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Slow-moving hurricane hits rural villages with flooding.

IT sidestepped New Orleans but Hurricane Isaac sent the worst of its howling wind and heavy rain into a cluster of rural fishing villages with few defences against the slow-moving storm.

Isaac arrived exactly seven years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and passed slightly to the west of New Orleans, where the high winds and sheets of rain appeared to be no match for a levee system bolstered by $14bn (pounds 8.8bn) in government repair and improvement cash after catastrophic failures during Katrina.

Yesterday, Isaac's sustained winds had dropped to 60mph, well below the hurricane threshold of 74mph, but it is likely to herald days of unbroken rain.

Even at its strongest, Isaac was far weaker than Katrina, which crippled New Orleans in 2005.

Still, New Orleans faced tough problems from flooding and downed power lines to scattered tree branches. But just one person was reported killed, compared with 1,800 deaths from Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Police also reported few problems with looting; mayor Mitch Landrieu ordered a dusk-to-dawn curfew just to be sure.

The storm knocked out power to as many as 700,000 people, stripped branches off trees and flattened fields of sugar cane.

The hurricane also cancelled commemoration ceremonies for Katrina's 1,800 dead in Louisiana and Mississippi.

In Plaquemines Parish, a sparsely-populated area south of the city that is outside the government levee system, about two dozen stranded people were rescued by boat in flooded coastal areas. The storm pushed water over an 18-mile levee and put so much pressure on it that authorities planned to intentionally puncture the floodwall to relieve the strain.

West of New Orleans in St John the Baptist Parish, flooding from Isaac forced 1,500 people to evacuate. Rising water closed off all main routes into the parish, and in many areas, water lapped up against houses and left cars stranded.

By mid-afternoon, Isaac had been downgraded to a tropical storm. Because its coiled bands of rain and wind were advancing at only 5mph - about the pace of a brisk walk - the threat of storm surges and flooding was expected to last into a second night as the immense comma-shaped system crawled across Louisiana.

Rescuers were waiting for the strong winds to die down before moving out to search for other people.

In New Orleans, Army Corps spokeswoman Rachel Rodi said the city's bigger, stronger levees were withstanding the assault.

"The system is performing as intended, as we expected," she said. "We don't see any issues with the hurricane system at this point."

Police cars had been patrolling the nearly-empty streets since Isaac began bringing fierce winds and heavy rains to the city.

In coastal Mississippi, wildlife officers used small motorboats to rescue at least two dozen people from a flooded neighbourhood in Pearlington.

The storm drew massive attention because of its timing - coinciding not only with the Katrina anniversary, but also the first major speeches of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

Isaac also posed political challenges with echoes of those that followed Katrina, a reminder of how the storm became a symbol of government ineptitude.

President Barack Obama sought to demonstrate his ability to guide the nation through a natural disaster, and Republicans tried to reassure residents as they formally nominated former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as their presidential candidate.

Mr Obama, campaigning before a university crowd in Virginia, pledged that the government was "doing every single thing we need to do to make sure the folks down there are taken care of".

Isaac came ashore early on Wednesday as a Category 1 hurricane, with 80mph 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 (5.5 meters) from a tree while helping friends move a vehicle before the storm. Deputies did not know why he climbed the tree.

In New Orleans' famed French Quarter near Bourbon Street, Jimmy Maiuri was shooting video from outside his second-floor apartment. Mr Maiuri, who fled from Katrina at the last minute, stayed behind this time, with no regrets.

"It's definitely not one to take lightly, but it's not Katrina," he said.

CAPTION(S):

* Waves batter the a pier in Gulfport, Mississippi, as Hurricane Isaac moves through * Chuck Cropp, centre, his son Piers, and wife Liz wade through floodwaters in New Orleans - hundreds of people were forced to evacuate their homes
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:1U7LA
Date:Aug 31, 2012
Words:744
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