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STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY


Dam Lock Weakened in Louisiana

Dam Lock Weakened in Louisiana Mario Tama / Getty Images

Evacuations ordered.

About 1,200 homes near Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana were evacuated Saturday as worries mounted over the possible failure of a canal lock that could flood neighborhoods. Emergency officials tried to take some of the pressure off the lock Saturday night, but people were kept from their homes, and a flash-flood warning remained in effect. According to the National Weather Service, a wall of water resulting from the failure of the first of two canal locks would be 11 feet high. The parish’s website said Saturday that the failure of the second lock was “imminent.”

Read it at NBC

Latest Updates

AFTERMATH

Half of New Orleans Without Power

While Isaac causes two tornadoes in Illinois.

It may not be a hurricane anymore, but Isaac’s wrath is still being felt. More than half of New Orleans is without power on Saturday, while the storm moved north up the Mississippi River and caused at least two tornadoes in northern Illinois. Power company Entergy New Orleans's CEO, Charles Rice, said on Saturday that that he expects 70 percent of customers affected would have power back by Monday and 90 percent would have it restored by Wednesday. Authorities ordered evacuations in a “fairly rural” portion along Louisiana’s Pearl River on Saturday, warning the locks could fail.

Read it at New Orleans Times-Picayune

Vulnerable

New Orleans Will Escape—This Time

Seven years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Crescent City, flood protection remains inadequate for the big storms that we know will keep coming. John M. Barry reports.

As of Tuesday afternoon, forecasters were projecting that Hurricane Isaac will hit New Orleans dead center Wednesday morning, Aug. 29—the 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Isaac

Claudia and Richard Launey board up their home before Hurricane Isaac, which still bears a marking from Hurricane Katrina, on August 28, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)

The good news is that no matter where exactly it makes landfall, we can safely say Isaac’s impact will be far less destructive than Katrina’s: there may be street flooding from heavy rains, but no flooding from the ocean—and the new $14.5 billion levee system will get much of the credit for protecting the city.

But before we hand out too many pats on the back, it’s important to understand just what this new system will—and won’t—do. The bottom line is that New Orleans remains dangerously exposed to the next big storm.

The latest system was designed after Katrina to protect the city against the so-called 100-year storm—that is, a storm with a 1 percent chance of hitting in any given year. Such a storm would be much more powerful than Isaac.

That sounds like good protection. It isn’t.

Let’s put the numbers in context. In 100 years there’s a 63 percent chance that New Orleans will get hit by at least one greater-than-100-year storm. (For comparison, Katrina was estimated to be a 388-year storm.) There’s a better than 20 percent chance of at least two such storms, and an 8 percent chance of three or more. Compare those odds to playing Russian roulette with a six-shooter: if you pull the trigger once, the chances are 16.66% that a bullet will come out.

This is not just a statistical game. In the last 85 years alone the lower Mississippi River saw at least four floods bigger than the hypothetical 100-year event: in 1927, 1937, 1973, and 2011, and possibly as many as six floods on the lower Mississippi River—and that’s not counting the devastating 1993 floods on the upper Mississippi.

BATTERED

Isaac Claims First U.S. Fatality

Isaac Claims First U.S. Fatality Chris Graythen / Getty Images

As storm steadily weakens.

Isaac claimed its first American life on Thursday after a tow truck driver was killed clearing debris from the storm in Mississippi. Isaac was downgraded to a tropical storm on Thursday, but the slow-moving storm refused to let up on the Louisiana coast as flooding trapped residents in their homes and on levees. Worst affected is Plaquemines Parish, outside New Orleans, where National Guardsmen and residents rescued dozens who were trapped in their homes after a levee overtopped. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal warned there is “much more coming” as the rain and the winds are expected to last through Friday and upwards of 300,000 are still without power in the Southeast.

Read it at NBC News

Been There, Done That

New Orleanians Ride Out The Storm

What’s it like to sit through a hurricane? Katy Reckdahl, who gave birth the day before Hurricane Katrina, calls in her report from the middle of a windy and wet New Orleans.

Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, 5:30 p.m., New Orleans

In the Bywater, the New Orleans neighborhood where we live, families scrambled on Monday to board up windows and tie shutters closed with baling wire. A few left town, but not many.

