Flooding fears as Isaac fizzles

Joshuah Durette and Farrell Torres make their way to their home in a rowboat

NEW ORLEANS — The remnants of Hurricane Isaac continue to cause headaches today, 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.

The first hurricane to hit the United States this year will be remembered for striking New Orleans on the anniversary of 2005’s deadly Hurricane Katrina – and providing a first, successful test of the city’s pricey new flood defences.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu concluded that the ring of defences was “operating as designed”.

Now a tropical depression, Isaac can still trigger tornadoes in Mississippi and Louisiana, the National Hurricane Centre said – among the final acts of a storm that punched above its weight in terms of impact and often confounded forecasters.

One bright spot: rain that is expected to reach the central US Midwest over the weekend, a godsend to farmers suffering from the worst drought in more than 50 years, even if too late for many of this season’s crops.

Isaac caused widespread flooding and property damage in the US Gulf Coast region, mostly because of its unexpectedly heavy and persistent rainfall. The system lingered near New Orleans for the best part of two days, sometimes moving as slowly as five miles an hour.

“Most of them blow through and are over with. This one is just hanging around too long,” George Dubaz, a New Orleans tour guide, said during the deluge.

The storm caused anywhere from $700 million to $2 billion in insured onshore losses, disaster modeller AIR Worldwide said late Thursday.

That would still leave Isaac, which came onshore as a Category 1 hurricane, well outside the 10 most costly US hurricanes.

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.

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 today, authorities said. (Reuters)

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