Isaac - The Mess and the Message

By: Bryan Norcross , 2:58 AM GMT on September 04, 2012

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Another hurricane, another mangled message. Let's see. All of the affected coastline and, explicitly, Lake Ponchartrain went under a Hurricane Warning Sunday afternoon, August 26. All of the affected coastline was in the cone. At 4 AM CT on Monday a storm surge forecast of 6 to 12 feet was issued for Southeast Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Isaac made its first landfall at 6:45 PM CT on Tuesday at the southern tip of Plaquemines Parish.

There was plenty of time for action.

We knew for a week that Isaac's huge circulation was going to move a lot of water, no matter its category or highest wind. The trajectory of the wind aimed that water right at Louisiana's southeast coast and wouldn't let up. Plaquemines Parish has plans to build up the "back levee", but Isaac tragically showed that plans don't hold back the water. The relentless onshore flow pushed the Gulf high enough to top the 8 1/2 foot levee, and a horrendous experience ensued for people that stayed home, thinking whatever they were thinking, but coming to the conclusion that the levee was high enough.

So why would people stay behind an 8 1/2 foot levee when the forecast was for 6 to 12 feet of water and waves on top of that? And why would people in LaPlace to the west of New Orleans or Slidell to the north be surprised they got flooded when there's no real levee at all protecting them?

Questions have been asked and the research is being compiled from the affected coastline to try to understand what people thought was going to happen and when they thought it. What and who were their credible sources of information? What words or messages would have made a difference? How can we do better next time?

I'm sure the research will be wonderful, but we pretty much know what happened. People heard on the media, "it's only a Tropical Storm", "it might not even make Category 1", "the models are all over the place", "there's tremendous uncertainty", "it's no Katrina", blah blah blah.

The message for Plaquemines Parish should have been, "Listen, if the forecast is right, the Gulf is coming over that levee and the water will be up to your roof. Now get the hell out!"

Everybody's a meteorologist today, they look at the models, slice and dice the uncertainty, and the message from the National Hurricane Center gets mangled beyond recognition. In fact, for the two days before the first landfall and for the tortuous days thereafter, the forecast was plenty good. The storm stayed well within the cone. The hurricane hit in the Hurricane Warning area, and, more importantly, didn't hit outside the warned zone.

The NHC's system for disseminating the forecast is archaic and relies on the media to sort it out and get it right, but the content was all there.

In the Hurricane Center advisory, the critical storm surge forecast was buried toward the bottom of the text. In newspaper terms, that's like putting the main headline in the sports section. The discussion of the scope of the impact of the storm related to its large size was relegated to the somewhat technical "Discussion". And more key pieces of information are scattered hither and yon.

It's up to the media to assemble a precise, informed, and consistent message from the torrent of good information that comes out of the National Hurricane Center. It's hard for us at The Weather Channel to digest it all at advisory time, and we've got more meteorologists that you can shake a stick at. Four of us on the Tropical Team were working on it Tuesday evening at landfall, and it was still hard. And nobody else has close to our resources.

And then there's the local National Weather Service offices. They, too, make excellent forecasts, but their communications systems seem doubly determined to make it difficult to find out what they are forecasting. The bottom line, if it takes more than one click to find critical information for Tampa or Mobile or Slidell or anywhere else, the system is broken.

The good news is, there is awareness within the National Weather Service that communications is not their strong suit. There are plans for explicit Storm Surge Warnings and other improvements as well. And, there are excellent people working on the problem. Let's hope Isaac sends a message to Washington that it's time for action.

And... the media has to man up. All of it. Everybody. Hurricane Warnings, storm-surge forecasts, the ability of large circulations to move a lot of water, the entire discussion has to be had over and over in a situation like this. No quick hits, no hitting high points, and no trivializing chatter about the models.

The standard for ALL media should be how well their viewers or readers understand the message. If a big percentage of the people who get their information from you end up misinformed, you suck as a news outlet. That used to be the standard, and should be the standard again. Do people get the message and understand what it means to them? That's the only question that counts. End of story.

