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Isaac leaves distress, perspective in southeastern Louisiana

By Brian Todd and Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 1:40 PM EDT, Sat September 1, 2012
Melanie and Philip Martinez Sr. have dinner in daughter Kala's one-bedroom apartment on Saturday, September 8, in Chalmette, Louisiana. Melanie, along with her husband and mother, are staying in Kala's apartment after their home in Braithwaite flooded during Hurricane Isaac. It was the fifth home Martinez has lost to hurricanes in Louisiana. Melanie and Philip Martinez Sr. have dinner in daughter Kala's one-bedroom apartment on Saturday, September 8, in Chalmette, Louisiana. Melanie, along with her husband and mother, are staying in Kala's apartment after their home in Braithwaite flooded during Hurricane Isaac. It was the fifth home Martinez has lost to hurricanes in Louisiana.
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Isaac's trail of destruction
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Isaac hit Louisiana as a hurricane and lingered, causing massive flooding
  • Waters remain high in parts of the state, with tens of thousands without power
  • A fire chief loses his home to flooding and pulls a dead couple out of their home
  • New Orleans resident says it's "beautiful" how people are helping each other

Braithwaite, Louisiana (CNN) -- For Urban Treuil, there's no escaping the misery.

Because of Hurricane Isaac, Treuil's home in Braithwaite, Louisiana, is ruined by floodwaters. So, too, is the gas station and convenience store he owned and ran in the community, 15 miles by car and 10 miles as the crow flies from New Orleans.

But all that pales to what Treuil, the fire chief for Braithwaite and Woodlawn in Plaquemines Parish, saw when he and fellow volunteer firefighters steered their boat up to the home of a couple he knew. Inside, they found the pair floating in the kitchen, the first of at least three fatalities in Louisiana being blamed on Isaac.

"It's not something I want to see, and I hope it's the last ones we do see," said an exhausted Treuil on Friday, a day after he pulled the couple from the home.

In terms of total deaths, Isaac doesn't compare to Hurricane Katrina, which led to nearly 1,800 fatalities in New Orleans and the vicinity seven years ago. Isaac struck Louisiana on Tuesday night as a Category 1 hurricane, not a Category 3 like Katrina.

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Don't tell that, though, to the thousands of residents in St. Tammany, Ascension, Plaquemines and other parishes who Friday found their homes and hometowns still deluged. Even with a few drops of drizzle falling all day and with levels down considerably from the previous day, waters were still 10 feet deep in spots.

"This is unbelievable. Deja vu, man," Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish said Thursday as he surveyed the town of Ironton, inundated by floodwater and sludge. "There is more water here than Katrina."

It was a sentiment echoed by an assistant fire chief in the parish, while on a boat moving through an area in which floodwaters almost universally covered the first floor of 200 homes.

Red carpet still out for New Orleans tourists

Most people had heeded a mandatory evacuation order issue Monday, but not all.

Video footage from CNN affiliate New Orleans WWL showed rescuers pulling out an ax and hacking an attic vent.

Soon after, 70-year-old Fred Leslie climbed out and slid down his roof. Rescuers also managed to get out his four dogs, one of whom fell into the water and another who jumped into a reporter's arms.

Dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, Leslie said that he had evacuated ahead of Katrina. He told WWL that he'd stayed this time because "I didn't think it would happen again." But within just five minutes, Leslie said his home was "six feet deep" with water. He then grabbed whatever he could, got the dogs, and rushed to the attic.

There will be no rebuilding here this time, as Leslie did after Katrina.

"It's just one of those things," he said, still drenched, of the storm. "I'm going to find someplace else. I'm getting too old for this."

About 35 miles northeast in Slidell, along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, CNN iReporter Vincent Molino said that he came across at least 10 vehicles flooded and "unsalvageable" while surveying the city Friday.

Water had also gotten into several homes, especially those without crawl spaces or, like Molino's, not built up on stilts.

Ironically, some of the luckiest residents were those who'd had their homes destroyed by or after Katrina -- because their rebuilt homes were elevated or otherwise protected, per new requirements to qualify for insurance.

Businesses along one strip in Slidell, a community of about 27,000 people, were soaked in an inch or more of water, even though they are about five miles from the lakefront.

"There are so many ups and downs," Molino said of the floodwaters. "It seeps in all these weird ways."

At the same time, Molino said that many people he'd talked to were both philosophical and confused about what Mother Nature had wrought this time -- "happy" that they weren't hit harder but still "shocked that this, basically, tropical storm could have made such a strong surge."

Inside New Orleans, anyone who lived through Katrina knew it could have been worse.

That didn't change the fact Friday was not a fun day -- "hot, muggy, sticky, nasty," especially for the many without electricity, according to Eileen Romero, another iReporter.

Some kept their refrigerators and such running with generators, which in Romero's case required five 5-gallon gas containers to operate every 24 hours. A shortage of gas made keeping generators humming and cars moving difficult, and lines were long at the grocery and other stores that did open for business.

Yet they were bright spots under the still gloomy skies, Romero said.

Such the electrician from down the street who came over to fix her generator, she recalled. Or those who cleared limbs and branches from their neighbors' sidewalks, piling them up with no questions asked.

New Orleans, and all of southeastern Louisiana, has been here before -- not just being socked by a hurricane, but rallying around each other afterward. And they're doing it again, said Romero.

"It's just people helping people," she said. "It's amazing to me, it's nice to me. It's a beautiful kind of thing."

CNN's Brian Todd reported from Braithwaite and Greg Botelho reported from Atlanta. CNN's Dugald McConnell contributed to this report.

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