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Rescue, Evacuation Efforts Continue as Storm Pounds US Gulf Coast

A vehicle is submerged in flood waters in Jourdan River Shores neighborhood as Hurricane Isaac passes through Kiln, Mississippi, August 29, 2012.
Tropical Storm Isaac continues to pose grave danger to areas around New Orleans, Louisiana, as officials scramble to evacuate and rescue people amid rising floodwaters. The storm also has claimed its first fatality.

A tow truck driver was killed early Thursday when a tree fell on his truck in Picayune, Mississippi, just across the state border with Louisiana. Isaac is bringing heavy rain and strong winds to Mississippi as the storm moves northward.

Isaac made landfall as a hurricane on Tuesday, exactly seven years after Hurricane Katrina caused widespread death and destruction in New Orleans and elsewhere along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast. Experts say the newly-fortified and extended system of levees, canals and pumps built after Katrina passed its first major test, sparing the city extensive damage.

But at a news conference Thursday, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu warned that the storm is ravaging areas outside the city.
"Hopefully, as far as the city of New Orleans is concerned, the worst is behind us. Unfortunately, some of our very, very close neighbors are getting hit very hard, and there are reports on that in the papers," Landrieu said. "So our thoughts and prayers go out to them."

Landrieu cautioned that electricity is out throughout most of New Orleans, and that downed trees and power lines pose a danger to residents, asking them to be patient and stay in their homes.

"So I am going to say it to you again. I am going to urge you to stay off the roads as much as possible," Landrieu said. "That really means unless there is an emergency."

Officials say some 730,000 residents of Louisiana and Mississippi are without power, and that they are working to first restore power to hospitals. New Orleans officials announced a dawn-to-dusk curfew on Wednesday. Mayor Landrieu sad it would continue only as long as needed.

New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpal said there were incidents of looting Wednesday night.

"In the last 36 hours of the operation, there have been 16 looting events," Serpal said. "Thirteen of those looting events, we have made arrests on the scene."

Serpal warned that anyone convicted of looting would face a mandatory three-year prison sentence with hard labor.

On Thursday, officials sent buses and high-water vehicles to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans to help evacuate thousands of people from rising floodwaters. President Barack Obama has declared major federal emergencies in Louisiana and Mississippi, freeing up federal aid and dispatching emergency assistance teams to the region.