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29. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
8:50 PM GMT on October 21, 2012
bnorcross has created a new entry.
27. StormDrain
1:30 PM GMT on September 20, 2012
Related to tornadoes but still an example of what I mentioned at comment 12. Also goes along with what Skyepony said about how people prefer their messages. Found the notice of this meeting posted at NWS Norman home page.

Tornado researchers from OU reach out to learn how local residents "know" tornadoes.

“We’re learning that local beliefs can influence people’s perceptions of threat from tornadoes nearly as much as any information we’re providing them,” said Kim Klockow, of the University of Oklahoma College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences. “If we hope to make a message that people understand, we need to know how people in our local area think about tornadoes. We know a lot about the weather, but we know much less about the beliefs or local knowledge of the local people who are experiencing it.”
Member Since: October 9, 2005 Posts: 13 Comments: 495
26. nigel20
2:11 PM GMT on September 16, 2012
Thanks for the blog!
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 12 Comments: 8424
25. StormDrain
12:01 PM GMT on September 16, 2012
Kind of interesting.

USGS Release: 3-D mapping of Isaac water levels

The information gathered from this pilot project will be used by USGS to develop 3-D models of streets and structures, including the levels floodwaters reached, as well as current water levels in the form an interactive 3-D flood inundation map. The map will help identify where the potential threat of future floodwaters is greatest, and will help determine the extent of wind and flood damages caused by Isaac.

"We are collecting storm-tide information that will allow scientists to study the impacts of the storm in three dimensions," said Toby Minear, a research hydrologist at the USGS California Water Science Center, who is participating in the study. "Imagine a 360-degree panoramic photo, but made with laser points where everything you can see has a known elevation and location. These 'point clouds' can be put together to create a full 3-D map of an area containing many millions of data points."



NOLA, 8/31/12
image credit: U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Toby Minear
Member Since: October 9, 2005 Posts: 13 Comments: 495
24. wxgeek723
1:16 AM GMT on September 11, 2012
Quoting Bogon:
Part of the problem with storms such as Katrina and Isaac is that our traditional measures of tropical storm strength, such as the Saffir-Simpson scale, don't take into account the scale of the storm. Isaac and Leslie are very large storms.

The handwriting is on the wall. One of these days, conditions will be favorable for one of these large storms to reach near its maximum destructive potential. When that happens, a large section of coastline will be wiped out. Major flooding will affect inland locations. Insurance companies will take considerable damage as well.

Several major urban centers are at risk, such as Houston, Philadelphia, New York and Atlanta. The usual suspects, e. g. New Orleans, Miami and Charleston, will not be able to build a levee high enough.



Is that your official forecast? You might want to provide more essential detail, such as storm surge warnings etc.


Philadelphia and Atlanta? How is storm surge a threat to them? I can understand a large East Coast hurricane could bring hurricane force winds to Philly but Atlanta?
Member Since: August 28, 2008 Posts: 79 Comments: 3689
23. NWflier
4:28 PM GMT on September 09, 2012
Thanks Bryan you are so right!
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22. shoreacres
12:29 PM GMT on September 06, 2012
@astropho:

I believe that if you have Mandatory evacuations then people in those evac zones should be forced out with whatever force it takes.

Good. Come on down to the coast and we'll make you responsible for physically forcing people out of their homes. That ought to be interesting.

I don't care what they believe because many people are either stupid, ignorant or just don't care.


See? You've got just the attitude for persuading people to listen to you.

Human beings are ego-maniacs.

Some are, but not all. Others have strong, healthy egos that allow them to make decisions and take responsiblity for the consequences. They help their neighbors, family and friends rather than sitting around haranguing them.

Member Since: October 4, 2004 Posts: 205 Comments: 15288
21. presslord
11:35 AM GMT on September 06, 2012

So why would people stay behind an 8 1/2 foot levee when the forecast was for 6 to 12 feet of water and waves on top of that?

