Thursday, May 23, 2013
By LINDSAY WISE McClatchy Newspapers
A weakened Isaac continued to wreak havoc along the Gulf Coast on Thursday as the slow-moving storm crept northward toward drought-parched states at just 9 mph.
Aerial photo shows an intentional levy breach created to alleviate trapped floodwater in the community of Braithwaite, La., in the aftermath of Isaac on Thursday.
The Associated Press
Flooding in Lafitte, La., causes residents to travel by boat Thursday, a day after Isaac hit the area near New Orleans.
FARMERS WATCH FORECAST
ST. LOUIS - Indiana farmer John Kolb normally would welcome storms that could provide his crops with badly needed water in this summer of drought. Instead, he and other Corn Belt farmers are nervously watching the forecast as Hurricane Isaac's remnants slog in their direction, concerned they could end up getting too much of a good thing.
The reason for their worry: Strong winds could topple corn stalks already severely weakened by the nation's worst drought in two generations, and a possible deluge could muddy the fields and slow bringing in whatever crop is still salvageable.
"We could really use the moisture, but I don't want wind," Kolb, 41, said from the 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans he farms with his dad and uncle in southeastern Indiana's Franklin County and the adjacent Butler County in Ohio. "That would make it a tangled mess, and that's pretty hard to harvest."
Isaac has lost strength since coming ashore late Tuesday as a Category 1 hurricane, with 80 mph winds near the mouth of the Mississippi River. But it's still expected to provide a dousing for much of the nation's midsection -- from Arkansas north to Missouri and into a corner of Iowa, then east through Illinois and Indiana to Ohio -- in coming days. Rainfall totals could reach up to 7 inches, according to a U.S. Drought Monitor weekly update Thursday.
In Arkansas, farmers scrambled to bring in as much of their corn and rice as they could before Isaac's wind and rain reached the state. With the storm blowing Thursday into southeast Arkansas, growers had to leave their fields and begin the wait to see what the storm will do to their crops.
Isaac's encroachment came as the latest weekly update by a drought-tracking effort credited recent rains in the central United States with easing the dryness.
But the newest U.S. Drought Monitor map from the University of Nebraska's National Drought Mitigation Center showed that the section of the continental United States in the worst two categories of drought -- extreme and exceptional -- remained relatively unchanged at 23.2 percent as of Tuesday.
-- The Associated Press
The water Isaac dumped did far more damage than its winds, which petered out at 40 mph Thursday. Isaac has produced as much as 25 inches of rain and a storm surge of 6 to 12 feet.
At the Louisiana-Mississippi border, officials ordered 60,000 residents to evacuate when a dam threatened to break at Lake Tangipahoa in Mississippi, about 100 miles northwest of New Orleans, while rescue crews used helicopters and boats to reach hundreds more stranded by flooding in southern Louisiana and parts of Mississippi.
At least two storm-related deaths have been reported, in Vermilion Parish, La., and in Picayune, Miss.
"This is still a life-threatening situation in some areas," said Rich Serino, the deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Isaac made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane in southern Louisiana on Tuesday night, became a tropical storm Wednesday and was downgraded to a tropical depression Thursday. But National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb warned that the terminology didn't capture the seriousness of the dangers that Isaac still posed.
"That does not mean the event is over," Knabb said. "For some people, it is just beginning."
Flooding already has forced more than 4,700 people into shelters and left more than a million without power, said Charley Shimanski, the senior vice president of disaster services for the Red Cross.
"The hazard from this storm is still very real," Shimanski said. "One need only look at the satellite imagery to see that this is a very slow tropical storm hammering communities across the Gulf Coast."
Perhaps hardest hit was low-lying Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana, where National Guard troops and private citizens rescued 140 people and evacuated a nursing home, Gov. Bobby Jindal said at a news conference.
President Obama issued a major disaster declaration late Wednesday for 35 parishes in Louisiana and 34 counties in Mississippi that Isaac has swamped.
The move will help with the removal of downed power lines, tree branches and other debris, but FEMA officials couldn't say how soon teams will arrive on the ground to help residents process their storm-related claims. Preliminary damage assessments must be completed first, they said.
The remnants of Isaac's heavy rains should arrive in the parched Midwestern states Friday, starting with Arkansas and Missouri.
"The numbers look encouraging: 2-4 inches across a good portion of the state," said Pat Guinan, state climatologist for Missouri.
"By no means is it going to eliminate the drought conditions, but it is a step in the right direction," Guinan said.
The welcome downpour probably will come too late to save the dying corn crop, however, said David Miskus, a meteorologist with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.
"The damage is already done for corn," Miskus said.
But soybeans might benefit. "Soybeans are more heat- and drought-tolerant if they were planted later than normal," he said. "These rains could actually help the soybeans fill the pods."
Slow and steady rain for a day or two will do the most good to soften the ground and help the soil recharge from the drought, he said.
"It will help; it's just not clear exactly how much," Miskus said.
Cleanup began in earnest Thursday across some parts of the Gulf Coast even as rain continued to fall. In coastal Mississippi, parts of U.S. 90 remained closed, but casinos reopened.
Still, emergency managers prepared for nearby rivers to crest at the highest levels seen in recent memory. The Biloxi River was expected to crest overnight Friday at 19 feet -- 7 feet above flood stage.