NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Hurricane Isaac lashed New Orleans as it approached the storied city Wednesday exactly seven years after the devastating Katrina, stranding dozens of people in cars and homes as it pushed flood waters over defenses in one rural area.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center warned that dangerous storm surges and flooding were expected to last into the night as Isaac crawled from the Gulf Coast over Louisiana after driving a wall of water nearly 11 feet (3.3 meters) high inland. The storm killed 24 in Haiti and five in the Dominican Republic over the weekend.
Isaac, a lowest-category hurricane, still brought the threat of almost 2 feet (0.6 meters) of rain to a region where many areas are under sea level. Wind gusts of more than 60 miles (96 kilometers) per hour and sheets of rain raked the nearly empty streets of New Orleans, where the National Weather Service said more than 9 inches (228 millimeters) had fallen by 7 a.m. (1100 GMT).
The director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center, Rick Knabb, reminded people that the first half of Isaac hadn't yet moved through the area.
The full picture of damage was not yet clear. "It's going to be frustrating," said the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate. "The response will start when conditions allow, not when the sun shines."
Issac was far less strong than Katrina, which left 1,800 dead but resulted in the widespread strengthening of the city's flood defenses. Still, tens of thousands of people in low-lying Louisiana and Mississippi had been told to leave before Isaac arrived.
Officials said New Orleans' flood protections system was holding up so far, but Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Rachel Rodi said the corps expected to be on "high alert" for the next 12 to 24 hours.
About two dozen people who defied evacuation orders needed to be rescued after a storm surge topped an 18-mile (29-kilometer) stretch of flood wall in a thinly populated part of Plaquemines Parish. The levee is not part of New Orleans' defenses.
Authorities in armored vehicles saved a family after the roof was ripped off their house in Terrebonne Parish, a fishing village about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southwest of New Orleans, said Sheriff Jerry Larpenter. He said others had called wanting to be evacuated.
"I think a lot of people were caught with their pants down," Larpenter said.
The storm also flooded beachfront roads before dawn in Louisiana and Mississippi. Isaac's slow track meant the storm could dump up to 20 inches (508 millimeters) of rain in some areas, said Ken Graham, chief meteorologist at the National, Weather Service office in Slidell, Louisiana.
In New Orleans' French Quarter, resident Jimmy Maiuri said he had no regrets at staying put, though he was amazed at the storm's timing.
"It's definitely not one to take lightly, but it's not Katrina," he said. "No one is going to forget Aug. 29 forever, not here at least."
Power was knocked out to more than 500,000 customers across southern Louisiana, most of them in New Orleans.
The storm has drawn intense scrutiny because of its timing __ coinciding with Katrina and the first major speeches of the Republican National Convention in Florida, already delayed and tempered by the storm.
Katrina became a symbol of government ignorance and ineptitude, and President Barack Obama has sought to demonstrate his ability to guide the nation through a natural disaster, saying Americans will help each other recover "no matter what this storm brings."
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Brian Schwaner and Cain Burdeau in New Orleans; Kevin McGill in Houma, La.; Holbrook Mohr in Waveland and Pass Christian, Miss.; Jeff Amy in Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss.; Jay Reeves in Gulf Shores, Ala.; Jessica Gresko in Codon, Ala.; and Curt Anderson at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.