By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times –
It could take weeks to bring Louisiana back to normal after Hurricane Isaac, an unusually wet storm that caused serious flooding in 10 parishes and damaged more than 13,000 homes, authorities said Tuesday.
State officials made their first estimates of the toll imposed by Isaac, which came ashore Aug. 28 with 80-mph winds. The slow-moving storm caused flooding but no levee breaks — unlike catastrophic Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Katrina, blamed for more than 1,800 deaths, was followed weeks later by Hurricane Rita. Together, they destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes.
Isaac’s damage will be less, said Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. The 13,000 tally is an early estimate that is expected to increase once state and federal teams complete their assessments.
“This is a very preliminary number based on an initial assessment of communities that had flooding and wind damage,” said Stephens, speaking by telephone after a meeting of the Unified Command Group, led by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“We still have floodwaters in some areas. We expect that this number could rise after FEMA completes house-by-house inspections,” Stephens added. Those inspections will determine whether a damaged building can be repaired or needs to be torn down, which would increase the loss, she said.
Jindal has formally declared a statewide public health emergency, which allows government workers to enter private property and remove debris. In his declaration on Monday, the governor noted that 200 advisories to boil water had been issued and that more than 40 percent of electrical power had been lost for extended periods of time. The health emergency will last until Oct. 3, but can be ended sooner if the cleanup progresses well, officials said.
As of Monday night, about 95,000 people had sought aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for repairs, Stephens said.
Although Isaac was the weakest hurricane possible, a Category 1, it hung around for days — dropping heavy rain and causing extended flooding in 10 parishes, especially in Plaquemines and St. John the Baptist parishes, Stephens said.
“It was a little bit different type of storm,” she said. “Usually a storm comes in and moves on. This one came in and sat for a while and, until a few days ago, we were still doing rescues from the flooding. Flash flooding is not as much of a factor right now but we’re staying ready.”
Stephens estimated that the state had already spent $112 million in dealing with the storm and that local parishes have spent about $10 million. Those figures are expected to rise.
As of Tuesday afternoon, electrical power had been restored to 98 percent of customers, officials said. About 38,000 customers remained without electricity, down from 900,000 at the storm’s peak. Fewer than 1,600 people remained in shelters, down from a high of about 6,000.
Meanwhile, workers in Hancock County, Miss., were removing the bodies of 15,000 to 16,000 nutria killed by the storm and taking them to a landfill, Brian Adam of the state Emergency Management Agency said in a telephone interview. The water-borne rodents’ bodies washed up on some local beaches from the marshy areas where they normally live.