Or, perhaps, because they have NO choice. Many people have no transportation...no money (especially at the end of the month)...and nowhere to go....
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10492
20. Skyepony (Mod)
3:28 AM GMT on September 06, 2012
Quoting astropho:


Now, as for the blog comment from "Skyepony" - I say: how many people have to die to make anything a mangled message? What if just one of those people was a family member of yours? I didn't know that life was that cheap. Also, I believe that if you have Mandatory evacuations then people in those evac zones should be forced out with whatever force it takes. I don't care what they believe because many people are either stupid, ignorant or just don't care and these are the ones that put our rescue teams at risk and these people also have families. People need to start taking Nature seriously. Human beings are ego-maniacs. We think that we are bigger and better then Mother Nature. We are indestructible. Truly, humanity is miniscule and nothing but a speck that can be blow away or a candle fire that can be blown out compared to Nature.


Katrina was a mangled message. They didn't evacuate all the right areas & waited too long to where there wasn't enough time to get everyone out, plus larger levee failure. Tragically over 1800 died. I'm not saying scores have to die for the message to be mangled just that people have to not understand what is coming for the message to be mangled. Too many lessons were learned from Katrina for this not to go a bit better. Isaac's surge I think claimed three which is awful, they were all elderly & it's three more than there would have been if it happened in Cuba instead of LA. You make a lot of really great points about why mandatory should be mandatory but it's not. So why rant at the NHC & the various media outlets in the area that told people in low lying areas the forecast surge heights & to leave? There has been some blame on some of the local government officials for calling evacuations a bit on the late side which Brian Norcross doesn't even mention. These didn't affect people I know in the low lying areas because the media had surge forecast plus 20" of rain forecast out well ahead & they had already left.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 210 Comments: 39120
19. astropho
1:01 AM GMT on September 06, 2012
I totally agree with Mr. Norcross. I hope that professionals like you and Dr. Masters will institute some change in TWC. They are very unprofessional and seem only interested in big business, commercials/advertising and the mighty buck. I have seen TWC, on many occassions, cut off on-camera weather people and meteorologists just to go to a commercial. Obviously, sponsoring and money is more important then people's lives. The other people "ACCUWEATHER" or lets say "ACCUSCARE" are even worst. Just listening to how information is given out by the Weather Channel's on-camera m-ologist and the word choices they make like "Monster" and other descriptive words that just don't seem professional and only "hype" up and "scare" people. These tropical storms are not "aliens" from space or some kind of "entity" with a plan on destruction of the human race. It's called Nature and it should be handled in a professional way using science and developing good communications that would be user-friendly. It is also my opinion that Mr. Cantore is one of the worst "hype" and unprofessional weather people out there. His ego has to be huge after all these years of leading the charge to all these ground zero sites and I am sure he loves the fan attention he is getting as well as the half a million he is making to doing a great disservice to the general public. Reminds me a lot of another ego-maniac who use to be on the Accuweather network.

Now, as for the blog comment from "Skyepony" - I say: how many people have to die to make anything a mangled message? What if just one of those people was a family member of yours? I didn't know that life was that cheap. Also, I believe that if you have Mandatory evacuations then people in those evac zones should be forced out with whatever force it takes. I don't care what they believe because many people are either stupid, ignorant or just don't care and these are the ones that put our rescue teams at risk and these people also have families. People need to start taking Nature seriously. Human beings are ego-maniacs. We think that we are bigger and better then Mother Nature. We are indestructible. Truly, humanity is miniscule and nothing but a speck that can be blow away or a candle fire that can be blown out compared to Nature.
Member Since: September 6, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 0
18. Skyepony (Mod)
7:48 PM GMT on September 05, 2012
It's hard for us at The Weather Channel to digest it all at advisory time, and we've got more meteorologists that you can shake a stick at. Four of us on the Tropical Team were working on it Tuesday evening at landfall, and it was still hard. And nobody else has close to our resources.

Really? I watched in Dr Masters' Blog as teenagers discerned the risks from the NHC discussions & advisories within moments of them being released. Before TWC could come back from commercial..


So why would people stay behind an 8 1/2 foot levee when the forecast was for 6 to 12 feet of water and waves on top of that?

Because they have a choice.

