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Louisiana coastal towns struggle with storm flooding

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Louisiana Gulf Coast towns and inland waterways struggled with flooding on Monday as the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee continued to test flood barriers but the city of New Orleans remained in fairly good shape.

Jerry Sneed, deputy mayor of public safety for New Orleans, reported no significant problems on Monday morning, with standing water remaining in only a few areas outside the levee protection system. No deaths were reported from the storm.

"Overall, things worked well, I think we did OK," he said.

As of 5:30 a.m., utility company Entergy reported no remaining power outages in New Orleans. At one point, some 38,000 homes in the area had lost power.

New Orleans was devastated in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, which flooded 80 percent of the city, killed 1,500 people and caused more than $80 billion in damage. Half of the city is below sea level, protected by levees and flood gates.

This time, the city fared better than its neighbors and out-lying areas.

The continuing tidal surge brought by strong southerly winds flooded about 20 homes in Slidell's Palm Lake subdivision, east of New Orleans, overnight as drainage arteries into Lake Pontchartrain backed up, leaving up to four feet of standing water.

The nearby Oak Harbor subdivision stayed on flood watch on Monday morning as Lake Pontchartrain's waters remained about three feet above normal.

By morning, as the tropical depression moved to the east, winds in the local area shifted to the north, beginning to help move the water back out of some flooded areas. But the shift didn't come soon enough for some areas.

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser complained bitterly of delays in improving levee protection as he joined crews continuing a losing battle against the water.

"Look at the people who suffered through four hurricanes and the oil spill," Nungesser said. "How much more can they take?"

Surging water overtopped an old levee on Sunday night, making the main highway through the parish impassable. Water flowed freely across Highway 23, flooding nearby pastureland.

HERDING CATTLE IN BOATS

Men used boats to herd about 30 head of struggling cattle to higher ground, forcing the animals to swim to the safety of a Mississippi River levee.

After Hurricane Katrina and the resulting flood devastated the New Orleans region in 2005, money was allocated to boost levee protection in the parish, Nungesser said. But the Army Corps of Engineers has not yet begun the construction work.

"It's frustrating to know the money is in the bank to rebuild this levee and we're out here fighting this," he said.

Grand Isle Mayor David Carmadelle said crews were working to reopen Louisiana Highway 1 south of Golden Meadow as the water recedes on Monday. He said serious erosion has occurred on the beach of Grand Isle, a barrier island, and he also complained that the Corps of Engineers has delayed construction of levees the agency has promised.

In coastal Terrebonne Parish, parish President Michel Claudet said the shifting wind was a relief. He said just three houses had been reported flooded. Some roads remain closed in low-lying areas of the parish, but "the rain's stopping and we're looking forward to the north winds," he said.

Claudet said an "aggressive elevation program" that helped finance the raising of about a thousand homes in the lower part of the parish in recent years helped prevent the widespread home flooding that could have occurred.

Meanwhile, a marsh fire that has burned some 1,500 acres in eastern New Orleans over the past week continued to smolder on Monday morning. Local officials had hoped rainfall that totaled up to 15 inches in recent days would extinguish the persistent fire, which they believe started with a lightning strike on combustible peat moss and other marsh brush.

Across the Mississippi River from New Orleans, water overtopped a levee outside a floodwall on the Harvey Canal, But officials said the wall, built after Hurricane Katrina, remains solid and should protect nearby homes.

To the north, across Lake Pontchartrain, some communities waited anxiously for shifting winds to carry floodwaters back into the lake. The Mandeville lakefront, where most homes and businesses are raised, remained closed Monday, with water still splashing over barriers.

Some areas of nearby Madisonville remained flooded from the water pushed over the banks of the Tchefuncte River.

(Writing and reporting by Kathy Finn; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Peter Bohan)

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