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News Wrap: As Storm Isaac Pours Down, Fear of Dam Failure Leads to Evacuations

August 30, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
In other news Thursday, Tropical Storm Isaac brought down heavy rain and has threatened the safety of Mississippi residents living near the Lake Tangipahoa Dam, 100 miles north of New Orleans. Fears that the dam will fail and break under stress have led to widespread evacuations.
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KWAME HOLMAN: The storm named Isaac was downgraded today to a tropical depression, but it gave no respite to thousands of people along the Gulf Coast. The system dumped new downpours and raised new alarms in its slow transit from Louisiana toward Arkansas.  

Inch by inch, the rain kept up across Louisiana and Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. The coastal areas bore a continuing storm surge two days after landfall. And the rising water ultimately created a major new threat in Mississippi. The Lake Tangipahoa Dam, about 100 miles north of New Orleans, became dangerously stressed, threatening to send a torrent down the already swollen Tangipahoa River.  

Meanwhile, mandatory evacuations were ordered for about 60,000 people, most in Louisiana.  Officials also began a controlled release of water from the dam. And there were more emergency evacuations and rescues in areas outside New Orleans.  

SHARON SYLVIA, Louisiana: We had to break through the ceiling and come through the attic, and they took us out of the attic into the boat.  

WOMAN: This is ridiculous.  We lost everything, everything.  

KWAME HOLMAN:  Some of the worst flooding occurred north of New Orleans, along Lake Pontchartrain and in swampy Plaquemines Parish to the south. Both are outside the protection of the city’s levee system.  

MAN:  Here goes.

KWAME HOLMAN: In Plaquemines, evacuees told today of harrowing escapes after the storm surge topped an 18-mile levee and left homes under 12 feet of water.  

SAMUEL GEORGE, Louisiana: The water rose from my ankles to my knees in about one minute, so I said I have got to get out of here kind of quick, you know?  

KWAME HOLMAN: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said an intentional breach of the levee would relieve the pressure. And crews started that process later.  

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R-La.):  With a breach, that would be four days for that water to leave.  Without that breach, it would take as long as 15 days to pump it out. And so again we have said we will certainly support that.  

KWAME HOLMAN: To the west, in LaPlace, St. John’s Parish, dozens of buses and high-water vehicles arrived today to continue evacuations and distribute aid.  
Meanwhile, the people of New Orleans proper relaxed a little, after the newly rebuilt levee system stood firm.  

Mayor Mitch Landrieu: 

MITCH LANDRIEU (D): Isaac is now moving out of our distinct area. And, hopefully, as far as the city of New Orleans is concerned, the worst is behind us. Unfortunately, some of our very, very close neighbors are getting hit very hard.

KWAME HOLMAN: Across Louisiana, power companies began working to restore electricity to some 900,000 homes and businesses still in the dark.  
Also today, Tropical Storm Leslie formed far out in the Atlantic. And another storm, Kirk, was upgraded to a hurricane, but it, too, remained well out at sea.  

A federal appeals court today threw out a Texas law that says voters must show a photo I.D. to elections officials. The three-judge panel in Washington ruled the statute imposes what it called strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, many of whom are minorities. Texas is one of a number of states to adopt new voter I.D. requirements. Republicans say they will curb voter fraud.  Democrats say they’re meant to hamper groups that are likely to vote Democratic.  

Consumer spending in the U.S. rose in July by the most since February. But claims for unemployment benefits showed no improvement, and gasoline prices kept rising. As a result, Wall Street was in the mood to sell today. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 106 points to close at 13000. The Nasdaq fell 32 points to close at 3048.  

In South Africa, the killing of 34 striking miners by police took a dramatic turn today. The government announced it is charging 270 other miners with the murders. It said the strikers triggered the killings two weeks ago when they charged police near a platinum mine. The announcement said the miners were armed, so the police were forced to fire in self-defense.  

For the second time this week, rebel fighters in Syria claim to have downed a government aircraft. A rebel activist said a warplane seen crashing near an air base in the north had been shot down by machine gun fire. Meanwhile, at a conference in Iran, Syrian delegates walked out during a speech by the new Egyptian leader, Mohammed Morsi. He called the Syrian regime oppressive and urged world support for the rebels.  

Australia today mourned the deaths of five of its soldiers in Afghanistan just hours apart. It marked the country’s worst day of combat losses since the Vietnam War. Two of the soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash today, and three others died yesterday when an Afghan fired on them. Overall, at least 54 international troops have been killed in Afghanistan during August.  

Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Judy and Gwen in Tampa.