Hurricane Isaac sidestepped New Orleans on Wednesday, sending the worst of its howling wind and heavy rain into a cluster of rural fishing villages that had few defenses against the slow-moving storm that could bring days of unending rain.
The storm knocked out power to as many as 700,000 people, stripped branches off trees and flattened fields of sugar cane so completely that they looked as if a tank had driven over them.
Plaquemines Parish ordered a mandatory evacuation for the west bank of the Mississippi below Belle Chasse because of worries about a storm surge. The order affected about 3,000 people, including a nursing home with 112 residents. In Jefferson Parish, the sheriff ordered a dusk-to-dawn curfew.
After wind-driven water spilled over the levee in Plaquemines Parish, state officials said they would cut a hole in it as soon as weather allowed and equipment could be brought to the site.
In coastal Mississippi, wildlife officers used small motorboats Wednesday to rescue at least two dozen people from a neighborhood Isaac flooded in Pearlington.
Back in New Orleans, the storm canceled remembrance ceremonies for those killed by Katrina. Since that catastrophe, the city’s levee system has been bolstered by $14 billion in federal repairs and improvements. The bigger, stronger levees were tested for the first time by Hurricane Gustav in 2008.
Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Rachel Rodi said the flood-control measures were working “as intended” during Isaac.
“We don’t see any issues with the hurricane system at this point,” she said.
Isaac came ashore late Tuesday as a Category 1 hurricane, with 80 mph winds near the mouth of the Mississippi River. It drove a wall of water nearly 11 feet high inland.
In Vermilion Parish, a 36-year-old man died after falling 18 feet from a tree while helping friends move a vehicle ahead of the storm. Deputies did not know why he climbed the tree.
The storm stalled for several hours before resuming a slow trek inland, and forecasters said that was in keeping with its erratic history. The slow motion over land means Isaac could be a major soaker, dumping up to 20 inches of rain in some areas. But every system is different.
“It’s totally up to the storm,” said Ken Graham, chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Slidell, La.
Slashing rain and wind gusts up to 100 mph buffeted New Orleans skyscrapers.
In the French Quarter near Bourbon Street, Jimmy Maiuri was shooting video from outside his second-floor apartment. Maiuri, who fled from Katrina at the last minute, stayed behind this time with no regrets. He was amazed at the storm’s timing.
“It’s definitely not one to take lightly, but it’s not Katrina,” he said. “No one is going to forget Aug. 29, forever. Not here at least.”