Even at its worst, Hurricane Isaac was only predicted to be a Category 1 storm. So people stayed home and cooked big pots of red beans and gumbo. It’s what city officials now call “sheltering in place.” Some native New Orleanians believe that staying put during a storm is an almost-sacred tradition. They fill the bathtubs with water, in case they need it to flush toilets. They stock up with charcoal so they can grill once the power goes out. And they cook enough to keep people satisfied until life gets back to normal.

Seven years ago, it was a different story. Katrina was a Category 3 when it made landfall, but because it threatened to be even stronger, many cars crowded the freeways and people left town in larger numbers. In some ways, it was a never-before-seen exodus, although it was portrayed otherwise in subsequent days.

The people who stayed behind felt like they’d survived the worst. But then they saw the water rise—the result of the failed federal levee system that deluged 80 percent of the city. It was the floodwaters from the levees that left people stranded.

When “Mama Rose” Glasper stepped into a boat from her porch in the 7th Ward, her children debated taking her husband’s ashes with her. “No,” she said. “Papa would never evacuate. Leave him here.”

It wasn’t so easy for me to leave, either. As people were packing their cars to evacuate back then, I was in an uptown hospital in labor. My son, Hector Campbell, was born Aug. 28, 2005—one day before Katrina hit. Like all kids in town, Hector has been out of school all week. He’d hoped to bring cupcakes to school on Tuesday to celebrate birthday number 7; instead we invited over a few neighbors, most of them boring adults like me, and he blew out seven candles just as the winds from Isaac’s outer bands began to buffet the city.

Hector has no memories of New Orleanians being rescued from rooftops in 2005, but those memories made my northern friends and relatives jittery this week as I told them that we weren’t evacuating, even as Isaac threatened in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane

Isaac Slams Into Louisiana

The hurricane made landfall—twice—in the Bayou State, drenching the Gulf Coast and causing at least one levee to overtop in New Orleans. See photos, tweets, and video from the storm.

An 18-mile stretch of a levee in southeastern Louisiana was overtopped early Wednesday by surges from Hurricane Isaac as it made its slow move onshore. Officials in Plaquemines Parish said the Coast Guard is attempting to rescue two men stranded on top of one levee and others trapped in houses. Isaac made its first landfall at 8 p.m. Tuesday night before moving back out to the Gulf of Mexico for a few hours and eventually making a second landfall near Port Fourchon, La., around 4 a.m. The National Hurricane Center warned of storm surges of 6 to 12 feet in Mississippi, and several feet in other areas along the Gulf Coast. A 10-foot storm surge was already reported in Shell Beach, La. At least 500,000 were left without power in southeast Louisiana.

Blowhard

Limbaugh: Obama Faked Forecast

Rush Limbaugh accused the president of messing with forecasts of Hurricane Isaac’s path to thwart the opening day of the GOP convention. That’s his latest wild-eyed claim. Here are 20 more.

Suggesting the Obama administration meddled with Hurricane Isaac forecasts to make the GOP cancel part of its convention and calling Sandra Fluke a ‘slut’ are just the radio host’s latest zingers. From equating Obama with Hitler to likening Hillary Clinton to a ‘screeching ex-wife,’ here are Rush’s 20 most outrageous remarks.

119009084GG211_Ravens_Steelers

Radio talk show host and political commentator Rush Limbaugh acknowledges cheers from fans as he stands on the sideline before a National Football League game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on November 6, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (George Gojkovich / Getty Images)

1. Obama Faked Forecast

The way Limbaugh sees it, the Obama administration probably messed with the forecasts for Hurricane Isaac to stop the GOP from having a full convention. Who controls the Hurricane Center, asked Limbaugh? "It's the government,” he mused. “It's Obama." Limbaugh was quick to note he doesn’t believe there is a conspiracy here, but he also said having to cancel the first day of the Republican convention works out well for the Democrats. What made him suspicious? The forecast for Isaac veered away from Tampa as soon as the GOP called off the first night of its convention, according to Limbaugh. “I'm just telling you, folks, when you put this all together in this timeline, I'm telling you, it's unbelievable," the radio host opined.

