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Scott Burley runs from crashing surf on the Ken Combs Pier in Gulfport, Mississippi.

NEW ORLEANS — Hurricane Isaac drove water over the top of a levee on the outskirts of New Orleans today, but the multibillion-dollar barriers built to protect the city itself after the 2005 Katrina disaster were not breached, officials said.

The slow-moving but powerful Category 1 hurricane was felt along the Gulf Coast, threatening to flood towns in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana with storm surges of up to 12 feet and winds up to 80 miles per hour.

“All of the levees are holding and are very strong,” New Orleans Mayor Mitchell Landrieu told local radio.

Emergency management officials in low-lying Plaquemines Parish reported the overtopping of a 2.4-metre high levee between the Braithwaite and White Ditch districts southeast of New Orleans.

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said about 2,000 residents of the area had been ordered to evacuate but only about half were confirmed to have gotten out before Isaac made landfall late on Tuesday.

Isaac was wobbling west-northwestward near six miles per hour, a pace that increases the threat of rain-induced flooding.

“On the east bank right now, we have reports of people on their roofs and attics and 12 to 14 foot of water (in their homes),” Nungesser said.

“This storm has delivered more of a punch than people thought,” he added.

Plaquemines Parish, which stretches southeast from New Orleans, is cut in two lengthwise by the Mississippi River as it flows to the Gulf of Mexico. Much of it lies outside the greater New Orleans levee system, and construction projects to bolster protection are not yet complete.

More than 600,000 people are without power as officials warn that the US Gulf Coast will have to endure many hours of pounding rain from Hurricane Isaac. (Reuters)

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