I have family all over there. They knew what was coming. Everyone outside the new NOLA levees was told to leave. Some cousins that live in NOLA left anyway just in case the new levees didn't hold. One cousin stayed in Slidel, they had planned on leaving but when it came time they just decided not to. They are old, house made it through Katrina & they just decided they weren't up to it. They were in a voluntary evacuation zone. It was scary but they & their house are fine. Some of their friends in Mandatory evacuation areas lost houses.

Everyone prefers their message their way, may it be straight up, hype, spaghetti modeled out or somewhere in between... way too few died to call this another mangled message in a country where mandatory evacuations aren't carried out at gun point.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 210 Comments: 39120
17. hydrus
6:02 PM GMT on September 05, 2012
This is turning out to be quite a year. "M" storm has formed and more to come I believe. Could be near the numbers that 2011 Hurricane Season produced.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22317
16. leftlink
5:49 AM GMT on September 05, 2012
Do you think that the NHC system of using two different units to report storm strength in advisories -- kts and mph -- is antiquated?
Member Since: December 28, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 134
15. beell
2:52 AM GMT on September 05, 2012
Quoting StormDrain:
Found some post-Isaac aerial photos in the National Geodetic Survey viewer. Got there from a link at the blogsite for NOAA Coast Survey. Looks like flights 1 and 3 went into Plaquemines August 31, two days after the fact.


Aerial photos (4 photo tiles) of Braithwaite area from flight 3, August 31, 2012.
image credit: NOAA


Cool, SD. Thanks.
The inverted "V" at bottom center is the back levee of course. Appears the entire area flooded this time judging by the milky gray color in the cleared areas.

I don't think the water reached the land side of the Mississippi River levees in Katrina-not sure.
K passed south of here, was moving at a decent pace-which may have allowed the winds to switch to offshore much sooner. Isaac was west of this location-with a long period of onshore winds.
Member Since: September 11, 2007 Posts: 145 Comments: 16919
14. StormDrain
8:44 PM GMT on September 04, 2012
Quoting beell:


.
Levee breech, Braithwaite, LA. Post-Katrina. "Protected" side of back levee on left side of frames.
NOAA Aerial Survey Imagery-Post Katrina



Google Earth Imagery from November, 2011, showing repaired section of back levee.
Found some post-Isaac aerial photos in the National Geodetic Survey viewer. Got there from a link at the blogsite for NOAA Coast Survey. Looks like flights 1 and 3 went into Plaquemines August 31, two days after the fact.


Aerial photos (4 photo tiles) of Braithwaite area from flight 3, August 31, 2012.
image credit: NOAA
Member Since: October 9, 2005 Posts: 13 Comments: 495
13. miwxmike
8:23 PM GMT on September 04, 2012
Perhaps the NHC needs to stop trying to categorize storms beyond Tropical Storm and Hurricane, and rate the thing after the event is over, like tornadoes are done. Now let me be clear here, I am NOT saying the Saffir-Simpson scale is useless, but I AM saying that people are hard-headed by nature. The levees and such are underdone, we all know that, so the forecast has to compensate.

Additionally, I agree with Norcross, what were people thinking!? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that an 8.5 foot seawall is no match for a tropical storm pushing water inland. If you want to stay someplace that's open to the damned Gulf and deal with a storm surge that will easily come over top of a 8.5 foot levee, you deserve what's coming to you. The wind isn't what kills people in a tropical storm or hurricane, it's the WATER. Wind busts up property and hampers service recovery. Water drowns people and animals, or washes things away.
Member Since: April 19, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 0
12. StormDrain
4:31 PM GMT on September 04, 2012
bnorcross,
Thanks for your blog.

The answer you so passionately seek lies not in a straight line between the National Weather Service and the media but in a circle that includes these two and the public, emergency management, social science, the upper mucky-mucks in U.S. government, and any given storm on any given Sunday or Saturday or Thursday...