2. Bane is Bain

In a summer when the Obama campaign is hammering Mitt Romney on his record at Bain Capital, Rush Limbaugh discovered a new angle in the debate, noting that Bane, the arch-villain in the new Batman movie, sounded eerily similar to Mitt Romney’s old company. “The movie has been in the works for a long time. The release date’s been known, summer 2012, for a long time. Do you think that it is accidental that the name of the really vicious fire-breathing, four-eyed whatever-it-is villain in this movie is named Bane?” the talk show host asked on his show. He went on to say that most people who see the movie will be “brain-dead” and “the thought is that when they start paying attention to the campaign later in the year, and Obama and the Democrats keep talking about Bain—Romney and Bain—that these people will think back to the Batman movie, ‘Oh, yeah, I know who that is.’” After a wave of criticism, Limbaugh clarified the statements, saying, “I didn’t say there was a conspiracy. I said the Democrats were going to use it.” For the record, Bane first appeared in Batman in 1993.

3. Tracie McMillan Is ‘Overeducated’

Limbaugh has lost nearly two dozen advertisers since his attack on Sandra Fluke, so you might think he would tone down the whole misogynist angle on his show. You’d be wrong. On Tuesday, he targeted another young woman, Tracie McMillan, who spent a year working low-paying jobs in the food industry and reflects on the experience in her new book, The American Way of Eating. He grouped the author “with all these young single white women” who, he said, are “overeducated”—but not necessarily intelligent! He pointed out that she’s been “seems to be just out of college and already she has been showered with awards, including the 2006 James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism … This woman wrote the book on food inequality, food justice, got an award for social justice journalism.”

Republican Convention

Isaac’s Media Victims

With no actual convention to cover Monday, the journalists in Tampa had to get creative—or at least look busy. Lauren Ashburn reports on the tricks of the trade.

A tropical storm may have upended the Republican convention in Tampa, but it takes a lot more than that to drown out hordes of journalists.

GOP Convention

Members of the media conduct interviews on the floor after the unveiling of the stage and podium for the 2012 Republican National Convention, Monday, Aug. 20, 2012, at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa. (Scott Iskowitz / AP Photo)

To be sure, they didn’t have much to cover on Monday, not with the convention delayed at least a day and Isaac largely a no-show, with the sun filling the Florida sky at times. Outside the CNN Grill, a lone iguana even found time for sunbathing.

But the 15,000 journalists assembled here from around the world have found themselves without a real story. Unless they want to “report” on the amazing number of hookah bars and strip clubs lining the roads north of Tampa, it’s slim pickings.

Media people, always on perpetual deadline, can adapt even to the most arid surroundings. A stroll through the cavernous complex found journalists tweeting, Tout-ing, and preparing to go on camera—not necessarily for television, but for the latest career-making cameos, live-streaming online. 

Not that there weren’t plenty of trivial pursuits. Howard Fineman, looking camera-ready as usual, wandered the convention hall looking for swag. The Huffington Post editorial director was proudly displaying his treasures: a free NBC baseball cap, hand sanitizer, and computer-screen cleaner that attaches to the back of your phone. He passed on a massage at Arianna’s Oasis, but came away with the scoop that the convention spa was decorated by Chelsea Clinton’s wedding planner.

Freed from the distraction of covering the actual convention, he marveled at the accommodations: “Our workspace here is bigger than our entire D.C. office.” Maybe, he mused, they should move to Tampa.

Amy Walter, ABC’s political director, appeared busy despite the fact that the day’s only official proceeding was a brief prayer. “On the floor today, there were more reporters than delegates,” she said. But she found tracking the chaos inflicted by the storm to be worthwhile, proving that journalists can make a story out of just about anything.

Storm Chasers

Isaac Could Blow Away Romney

The storm could spare Florida, but the GOP convention may never recover. From Tampa, Howard Kurtz on why the media are chasing the more dramatic story—a possible Category 2 hurricane barreling toward New Orleans.

Tampa, and the Republican convention, may have dodged a meteorological bullet.

But even as Tropical Storm Isaac veers off further down the Gulf Coast, defying earlier predictions, the fallout still threatens to inflict heavy damage on Mitt Romney’s big national moment.

isaac-threatens-romney-kurtz-tease

AP Photo; Landov

It’s not just that Monday looks to rain on the parade of the thousands of journalists and delegates assembling here. Nor is it the quick decision by GOP officials to pull the plug on Monday’s events, bumping big-name speakers such as Mike Huckabee and losing a valuable day in the spotlight.

The real problem comes Tuesday, when the convention opens and television news is faced with a split-screen dilemma: politics or weather?

Take a tip from a veteran media-watcher. Don’t bet against the weather.

