Update: 3:30pm EST
Good news for people weathering Hurricane Isaac along the Gulf Coast: CNN is reporting that Isaac has been downgraded to a tropical storm status.
Sustained winds have dropped to 70 mph, the National Hurricane Center said, and its location at 3 p.m. ET was about 50 miles west-southwest of New Orleans and 55 miles south-southeast of Baton Rouge. It was crawling northwest at 6 miles per hour. The storm has already caused power outages for more than 725,000 customers in five states, the site reports, and it may be out for more than a week. Ultimately, the damage may cost upwards of $1.5 billion.
Hurricane Isaac made its second landfall early today, hovering over the Gulf Coast and hitting southeast Louisiana with 80 mile per hour wind gusts, "horizontal" rain and the threat of calamitous flooding, the New York Times is reporting. Forecasters said the rainfall may not let up for days.
The hurricane was essentially stationary just off the Louisiana shore, according to the National Weather Service, bringing with it the heightened risk of tornadoes and flash flooding hundreds of miles inland from Louisiana, and across Mississippi and Alabama to Florida. In addition, the longer the storm lingers, the more pressure it is putting on the levees and other flood-protection systems along the coast.
More than 400,000 residents of Louisiana were without power, nearly a third of them in New Orleans. Entergy, the utility company, cannot send workers to fix lines until winds were below 30 miles per hour.
It is important to note that the current storm is nowhere near as powerful as Hurricane Katrina, which struck and devastated New Orleans seven years ago today. However, Isaac is still a substantial hurricane, with towns affected from Louisiana to the Mississippi-Alabama border.
Waters from the gulf pushed onto the coast through the night in Mississippi and Alabama, where thousands had lost power and 60 m.p.h. winds knocked out transformers and stripped palm trees. Several inches of rain had fallen overnight, flooding parts of the small cities along the coast. The Mississippi Gaming Commission ordered the 12 casinos along the coast to close. Hotels in New Orleans are also closed, and cruise lines in the area have diverted schedules.
Stay tuned to TravelAgentCentral.com for updates.