NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Hurricane Isaac clipped the boot of Louisiana in its first landfall on its trek northwest into Louisiana Tuesday night, bringing with it a powerful storm surge and bursts of heavy wind and rain, and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power.
Many coastal communities were all but deserted as thousands of people moved inland ahead of the storm.
In Terrebonne Parish, traffic signals swayed amid sheets of wind-driven rain. Debris littered roadways.
Farther east in Plaquemines Parish, where Isaac made landfall at 6:45 p.m., parish officials reported extensive damage. Isaac's storm surge swelled the Mississippi River from its mouth upriver to New Orleans. In parts of Plaquemines, the river was lapping at the levee top.
Power outages were widespread and expected to grow as Isaac moved inland on Wednesday.
An estimated 3,000 people were in shelters across Louisiana, state officials said.
In New Orleans, thousands of law enforcement officers and Louisiana National Guard troops were poised for possible rescue efforts. Roadways in the city's eastern sector were reported flooded and trees were down.
Earlier in the day, floodgates were closed on area waterways to block Isaac's storm surge, part of the flood protection system rebuilt with billions of dollars of federal aid after Hurricane Katrina struck seven years ago.
At a news conference Tuesday, just minutes after forecasters said Isaac hit land, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the city expected a lot of rain and wind.
"Now is the time to hunker down. Now is the time to be smart," Landrieu told residents.
Isaac was moving toward the northwest and was expected to expose the city to its nastiest weather.
"Your city is secure," he said, while advising residents to use "common sense" in their final preparations.
But he expressed frustration with people who were romping through water coming over the seawall and pilling up along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. "We had some knuckleheads testing the water," Landrieu said.
He said police were "polite" in chasing them from the area. The lakefront has been closed because water is piling up against a levee that protects a residential neighborhood.
An anxious an exhausted, Mayor Tim Kerner of the village of Jean Lafitte said he expected Isaac to wreak havoc on his tiny fishing community.
Jean Lafitte — named for the buccaneer and Battle of New Orleans hero — lies just outside the levee protection system in Jefferson Parish. Under mandatory evacuation orders, most residents had left by Tuesday and buses were on hand to evacuate those without means of transportation.
As Kerner stood outside the town hall, wind gusts from Isaac's outer bands buffeted the nearby bayou.
"The beginning of the nightmare," he said.
Isaac strengthened Tuesday, though forecasters said it was likely too close to the coast to gain significant strength. The storm was arriving at the seventh anniversary of Katrina, which devastated Louisiana and Mississippi when it struck on Aug. 29, 2005. Death and destruction were widespread, and an estimated 80 percent of New Orleans flooded.
Though Isaac wasn't packing Katrina's punch, evacuations were mandatory in about a half-dozen parishes. Landrieu did not order residents to leave and many local governments chose to simply recommend that residents shelter in place.