Tropical Storm Isaac path: Stalled storm dumps rain, wind on Gulf Coast

New Orleans continues to get battered by heavy rain and wind. Photo: Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Isaac was downgraded to a tropical storm Wednesday afternoon, but the move comes as the violent storm continued to dump heavy rain and strong wind across the Louisiana coastline.

Rick Knabb says the storm's main area of circulation is over watery marshlands Wednesday and the New Orleans area may see another day of storm conditions because the first half of the storm hasn't moved through the area yet.

Officials say New Orleans' flood protections system were holding up so far as Tropical Storm Isaac storms through the area; the rural levee was not part of the new system.

"The system is performing as intended, as we expected; we don't see any issues with the hurricane system at this point," said Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Rachel Rodi.

She said the corps expected to be on "high alert" for the next 12 to 24 hours.

MAP: Track the latest social media chatter about Isaac in real time

Isaac made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane Tuesday evening on Louisiana's southeast coast with 80 mph winds. Since then, it has pushed water over a rural levee to flood some homes, knocked out power to thousands and has immersed beach-front roads in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Levee overtopped in Plaquemines Parish

Isaac pushed water over a rural levee, flooding some homes, knocking out power and immersing beach-front roads in Louisiana and Mississippi early Wednesday as it began a drenching slog inland from the Gulf of Mexico with a newly fortified New Orleans in its path.

In the midst of Isaac's high pitched howls Wednesday, 70-year-old Fred Leslie's rescue boat made it to shore in Braithwaite, Louisiana, just south of New Orleans.

His were legs weak, but his soul was grateful for dry land.

"I lost everything. I lost everything," Leslie said.

Residents were warned to evacuate days ago, but did not.

Louisiana officials said Wednesday they may have to intentionally breach a levee in a flooded area as Isaac made a slow, drenching slog inland before weakening to a tropical storm and a dusk-to-dawn curfew was declared in New Orleans.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said officials may cut a hole in a levee on the east bank of Plaquemines Parish to relieve pressure on the structure. At a news conference in Baton Rouge, Jindal said there was no estimate on when that might occur.

He said as many as 40 people are reportedly in need of rescue in the area.

Plaquemines Parish has also ordered a mandatory evacuation for the west bank of the Mississippi River below Belle Chasse, worried about a storm surge. The order affects about 3,000 people in the area, including a nursing home with 112 residents.

Joshua Brockhaus, an electrician who lives in the flooded area, helped rescue neighbors in his boat.

"I'm getting text messages from all over asking for help," he said. "I'm dropping my dogs off and I'm going back out there."

The hurricane's impact was a surprise for him.

"We didn't think it was going to be like that," he said. "The storm stayed over the top of us. For Katrina, we got 8 inches of water. Now we have 13 feet."

Curfew in New Orleans, outages widespread

Meanwhile in New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued a curfew for the city as Hurricane Isaac lashed the city on the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's destructive arrival. The curfew was issued to prevent looting. So far, there had been only sporadic arrests for looting.

Police cars had been patrolling the nearly empty streets since Isaac began bringing fierce winds and heavy rains to the city Tuesday night. The curfew was set to start Wednesday night and would last until further notice.

In Vermilion Parish, Sheriff Mike Couvillon said a 36-year-old man had gone to help two friends move a vehicle from under a tree to prepare for Isaac on Tuesday evening, and fell to his death after climbing 18 feet up a tree. Deputies don't know why the man climbed the tree.

Rescuers in boats and trucks plucked a handful of people who became stranded by floodwaters in thinly populated areas of southeast Louisiana. Authorities feared many more could need help after a night of slashing rain and fierce winds that knocked out power to more than 600,000 households and businesses.

What's next?

While there have been some scattered reports of flooding and people being stranded, the full picture of how devastating Isaac really was isn't likely to emerge anytime soon. Rain and wind are still slamming the coast, and it could take days for power to be restored and floodwaters to recede.

Whatever is left of Isaac is also expected to move into the nation's drought-stricken heartland, so the damage could be far from done.

Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, underscored that point on Wednesday morning: "It's going to be frustrating," he said. "The response will start when conditions allow, not when the sun shines."