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Isidore blows through Louisiana, disaster relief units readied

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Tornadoes, gusting winds and more than 20 inches of rain pounded the Louisiana Gulf Coast as Tropical Storm Isidore blew ashore in the early hours of Sept. 26.

As the storm worked its way inland with 90 mph wind gusts, tornado warnings and flood watches were posted from the central Louisiana coast to the Florida panhandle. There were no early reports of injuries or deaths.

Most churches, including many in the Greater New Orleans Baptist Association, canceled Wednesday night services so church members could prepare for the storm. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was closed until Monday, Sept. 30.

Buddy Day, disaster relief coordinator for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, said Southern Baptist disaster relief teams are on standby and expected to be dispatched on Sept. 26.

“Right now, the local communities and state police are evaluating the extent of the damage and we will probably be dispatched later today,” he said on Sept. 26.

Day said disaster relief teams will be based at Williams Boulevard Baptist Church in Kenner, and in Houma, La. Baptist disaster relief units from Mississippi and Texas also are on standby, reported Mickey Caison, national disaster relief coordinator with the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.

The campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was virtually unscathed with the onslaught of rain. The only effects of the storm were a short-lived electrical outage, which occurred overnight; some flooding in the back part of the campus; and some student apartments with water leaks.

“The trees on our campus was our greatest concern during this storm,” said Chris Friedmann, NOBTS’ associate vice president of operations. “With so many trees damaged with termites, we didn’t know how they would stand up in the storm.” There was very little tree damage despite the torrential rain and heavy winds, he said. “The Lord really spared us in that area.”

NOBTS President Chuck Kelley announced on Wednesday evening that classes would remain canceled and campus offices would remained closed until Sept. 30 to allow maintenance crews time to clean up any residual effects of the storm. The closing also will keep the seminary community from having to drive in the city, where most of the flooding has occurred.

Isidore battered Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula as a hurricane over the weekend, killing at least two people before downgrading to a tropical storm. Isidore strengthened after moving back over the Gulf toward the U.S. mainland.

The National Guard was called out to help with evacuations in Louisiana and Mississippi, where the governors declared states of emergency. Flash flood watches covered most of Alabama.

More than a foot of rain fell on parts of the Gulf Coast Wednesday. Another foot of rain was forecast in some places, including low-lying New Orleans.

Nearly two feet of rain has left most of New Orleans and its central business district impassable. More than 60,000 customers lost power in the city. More than 100 motorists were stranded on Interstate 10 near Metarie when floodwaters reached the tops of windshields.

A tornado touched down in Lafourche Parish, near the south Louisiana town of Golden Meadow. Flying debris damaged three police vehicles in the area.

As the eye passed near Houma, officials clocked some 90 mph wind bursts in squalls. Power outages were widespread throughout the town as tree limbs fell on utility lines.

At Grand Isle, where the storm made landfall, Petty Officer Michael Holmes told The Times-Picayune that water came to the doors of the Coast Guard station, with winds gusting 50-60 mph. The eight-mile stretch of beach homes and fishing camps, connected to the rest of Louisiana by a state highway across marshland, was mostly deserted. Most residents already had left under a mandatory evacuation order issued on Sept. 24.

“Pretty much the whole island is under water,” Holmes said.

New Orleans streets were largely empty early Sept. 26 because of a curfew to keep roadways clear for emergency vehicles. Mississippi officials issued similar curfews in Biloxi and Gulfport.

New Orleans’ French Quarter was empty with many bar fronts boarded up before midnight. At Cafe du Monde, the usually packed French Quarter eatery was deserted.

Dozens of cars were left stranded on flooded French Quarter streets.

In Jefferson Parish, a New Orleans suburb, authorities said rainwater infiltrated the sewerage system, causing backups in numerous homes and businesses. Residents were told to limit their use of washing machines, dishwashers and bathrooms. In LaPlace, residents were told to boil their drinking water until further notice.

More than 2,200 people reported to 34 shelters in Louisiana, but there was no way to estimate the number of evacuees because so many stayed with relatives and friends. More than 1,000 evacuees spent the night at Belle Chase High School on the west bank of the Mississippi River. Parish President Benny Rousselle said his community was prepared for the storm.

“Isidore gave us a chance to work together as a team to prepare for the evacuations,” Rousselle said. “This is a wonderful example of how the local government and churches can work together.”
Shannon Baker contributed to this story.

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