While remnants of Isaac pushed ahead, much of the marshy parish at the end of Louisiana remained underwater.
VENICE, LA. - The end of the Earth was farther away than usual.
The only lights in the Venice marina were the full moon and the running lights on Acy Cooper's shrimp boat, the Miss Marla Kay, one of a tiny fleet that had made the eight-hour trip down the Mississippi River. Cooper and the other shrimpers had weathered Hurricane Isaac on their boats outside of New Orleans. Their arrival here in Venice, the first time they have returned since the storm, roughly doubled the community's population. All but a handful of Venice's few hundred residents were still scattered.
Saturday morning revealed a town largely spared, but rearranged. A shrimp boat sat on the side of the road. Huge steel diesel drums were scattered like Lincoln Logs. Telephone poles were bowed so low that people riding in the back of a pickup had to duck.
"The water gives, the water takes away," Cooper said. "That's just the way it goes. It doesn't have to do it so often, though."
'Boots on the ground'
Venice sits at the end of the road in Plaquemines Parish, the marshy peninsula of southeastern tip of Louisiana that was the first landing point of Hurricane Isaac and the scene of perhaps its most thorough destruction. The storm surge overtopped levees and inundated communities, stranding scores of people in their homes, some in their attics. A middle-aged couple drowned in their kitchen. The floodwaters also cut the parish in half, severing South Plaquemines communities from the rest of Louisiana.
Much of the area remained underwater even as remnants of Isaac pushed their way up the Mississippi valley, spinning off thunderstorms and at least two tornadoes in Illinois.
In Louisiana, the number without power was down from more than 900,000. However, in heavily populated Jefferson Parish near New Orleans, parish President John Young said Entergy Corp. was too slow in restoring electricity. "I don't see boots on the ground," he said.
"We've restored about 45 percent of our customers in about a day and a half," Entergy spokesman Chanel Lagarde said. He added that crews have come in from 24 states. "In many situations, crews have driven all day and have worked their 16-hour day and have to rest for the day."
Up in Belle Chasse, the parish seat in the suburban sprawl just outside New Orleans, evacuees from South Plaquemines were boarding buses for a six-hour trip even farther from their homes, to the northern Louisiana city of Shreveport.
Aleen Barthelemey, 53, watched them leave, planning to find a hotel so she could return to her home in the little Plaquemines community of Phoenix on the east bank as soon as the road opened.
"Call me crazy," she said. "I don't want to be nowhere else. If this happened a hundred times, I'm going to move back a hundred times."
Worth the trouble
She was born and raised there, as were her father and grandfather. "You know that 40 acres and a mule thing? That's how that started," she said. It's country there, slow-paced and familiar, and it is worth the trouble.
In recent years, Plaquemines Parish has seen nothing but trouble. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina first hit Louisiana outside of Venice, leaving it under 10 feet of water. Cooper returned shortly afterward, moved his boat onto the bank of the river and left again, as Hurricane Rita was on its way. After Rita he came back again, slept on his boat and went back to shrimping, eventually bringing his family and living here for months off the power grid. Less than three years later, it was Hurricane Gustav's turn.
But people here know storms. Nothing quite compared to the kind of anxiety that came with the BP oil spill in 2010, when it appeared for a moment that this way of life was over.
People have generally had family here for generations, working in self-reliant trades like ranching, shrimping, oyster harvesting or running service boats for the oil industry. Aside from his father, who is also a shrimper, Cooper has answered to a boss for just 1 1/2 months of his life, when he worked in the cleanup of the oil spill.
On Cooper's trip home down the Mississippi River, there were signs every few miles of what had happened that week: marooned cattle being herded on the levees, a barge run aground, the damaged roof on the palatial home of the parish president, Billy Nungesser. It is a long trip.
The long arm of Plaquemines has grown thin in sections. The less land, the less protection from hurricanes. And the one kind of frontier independence that residents could do without is the fact that the parish sits mostly outside the federal flood protection system built to protect New Orleans and other parts of south Louisiana. "My lifetime, my kids' lifetimes, we ain't going to be here no more," he said. "How much can you take?"
The AP contributed to this report.