NEW ORLEANS -- Hurricane Isaac struck the Gulf Coast Tuesday evening hours before the seventh anniversary of catastrophic Katrina, packing 80 mph winds, and the outer bands of hurricane-force winds and storm surge battered New Orleans.
Landfall came in Plaquemines Parish at 6:45 p.m. southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River, the National Hurricane Center reported. By 7 p.m. in downtown New Orleans, winds bent trees like rubbery posts, rain pelted down, and the waters of Lake Pontchartrain churned white-capped waves ashore.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave reporters the first details last night of flooded roads, downed trees, power outages and flying debris in the city. At least 150,000 homes and businesses were without power.
Isaac, a Category 1 storm expected to linger over the Gulf Coast and inland areas for up to two days, will test the multibillion-dollar effort to improve and fortify a New Orleans flood-control system that failed spectacularly seven years ago.
After residents fled low-lying areas under mandatory evacuation orders, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expressed quiet confidence Tuesday that its revamped network of levees, flood gates, flood walls and pumping stations would hold against a sluggish but massive storm likely to deliver two days of heavy rain and widespread flooding.
"We're in a hunker-down phase now because the storm could sit over us for a while with a lot of wind and a lot of rain," Landrieu said. "If you've stayed, you should be executing your plan, with the food, water and all the things you need if you have to stay home a few days."
The situation was just as tense along the Mississippi and Alabama coasts, which faced the same dire predictions as New Orleans: storm surges of 6 to 12 feet, and rainfall totals up to 20 inches in some areas.
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued in Mississippi's three coastal counties, where authorities opened shelters and imposed curfews from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
In New Orleans, officials said search and rescue teams were gearing up to patrol when winds subsided, but no deaths or injuries had been reported by late Tuesday. Electricity crews said they would have to wait until winds died to 30 mph before making repairs.
At 11 p.m. in Miami, the National Hurricane Center said Isaac's eye was 75 miles south-southeast of New Orleans and creeping northwest at 8 mph. The slow pace means the 350-mile-wide storm will likely settle, lashing at least three states with wind and rain.