BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Tropical Storm Isaac staggered toward central Louisiana early Thursday, its weakening winds still potent enough to drive storm surge into portions of the coast and the River Parishes between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
Water was rising late Wednesday in portions of St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes, where evacuations were ordered as water poured in from Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain. In neighboring Jefferson Parish, Isaac was pushing water into the fishing villages of Jean Lafitte and Barataria.
Flooding from Lake Pontchartrain was reported along its north shore in St. Tammany Parish.
The storm’s next target would be Baton Rouge, where Hurricane Gustav left its mark in 2008 by leaving the city without power for days.
The state capital — like many areas of southeast Louisiana — was under an overnight curfew, and Mayor-President Kip Holden said the city was preparing for the worst.
Police Chief Dewayne White said officers would deal harshly with anyone violating the curfew. Traffic lights failed late Wednesday and traffic accidents were reported across the city, the early calling cards of Isaac.
“We urge you to remain inside and stay off the roadways,” Holden told residents. You can still call 911 if you have an emergency and we will respond,” he said.
Gov. Bobby Jindal said the storm’s laborious movement was troubling.
“This is a very slow-moving storm which means there will be sustained periods of heavy wind and heavy rain,” Jindal said.
President Barack Obama declared federal emergencies in areas of Louisiana and Mississippi hit hard by Isaac, moving to speed federal aid and recovery efforts to the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast.
Obama signed the orders late Wednesday covering 35 parishes in Louisiana and 34 counties in Mississippi.
The White House said in a statement that the disaster declarations ordered authorities to expedite federal aid in areas affected by Isaac. The move makes the federal funding available to state and local governments and certain nonprofit organizations for emergency work.
Rainfall totals in some parts of the state were expected to be close to two feet before Isaac exited to the north. By late Wednesday night, the Audubon Park station in New Orleans had reported 19 inches since rain began falling from Isaac on Tuesday.
Robert Ricks, forecaster at the National Weather Service in Slidell, said Isaac was proving to be very wet on its east side and very dry in its western sections. Rainfall totals of 10-15 inches would be typical in Isaac’s eastern sections, he said.
He said the storm, which had been moving at about the pace of a swift walk, was picking up a little speed as it neared Baton Rouge on a track that would take it through Alexandria and on north today.
Hundreds of thousands of people — including most of the New Orleans area — were without electricity, and utility crews were waiting until the storm’s winds fall below 35 mph to begin repairs. That was expected to begin on Thursday in some areas.
The Coast Guard planned to begin assessing conditions on the Mississippi River on Thursday beginning to determine when the river can reopen to shipping.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Tippets said no barges or other vessels were loose on the river. On Wednesday, the Hale Boggs Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River in St. Charles Parish, was closed for a time after a vessel broke loose from its mooring near the bridge.
The river was closed Monday as Isaac neared the coast. About 10 ships are waiting to enter the river about 100 miles south of New Orleans. Most were cargo ships, but a cruise liner was due to arrive on Thursday as well.
Port of New Orleans officials said the river could reopen by the weekend.
Authorities said nine cargo ships are waiting to enter the river and the cruise ship Carnival Elation is due to arrive on Thursday. Port President Gary LaGrange said the cruise ship will have top priority when ships are allowed to enter the river.
Other Coast Guard resources were on standby. “We’re waiting to see whether helicopters will be needed for rescues,” Tippets said.
Overnight, a Coast Guard helicopter plucked a family and their two dogs out of a flooded neighborhood in the St. John the Baptist Parish community of LaPlace. They were taken to New Orleans and were reported in good condition.
The Coast Guard received a call for help from local authorities shortly after midnight.
“The husband and wife and their two dogs were in an area where a lot of houses washed away,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jorge Porto. “They used a flashlight inside the house as a signaling device, which made all the difference in locating them effectively.”
LaPlace and other communities upriver from New Orleans were hit with flooding as Isaac’s winds shifted south and drove in water.
Jindal said 58 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes have declared a state of emergency. Officials added that crews from energy companies Entergy and Demco will be out in the streets early Thursday to assess damage to power lines in an effort to get power restored to the almost 3,500 people who have lost electricity in the area. Cleco also was preparing to get crews on the streets when conditions stabilized and said power was back on for some customers.
Statewide about 750,000 customers were without electricity late Wednesday.
Airlines servicing Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport have canceled all commercial flights for Thursday because of Tropical Storm Isaac. Airport spokeswoman Michelle Wilcut said the storm knocked out electricity to the airport, which was operating on limited backup generator power.
She said the facility was talking with airlines to determine when flights will resume.
The National Weather Service said Isaac should be a tropical depression by the time it reaches Shreveport in the state’s extreme north.
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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