Isaac is expected to make landfall on Tuesday. And even though Tampa will have been spared the brunt, we could be looking at a Category 2 hurricane barreling into New Orleans, potentially on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Executive producers will have to choose between that dramatic tableau of potential death and destruction and the canned proceedings of a scripted convention and rather predictable speeches.

Stormy

Isaac Delays Convention

As the tropical storm churns toward Tampa, party officials had little choice but to cancel the Monday kickoff of Romney’s coronation. Howard Kurtz on why the media wouldn’t cover it anyway.

TAMPA—Hurricane Isaac has hijacked Mitt Romney’s convention, and the damage is as hard to calculate as the extent of the damage from the coming storm.

RNC Hurricane

NOAA / Getty Images

Even as the sun filled the blue sky here after a day of light rain late Saturday, Republican Party officials decided to pull the plug on Monday’s proceedings, wiping out a quarter of the convention. And in truth they had no choice.

It’s not just that the party had to worry about the safety of delegates getting into the city. That goes without saying. But the media coverage will be so heavily focused on the storm and its effect on Florida’s west coast as to blot out any speechifying.

And imagine if there was intermittent coverage of Monday’s events. How would it look for various GOP luminaries to be denouncing Barack Obama, and partying in their spare time, while others are battling a big storm?

Television in particular loves what it calls “extreme weather.” Politics is a distant second. Now the story, at least until midweek, won’t be Romney and Ryan. It will be Isaac and its implications.

Actually, we don’t have to imagine. I remember being in Minneapolis on the first day of the 2008 GOP convention, and cable television was consumed by the hurricane then hitting Florida. John McCain canceled the first day, but even if he hadn’t, the media would have paid no attention to politics.

This time around, the second-guessing is sure to erupt: what were the Republicans thinking by holding their big event in a hurricane—and flood-prone Tampa as the season kicks off in late August?

Hurricane Watch

Republicans Brace for a Storm

Some GOP and safety officials are creating contingency plans for Tropical Storm Isaac, which is barreling toward Florida and possibly Tampa, where the party holds its convention next week. Daniel Stone reports.

After weeks of stagnant poll numbers, Tampa will be a turning point for Mitt Romney and Republican lawmakers. The party’s convention in Florida next week is planned to revive the narrative and show off the best of the Republican candidate and the party’s platform.

Tropical Weather

Dr. Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center, shows some of the possible trajectories tropical storm Isaac could develop in the coming days, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. (Alan Diaz / AP Photo)

But some officials now worry that Tampa could be a turning point of a less preferable sort: Tropical Storm Isaac, which is churning to hurricane strength in the Atlantic and heading straight for the Sunshine State, could force changes to the convention.

Hurricanes are unpredictable, and Florida, perhaps more than any other state, knows how to weather a storm, so the Republican National Committee hasn’t been too concerned by a debilitating storm. Washington staffers are still granting credentials to delegates and journalists, and all of the venues have been confirmed for use next week, according to a committee staffer who asked not to be identified discussing plans.

The heavy lifting, then, may come from Tampa city personnel, specifically safety officials such as fire, police, and flood responders. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says his city employees are prepared in cases of emergency. And perhaps even to cancel certain events if the weather creates an unsafe environment.

“We have contingency plan after contingency plan,” says Buckhorn. But in an earlier interview, Buckhorn noted that “human life trumps politics” and that he would support postponing the event if the need arose.

That’s a worst-case scenario, but Florida’s Energy Management Division has been monitoring the storm’s path to create constantly changing contingency plans to keep the convention running as planned. In preparation, state officials ran a simulation in May to address a situation precisely like Isaac. “We’ve been preparing for a year and a half,” says Julie Roberts, a spokeswoman for the emergency division. “We’ll continue to monitor the conditions and change our preparations.”

For the sake of security, Republican officials declined to say where the convention’s main events might be relocated if the primary venue, the Tampa Bay Times Forum, becomes incapacitated. Tampa has nearly two dozen other venues large enough for big events, but only a few could accommodate the entire assembly of delegates.

Obama to Residents: Follow Directions and Evacuate

President Obama held a press conference Tuesday where he urged residents to listen to their local officials to keep safe during Hurricane Isaac.

Hurricane Watch

Intense

Dispatches from the Storm

Isaac Slams Into Louisiana

Isaac Slams Into Louisiana

The Daily Beast rounds up photos, tweets, and video from Hurricane Isaac.