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Gulf Coast Begins Recovery Efforts After Isaac


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. And we begin this hour with Isaac. After pounding the Gulf Coast with high winds, nonstop rain and a powerful storm surge, Isaac is now churning through northern Louisiana. There, heavy rainfall brings a new threat, inland river flooding. Some of that flooding has strained a dam in Mississippi; 60,000 people downriver have been ordered to evacuate.

To keep the dam from failing, officials there have begun a controlled release of water. Back along the coast, officials say they're moving into the recovery phase. More than three-quarters of a million customers lost power after Hurricane Isaac, now a tropical depression, made landfall. And it may be a week or more before power is restored because of damage to the grid. We go now to one of the areas hardest hit, Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish, and NPR's Greg Allen.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: From the Mississippi levee in Braithwaite, today you can see the tops of houses. That wasn't the case yesterday. Isaac's storm surge topped a smaller Parish levee and flooded the town with some 20 feet of water. Michelle Lopez(ph) came by to check on her home, but from the top of the levee, couldn't see her neighborhood.

MICHELLE LOPEZ: I see some of the houses in front of the subdivision (unintelligible)...

ALLEN: And how do they look? What did you see?

LOPEZ: Water halfway up. Second story's definitely under. Looks like it's going down some, but not enough to salvage much.

ALLEN: Lopez heeded the mandatory evacuation and left with her husband and two children well before the storm.

LOPEZ: When they call mandatory evacuation, you know, you leave. I did know some people had stayed. Some people stayed because of their boats. They have commercial boats back there. My husband has one. But, you know, we did know that some people tried to stick around, and you know, tried to talk them out of it, but you know, people have their reasons for doing different things and my reason for getting out was I have these children. I needed to leave.

ALLEN: Some 60 people were rescued from their homes here yesterday. Today's search and rescue operations continued, mostly for pets that had been left behind. But then sheriff's deputies received word that someone was still trapped on their second floor. Martin Nunez(ph) said his father refused to heed the evacuation order. Nunez said his father was still waiting for help when he talked to him on his cell phone yesterday evening.

MARTIN NUNEZ: He's upstairs in his house. He got a two-story house. He's upstairs laying on a pool table. Said he had two foot of water upstairs. And I've been trying to get him rescued for a couple days. And they won't let me come with a boat and they won't let me get one of their boats. But supposedly they got people who's from down here and they know where I'm talking about, you know, and they're supposed to be going to get him in that boat right there, but...

ALLEN: Crews searched for Nunez's father today, but by this afternoon hadn't found him. This afternoon, Plaquemines Parish crews worked with backhoes on the small levee that was overtopped by Isaac's storm surge. They're working to breach the earthen dam, dig a hole that will allow the flood waters now covering Braithwaite to flow out, back toward the Gulf.

Watching it all were Becky and Donald Wertman(ph). I asked them if they lived in the flooded area.

BECKY WERTMAN: We were hoping to. We have two houses that we're redoing.

DONALD WERTMAN: We were going move in next month.

ALLEN: Really? And can you see your house from here? Which one is it?

WERTMAN: Yes, sir. It's right here. This red brick.

ALLEN: Only the top few feet of the house showed through the floodwaters. A quarter mile away, inside the massive flood wall built by the Army Corp of Engineers, houses are dry, secure and untouched by flooding. The Wertmans are a little bitter about the flood wall. It's effective, but Donald Wertman says for his area in Plaquemines Parish, outside the storm protection zone, he believes it made flooding worse.

WERTMAN: It piled up the water in the corner so the wall of water couldn't come out. Usually it would've flooded out of little Saint Bernard but since the wall was there, it just built up where it couldn't go nowhere.

ALLEN: The flood wall and levee may protect New Orleans and Saint Barnard Parish, the Wertman's say, but it's made it harder than ever to live outside the protected zone in Plaquemines Parish. Some people I spoke to said after being flooded in Katrina and now again by Isaac, they may not rebuild in Braithwaite, but not the Wertmans.

WERTMAN: We will once the water goes down. We'll fix it up.

WERTMAN: We will. We'll be living in that house right there, I guarantee you.

ALLEN: Becky Wertman says, what can you do? Go home and cook seafood, that's about it. Greg Allen, NPR News, Braithwaite, Louisiana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.

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