Escaping the floods in Plaquemines Parish

As rescue workers cut through his roof and the flood waters rose inside his home, 70-year old Fred Leslie knew he was running out of time. But he sent his dogs out first anyway. CBS News

(CBS News) NEW ORLEANS - Isaac was downgraded Wednesday from a hurricane to a tropical storm. but it's still doing a good deal of damage. It is packing 70 mph winds and dumping as much as 20 inches of rain as it moves inland at just six miles an hour. One man has died in the storm and roads were crowded with some of the more than 100,000 people who were told to evacuate.

At least 690,000 homes and businesses are without power as of Wednesday night, and the damage from Isaac could top one and a half billion dollars. Rescue teams have been in the floodwaters all day, looking for people who ignored the mandatory evacuation order and paid for it.

As rescue workers cut through his roof and the flood waters rose inside his home, 70-year old Fred Leslie knew he was running out of time. But he sent his dogs out first anyway.

Exhausted, wet, bruised, he survived.

"This is home," Leslie said. "Where you gonna go, you know? This is home."

It's the same reason Karen Sylvia gave for ignoring the mandatory evacuation order.

"First we were going to try and leave, and then we didn't because we had nowhere to go," Sylvia said.

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The timing was lost on no one here. Exactly seven years to the day that Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, once again people, their pets and whatever worldly possessions they could carry were picked off roof tops and ferried to safety.

"It's horrible. Everybody's house is gone. Nobody got a house in Braithwait," Carol Hicks said.

On Wednesday, an earthen levee failed. In some parts of Plaquemines Parish, the floodwater is now 10 to 14 feet deep. More than a hundred people are homeless.

It's left Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Army Corps of Engineers with a grim choice: Expose a few homes to floodwaters in order to save many more.

"They are considering actually of doing a breach intentionally to release water, but they have not decided, they have not made the decision," Jindal said.

At left, watch video of a levee in Plaquemines Parish being overtopped by storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski

It's a choice the city of New Orleans does not have to face, where its new $14.6 billion levee system has thus far worked to specifications. Flooding was minor. About 65 percent of the city is without power -- more a consequence of the hurricane-force winds than the rain.

Authorities in Plaquemines Parish will now renew their request for improved levees. It's a call that comes too late for families like Hugh and Ann French. They were rescued by boat through their second-floor bedroom window. He's what we're left with," said Hugh, referring to his pet cat.

He said he's okay with the fact that that's all he made it out with. "I'm fine with it. That's why we got insurance," French said.

As of Wednesday night, New Orleans is under a dusk-to-dawn curfew. The governor's office just announced that authorities will punch a hole in that levee here in Plaquemines Parish as early as Thursday.

  • Byron Pitts

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