he has left. He left a brand-new Cadillac and a Harley-Davidson behind.
“People have their generators, because they thought the power would go out, but no one expected the water,” he said.
Others trickled into a parking lot of the New Wine Christian Fellowship church, delivered by National Guard vehicles, school buses and pickup trucks.
Daphine and David Newman fled their newly decorate home with two trash bags of clothing. They have lived in their subdivision since 1992, and they never had water in their home from previous storms, including Katrina. The comparison was common one since Isaac hit on the seventh anniversary of the devastating 2005 storm, though the differences were stark.
Katrina was more powerful, a Category 3 at landfall, while Isaac was a Category 1 at its peak. Isaac wobbled around; Katrina barreled into the state and quickly moved through.
David Newman was frustrated the government spent billions reinforcing levees for New Orleans and Jefferson Parish after Katrina and now he had the water.
“The water’s got to go somewhere,” he said. “It’s going to find the weakest link, and with the wind directions, we was ground zero.”
As officials called for impromptu evacuations, a debate started about whether anyone was to blame.
Jefferson Parish Council president Chris Roberts said forecasters at the National Hurricane Center needed a new way of measuring the danger. Many second-guessed evacuation orders, he said.
“The risk that a public official has is, people say, ‘Aw, it’s a Category 1 storm and you guys are out there calling for mandatory evacuations,’” Roberts said.
Hundreds of people in lower Jefferson chose to ride out the storm — and many of them had to be rescued, he said.
Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said although Isaac’s cone shifted west as it zigzagged toward the Gulf Coast, forecasters accurately predicted its path, intensity and rainfall. He did say the storm crept ashore somewhat slower than anticipated.
Blake also said local officials and residents shouldn’t use Katrina as a guide for what areas were at the greatest risk of flooding during Isaac.
“Every hurricane is different,” Blake said. “If you’re trying to use the last hurricane to gauge your storm surge risk, it’s very dangerous.”