* Water overtops levee in Plaquemines Parish
* Nearly all Gulf of Mexico oil production halted
* Storm surge causes flooding
By Scott Malone and Kathy Finn
NEW ORLEANS, Aug 29 Hurricane Isaac drove water
over the top of a levee on the outskirts of New Orleans on
Wednesday, triggering life-threatening flooding seven years to
the day after Hurricane Katrina, authorities said.
Emergency management officials in low-lying Plaquemines
Parish reported the overtopping of the 8 or 9 foot (2.4 or 2.7
meter) 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
brought driving winds and rain beginning late on Tuesday.
"On the east bank right now, we have reports of people on
their roofs and attics and 12 to 14 foot (3.6-4.2 meters) of
water (in their homes)," Nungesser told CNN.
"This storm has delivered more of a punch than people
thought," he added.
It was not immediately clear how many people may have been
stranded in the area, as torrential rain and hurricane-force
winds prevented a full-scale search.
"The sheriff's deputies are over there but all the roads are
unpassable ... We don't know if some people are left behind and
now we can't get there and there is no way we can operate a boat
or an air boat in these winds," Nungesser said.
Isaac was the first test for multibillion-dollar flood
defenses built after levees failed under Katrina's storm surge,
leaving large parts of New Orleans swamped and killing 1,800
people, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
Plaquemines Parish was outside the city limits that
benefited from the beefing up of New Orleans' flood defenses.
Hundreds in and around New Orleans drowned in 2005 and many
survivors waited for days to be plucked from their rooftops by
helicopter. New Orleans endured days of deadly disorder and
While not nearly as strong as Katrina - a Category 3
hurricane when it slammed into New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005 -
Isaac, with Category 1 winds up to 80 mph (130 kph), was a
threat that authorities said should not be underestimated.
At 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT), Isaac was about 50 miles (75 km)
south-southwest of New Orleans and packing top sustained winds
of 80 miles (130 km) an hour, the U.S. National Hurricane Center
It said hurricane force winds extended outward up to 60
miles (95 km) from the storm's center.
Isaac was slogging west-northwestward near 6 mph (9 kph), a
slow pace that increases the threat of rain-induced flooding.
WIDESPREAD FLOODING EXPECTED
Isaac killed at least 23 people and caused significant
flooding and damage in Haiti and the Dominican Republic before
skirting the southern tip of Florida on Sunday and heading
across the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
It spared Tampa, Florida, where the Republican National
Convention is being held. But it forced party leaders to
reshuffle the schedule and tone down what some might have seen
as excess celebration about Mitt Romney's presidential
nomination as Gulf Coast residents faced danger.
The leading edge of the storm was felt along the Gulf Coast
starting late Tuesday, and authorities had warned it could flood
towns in Mississippi and Alabama, as well as Louisiana, with
storm surges of up to 12 feet (3.7 meters).
Rainfall accumulations, potentially totaling as much as 20
inches (50 cm) in some areas, were expected to trigger
Energy companies along the Gulf Coast refining center braced
for the storm's impact by shuttering some plants and running
others at reduced rates ahead of Isaac's landfall.
Oil production in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico nearly ground to a
halt and ports and coastal refineries curtailed operations.
Intense hurricanes such as Katrina - which took out 4.5
million barrels per day of refining capacity at one point - have
flooded refineries, keeping them closed for extended periods and
reducing fuel supplies.
This time, though, the U.S. Department of Energy estimated
that only 12 percent of the Gulf Coast's refining capacity had
gone offline. Louisiana usually processes more than 3 million
barrels per day of crude into products like gasoline.
Perceptions that the area's oil facilities would not sustain
major damage, and that production would quickly bounce back,
pushed international benchmark Brent crude down 74 cents early
Wednesday, toward $111.84 a barrel.