Issac: 60,000 people ordered to evacuate following dam breach


An immediate mass evacuation has been ordered in Louisiana's Tangipahoa Parish after the tropical storm Isaac threatened to damage a dam on Louisiana-Mississippi border, threatening about 60,000 people.

Indian-American Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said the Lake Tangipahoa dam is intact after flooding from Tropical Storm Isaac, but it may be intentionally breached.

At a news conference, Jindal on Thursday said if the McComb, MS, dam breaches, it could affect an area with an estimated population of 40,000 to 60,000 residents.

Residents along the Tangipahoa River in Mississippi and Louisiana were ordered to evacuate within 90 minutes after initial warnings the dam's failure was imminent. Buses were being sent to help the evacuation, the officials said, adding that if the dam broke the nearest homes would only have 90 minutes before the water hit.

Located about 100 miles north of New Orleans, the parish initially said 'imminent failure' of the dam was expected but later emphasized that the dam was 'damaged but has not failed' and that the evacuations were 'out of caution'.

Experts were weighing whether to create a small breach in the dam so as to control the release.

Meanwhile, the first death from Isaac was reported in Mississippi early on Thursday. A tow-truck driver died after a tree fell on his cab.

Although the tropical storm weakened and is forecast to become a tropical depression by Thursday evening, the pounding rains are still drenching a large swath of the Gulf Coast. Mississippi and Louisiana announced mandatory evacuations for all low-lying areas along the Tangipahoa River.

A dam at 700-acre Lake Tangipahoa has not breached, 'but has been badly damaged by heavy rains', the Pike County Emergency Management Agency said.

Officials were pumping water over the top to relieve pressure on the dam and digging a hole in it — an intentional breach, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said. The agency does not expect a catastrophic event, said MEMA spokesman Greg Flynn.

The state had 'a good number of prisoners there ready to begin sandbagging if it comes to it', Flynn said.

Protected by federal levees, central New Orleans appeared to have escaped the worst of the storm, but rural areas of Louisiana and neighboring Mississippi were swamped and power outages widespread.

In Slidell, Louisina, areas that had never flooded, including during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, saw up to five feet of water after drain pumps were overwhelmed. Numerous homes and businesses were swamped, and police rescued 145 residents.

Around 850,000 homes and businesses across Louisiana and Mississippi were without power on Thursday. The Red Cross said almost 4,000 people were being accommodated in emergency shelters across Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Isaac is expected to weaken into a tropical depression later on Thursday, but it will still be a soaker for days.

US President Barack Obama declared federal emergencies in Louisiana and Mississippi on Wednesday to supplement state and local recovery efforts beginning on August 26.

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