Tangipahoa, La. narrowed avoided major catastrophe during Hurricane Isaac after reports flooded in that the Percy Quin Dam was close to breaching from rainfall overburdening Tangipahoa Lake. Concern over the dam prompted Tangipahoa’s parish president to call a mandatory evacuation for half of the parish’s residents.
The dam did come close to breaching, but remained stable as Hurricane Isaac crossed over Louisiana in late August. But the evacuation remains part of the parish’s $6 million recovery cost and the incident prompted the parish to move forward on long-delayed plans to rebuild the dam, which reportedly was built in the 1930s.
The incident is also raising questions on evacuations and when they should be mandated. Many officials in the area struggled with the decision to order a mandatory evacuation in the face of Hurricane Isaac, a Category 1 storm. Evacuations remain costly when considering the expense of coordinating, transporting and housing thousands of residents. Mayors and parish presidents are often faced with weighing the potential threat with the cost. But the Tangipahoa parish president said he would do it again in a heartbeat.
“I’d rather say we wasted our efforts than have someone lose a life,” said Parish President Gordon Burgess. “What if we lost one person? It was worth it not to lose a life.”
Hurricane Isaac’s landfall provided a crucial test of the Gulf’s levee system. While many new levees held up against the storm’s onslaught, many communities were left unprotected and vulnerable from the storm surge.
Plaquemines Parish, for example, was flooded when a 15-foot storm surge poured over its locally-built levee. Plaquemines is not protected from federal levees that were rebuilt following Katrina. As a result, Plaquemines suffered disproportionately from other communities that were protected by federal levees, even though it sits only 18 miles from federal levees in St. Bernard’s Parish.
Hurricane Isaac’s classification as a Category 1 storm has also been a matter of debate during recovery. St. John Parish, for example, only effectuates a mandatory evacuation when a Category 3 storm is approaching. The storm categorization system is based solely on wind speed, but even low category storms can have major impact on vulnerable communities.
The Louisiana parish hit hardest by August’s Hurricane Isaac is still reportedly pumping out flood water nearly two weeks later as it continues its storm recovery.
Officials planned to re-open Highway 23 to vehicles today after pumping excess floodwater that was caused by Isaac’s heavy wind and rainfall when the storm made landfall on Aug. 28. The American Red Cross is also expanding efforts to supply food and relief resources through its mobile units to reach affected residents.