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Mr. McDermott stood on the porch of the $6 million municipal complex built after Katrina, with walls of 1-foot-thick concrete to withstand hurricane winds. As he looked out toward the Gulf of Mexico, pieces of a structure that had stood atop the city’s fishing pier washed across the parking lot.

The state transportation department said Mississippi Highway 43 and Mississippi Highway 604, both in Hancock County, were not passable because of storm surge driven inland.

In largely abandoned Plaquemines Parish, Ms. Campbell said an 18-mile stretch along the thinly populated east bank was being overtopped by surge. The levee had not broken.

Ms. Campbell said officials believe some people may be trapped in their homes by water from the overtopped levee but were not sure how many might still be in the area. Strong wind was hampering efforts of rescuers to get into parts of the area.

She said officials expected the water to recede to the Gulf as wind direction changes with the storm’s movement..

Tens of thousands of people had been told ahead of Isaac to leave low-lying areas of Mississippi and Louisiana, including 700 patients of Louisiana nursing homes. Mississippi shut down the state’s 12 shorefront casinos.

The hurricane promised to lend even more solemnity to commemoration ceremonies Wednesday for Katrina’s 1,800 dead in Louisiana and Mississippi, including the tolling of the bells at St. Louis Cathedral overlooking New Orleans’ Jackson Square.

The storm drew intense scrutiny because of its timing — coinciding with Katrina and the first major speeches of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., already delayed and tempered by the storm.

Isaac promises to test a New Orleans levee system bolstered by $14 billion in federal repairs and improvements after the catastrophic failures during Katrina. But in a city that already weathered Hurricane Gustav in 2008, many had faith.

“I feel safe,” said Pamela Young, who was riding out the storm in the Lower 9th Ward with her dog, Princess, in a new, two-story home built to replace the one destroyed by Katrina.

“If the wind isn’t too rough, I can stay right here,” she said, tapping on her wooden living room coffee table. “If the water comes up, I can go upstairs.”

Isaac posed political challenges with echoes of those that followed Katrina, a reminder of how the storm seven years ago became a symbol of government ignorance and ineptitude.

President Obama sought to demonstrate his ability to guide the nation through a natural disaster, and Republicans reassured residents they were prepared Tuesday as they formally nominated former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate.

There was already simmering political fallout from the storm. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican who canceled his trip to the convention in Tampa, said the Obama administration’s disaster declaration fell short of the federal help he had requested. Mr. Jindal said he wanted a promise from the federal government to be reimbursed for storm preparation costs.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said such requests would be addressed after the storm.

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