Almost two days after Hurricane Isaac made landfall, striking the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, entire towns have been inundated with floodwaters, downing power lines across the region. Workers are scrambling to restore electricity to the affected area, a 300-mile wide swath of land stretching from southwestern Mississippi to eastern Texas.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said utilities through the state are reporting a total of 900,000 were without electricity Thursday. Power utility Entergy said more than 760,000 of their customers in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas are experiencing power outages. As the storm moves toward Baton Rouge at a painfully slow nine miles per hour, despite flooding and storm surges still gripping the state, Entergy says they’ve dispatched a crew of 10,000 workers to help turn the lights back on.
“We have damage assessment teams on the ground in southeast Louisiana and repair crews are starting to restore power, so restoration has already begun,” Entergy spokesman Chanel Lagarde told TIME. “But we’re still being hampered by weather conditions, so that will slow us down.”
(PHOTOS: Scenes of Isaac’s Wrath)
He said that the utility is working as fast as possible, but given the circumstances, there’s no estimate when power will be fully restored to the area. “Until the storm gets out of here and there’s a full assessment, it’s hard to tell.” Some New Orleans residents are approaching their second day without power, and with temperatures expected to climb into the upper 80s this weekend as the storm vacates the city, concern turns to the stifling heat.
“We’re asking for customers’ patience. It’s been a very frustrating storm because it’s moved so slowly,” Lagarde said. “We couldn’t get people on the ground yesterday, so we’re asking customers to give us some time.”
While no deaths have been reported because of lack of electricity, the storm has claimed its first victim. A tow truck driver was killed by a falling tree in Picayune, Miss., Sue McClaney, associate administrator in the Pearl River County planning office told TIME. The Associated Press reports the tree fell on the driver of the truck, identified by officials as Greg Parker, just after midnight. McClaney said the area is still inundated by the storm’s effects — 37 roads in the area are flooded. To compound matters, she said: “We’ve got high tides coming in right now.”
Those tides are stoking fears that a dam close to the Louisiana-Mississippi border may fail, threatening low-lying areas and forcing the evacuation of Tangipahoa Parish, La. Gordon Burgess, the parish’s president, told WWL-TV that the threat affects 50,000 to 60,000 people, who were given a mandatory evacuation notice at about 10 a.m. Thursday.
Jindal tweeted that officials in Mississippi have intentionally breached the dam to relieve pressure on it. Without the release, waters would rise to a level of 17 feet affecting several communities along the Tangipahoa River very quickly. “If this dam were to break, it would take about 90 minutes for this water to get to Kentwood,” he said, referring to the Louisiana town lying south of the dam in McComb, Miss.
State officials began a controlled breaching of a levee in Plaquemines Parish Thursday afternoon, the Associated Press reported. The release is intended to relieve pressure on the levee, which protects an area hard hit by storm surges since Isaac made landfall. Unlike the system in New Orleans, which was reinforced after Katrina, the Plaquemines levee falls outside the federal system.
At a news conference, New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu said Isaac brought heavy precipitation to the area, but noted that preparations and improvements made since Hurricane Katrina held. “Isaac dumped 10 to 15 inches on the region,” he said. “Our levees and floodgates held as they were designed to do.”
Also on Thursday, President Obama declared a major disaster for Louisiana, which releases FEMA funds to 36 parishes for emergency measures. State and local recovery efforts will be supplemented by federal aid on a cost-sharing basis, the agency said in a statement.
As Isaac begins to dissipate into a tropical depression and cleanup efforts begin in the Gulf Coast region, the National Weather Service reported that the fifth named hurricane of the 2012 season has formed. Kirk is currently located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and is moving northwest at 12 mph. However, it is not yet considered a threat to land.