NEW ORLEANS — Tropical storm Isaac moved away from New Orleans Thursday, causing only minor damage, but flooded areas outside the city, triggering evacuations and rescue operations as waters quickly rose.
North and south of New Orleans the storm left hundreds of homes under water. Fears of an imminent failure of a dam in Mississippi prompted authorities to order the immediate evacuation of 60,000 residents in nearby communities in both Louisiana and Mississippi.
Thousands of people have moved into shelters. Along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans, officials sent scores of buses and dozens of high-water vehicles to help evacuate about 3,000 people.
New Orleans itself seemed to escape the brunt of the storm. Residents are back out on the street. Crews are cleaning up debris, and where there is power, businesses are beginning to reopen.
The multi-billion-dollar improvement to the city's levee system that failed during Hurricane Katrina seven years ago passed its first major test, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The levees held in New Orleans' Ninth Ward, where in 2005 a levee was breached and caused significant flooding. The damage this time was relatively minor, with fallen trees and downed power lines.
The Ninth Ward also is the area where actor Brad Pitt and the Make It Right Foundation built a number of hurricane-proof homes for local residents.
“This time I thank God for Brad Pitt,” said Ninth Ward resident Gloria Guy. After Hurricane Katrina flooded her neighborhood in 2005, she waited nine hours on the roof of her house to be rescued. She said the foundation convinced her that the reinforced windows, the deep-seated foundation and the raised elevation of the house would provide shelter from most storms.
“He told me I ain't got nothing to worry about cause it's nine feet off the ground. He says, 'If something comes you ain't got to run. Stay.' And I stayed. So I didn't have no problem. The only problem the electric went out. That was the only problem,” Guy said.
Melba Leggett Barnes, who also owns a hurricane-proof house, says of course there are times she and her neighbors will have to evacuate, but she is confident the house will still be standing when she returns.
“Everybody knows what to do and when to go. It's up to the individual but everybody knows when it's passed a Category Two, its time to get out of here. I don't care what kind of house you got,” Barnes said.
Barnes and more than one million residents in the region were without power due to the storm, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Isaac continues to move slowly northwestward.
Meanwhile, the Miami-based hurricane center says Hurricane Kirk formed Thursday over the open Atlantic Ocean, about 1,700 kilometers northeast of the Caribbean's northern Leeward Islands.