Isaac downgraded to Tropical Depression

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(CNN) — Weary residents in Louisiana and Mississippi began moving into recovery mode Thursday as a weakened Isaac dumped additional rain during its slow trek northward.

Amid the flooding, there was good news: All coastal warnings were discontinued, utility workers were making progress and more roads were reopening.

Isaac, downgraded from a tropical storm to a tropical depression, was still causing problems, though.

An earthen dam on 700-acre Lake Tangipahoa in Mississippi was holding its own and not leaking late Thursday, despite significant damage, according to the Pike County Emergency Management Agency.

Agency director Richard Coghlan said a “controlled breach” or spillway will be created at the Percy Quin State Park lake to relieve pressure and drain it.

Crews were working carefully overnight, moving in equipment to prepare for the operation expected to commence later Friday once water levels drop a bit. “They don’t want to influence the level of the river any more than they have to.”

Residents of 19 houses and seven mobile homes, along with three businesses, below the lake were asked to evacuate.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency does not expect a catastrophic event, said spokesman Greg Flynn. Coghlan agreed with that assessment.

Downstream in Louisiana, Tangipahoa Parish President Gordon Burgess called for a mandatory evacuation for those living within a half mile of the Tangipahoa River.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said the move was a precaution because if the dam were to break it would only take 90 minutes for floodwaters to get to Kentwood, a town of about 2,200 residents. “Listen to your local leaders,” he said of orders and warnings.

The river at Kentwood was observed at 15 feet Thursday evening — more than two feet above flood stage, the National Weather Service said, predicting that the river will reach 16 feet Friday before a gradual decline.

Officials predicted that a planned breach would send much of the water into a heavily forested area and not flood Louisiana towns, Jindal said.

Xanvanica Brumfield was among the evacuees at a school gymnasium in Kentwood. She and her four children left their home as high waters rolled in.

“I am ready to get it over with,” Brumfield told CNN affiliate WFAA. “It’s hot. Nothing really to eat and the kids are wearing me. I am ready to get back home and get situated.”

Officials, meanwhile, intentionally breached a levee in Plaquemines Parish, southeast of New Orleans. The move was needed to help drain floodwaters in the Braithwaite and Scarsdale communities.

The storm has had a “major impact” on Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant said in Gulfport. “This is a man-made beach,” he said, indicating the area where he was standing. “Most of that sand is gone. Thousands of homes have been damaged; people have been out of their homes and will be.”

A tow truck driver attempting to clear debris on a road in Mississippi was struck and killed by a falling tree, officials said. The incident took place at midnight, said Amanda Harris, deputy director of the Pearl River County Emergency Management office. The National Weather Service said it received reports of the fatality in Picayune.

On Louisiana’s border with Mississippi, residents of Washington Parish were alerted that the Bogue Chitto River was expected to rise by 14 feet overnight.

To the southwest, in St. John the Baptist Parish, National Guard troops looked for people stranded after thousands were forced to flee when a surge forced water over the banks of Lake Pontchartrain.

“What we’re doing is we have got law enforcement and fire personnel who are going door to door to notify people,” said Tommy Thiebaud, the Washington Parish director of emergency services.

Isaac’s maximum sustained winds had dropped to 35 mph as of Thursday afternoon and it was moving north-northwest at 12 mph, the service said.

“On the forecast track, the center of Isaac will continue to move over Louisiana today, over Arkansas on Friday and over southern Missouri Friday night,” forecasters said.

Water levels in most affected areas will gradually subside Friday, the hurricane center said, concluding its reports on Isaac.

More than 827,000 customers — down from 915,000 earlier in the day — had no electricity across Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, utility companies reported.

Coast Electric Power reduced a high of 30,000 outages to 8,000 by Thursday evening.

“We had a great day primarily because we had better working conditions, and they are getting better by the moment,” said spokesman Ron Barnes.

Water-boiling advisories were issued in a number of towns and cities along the Gulf Coast.

A flash flood emergency was issued for Slidell, Louisiana. Surge flooding from Bayou Bonfouca and the W-14 canal gushed into parts of the city, and sudden inundation of up to 5 feet was possible in low-lying areas, the National Weather Service said.

“There is water all around me,” Vincent Molino, who lives in the area, told CNN in an iReport. “It looks like my home is in a lake. The area is completely flooded … pretty much the whole neighborhood has 3 to 5 feet of water. We saw a big military vehicle stop by to ask us if we are OK.”

Tornadoes are suspected to be behind damage in Gulfport and Jackson, Mississippi, and a twister also is blamed for knocking down power lines and damaging a home in Geneva, Alabama.

President Barack Obama signed major disaster declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi after Isaac pummeled the Gulf Coast, dropping more than 20 inches of rain in some locations and creating a dangerous storm surge.

Isaac made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane seven years after Hurricane Katrina swept ashore in Louisiana and Mississippi. Katrina is blamed for the deaths of 1,800 people, most in New Orleans after the levee system failed and the city flooded.

Isaac’s greatest punch bypassed New Orleans.

The city reported relatively minor damage from the storm, but officials said there were at least a dozen incidents of looting. New Orleans Police said arrests were made in each case, but didn’t specify how many people were involved or where the arrests occurred.

“Our crews have already hit the streets this morning to assess damage and start clean-up,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu tweeted.

National Guard troops and authorities searched St. John the Baptist Parish for people trapped by up to 6 feet of water.

Dozens of buses moved residents out of flooded portions of the parish, while authorities worked to rescue others.

“We’re continuing to rescue people from different areas throughout the parish,” Paige Falgoust, communications director for St. John the Baptist Parish, said early Thursday. “Our main focus right now is getting people out of their homes.”

The surge was unusually bad in LaPlace, about 25 miles northwest of New Orleans, where many people had been rescued or still needed to escape rapidly rising water. By Thursday morning, at least 200 rescues had taken place, parish officials said.

CNN’s Leslie Tripp, Brian Todd, Soledad O’Brien, Ed Lavandera, Martin Savidge, John Zarrella, Chandler Friedman, Anika Chin, Mike Ahlers, Aaron Cooper, Chelsea J. Carter and Ed Payne contributed to this report.

CLICK HERE for additional Isaac coverage via FOX6Now.com.

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