Also I'd throw in the understanding that, even though the 1900 Great Galveston Storm might be most famous for bringing to light the incredible power of storm surge, the ability of science to model surge seems rudimentary. In Isaac's case, add in newly completed and untested levee and pump improvements in the NOLA area - a complete wildcard, rainfall over the Mississippi, its tributaries and smaller rivers that run downstream into the area. And, as already mentioned, a large, slow-moving storm. Best that happened was a blanket of "6 to 12-foot storm surge" which may or may not have covered all the Louisiana areas flooded by Isaac, some by storm surge, some apparently by swollen streams.

Yes, the NWS info is not as plain as it could be and takes too many clicks to access online - even for someone with a good understanding of potential impacts. The surge maps in the NHC storm graphics for instance. Just the same, placing the onus of communication on meteorologists, whether they be in the media or the NWS, will not solve the problem of the public understanding and heeding warnings. Meteorologists are scientists, and as such they are not necessarily "people persons." As I said to start with, it's a circle. Or it needs to be.
:)

(After posting, edited for clarity)

ADD: 12:15 pm cdt Ps. Let's include the perspectives of private enterprise (employers) and institutions like hospitals and schools in building a storm info system that works.
Member Since: October 9, 2005 Posts: 13 Comments: 495
11. Bogon
4:24 PM GMT on September 04, 2012
Part of the problem with storms such as Katrina and Isaac is that our traditional measures of tropical storm strength, such as the Saffir-Simpson scale, don't take into account the scale of the storm. Isaac and Leslie are very large storms.

The handwriting is on the wall. One of these days, conditions will be favorable for one of these large storms to reach near its maximum destructive potential. When that happens, a large section of coastline will be wiped out. Major flooding will affect inland locations. Insurance companies will take considerable damage as well.

Several major urban centers are at risk, such as Houston, Philadelphia, New York and Atlanta. The usual suspects, e. g. New Orleans, Miami and Charleston, will not be able to build a levee high enough.

Quoting dziban303:


I still don't see the Weather Channel buyout of wunderground to be anything but a bad thing. Just wait and see.


Is that your official forecast? You might want to provide more essential detail, such as storm surge warnings etc.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 80 Comments: 3838
10. dziban303
2:59 PM GMT on September 04, 2012
Quoting HurricaneDean07:
Thanks Dr. Norcross.
Glad to you've joined the crew, Weather Underground has really grown up hasn't it?


Nothing against the professional Dr. Norcross, but unfortunately I still don't see the Weather Channel buyout of wunderground to be anything but a bad thing. Just wait and see.
Member Since: May 6, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 43
9. MahFL
10:42 AM GMT on September 04, 2012
Everyone forgot what damage TS Alison did. A day or so before Isaac hit I heard that Billy guy say that the levees were proberbly too low, but oddly he did not seem to be telling everyone to get out.
Member Since: June 9, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 3805
8. taco2me61
5:43 AM GMT on September 04, 2012
Thank You Bryan now if the Media would just get it.... I'm a storm chaser and some of the Information that comes out just blows my mind....
Well said my Friend :o)

Taco :o)

Mobile AL
Member Since: July 7, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 3261
7. unknowncomic
4:26 AM GMT on September 04, 2012
Well put Bryan.
Member Since: August 2, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 2108
6. pcola57
3:46 AM GMT on September 04, 2012
Thanks Brian for your post,

And Point taken Brian...how many years and lives will it cost before the levee system is brought up to speed..too many..I lived in Boothville for many years and it's one hell of a levee system..but it is man made and not perfect by no means..the media really does suck when people rely on it too much..my Mom argues with me about trivial things that she has heard and been "glossed twisted and in-completed" so therefore alot of guessing and mis-informing goes on..sad really..but gullibility is not reserved to just someone else..we must all look to the many information resources we can and make as best an informed decision as we can..IMO of course..
Thanks again for your post... :)
Member Since: August 13, 2009 Posts: 13 Comments: 6912
5. beell
3:46 AM GMT on September 04, 2012


.
Levee breech, Braithwaite, LA. Post-Katrina. "Protected" side of back levee on left side of frames.
NOAA Aerial Survey Imagery-Post Katrina



Google Earth Imagery from November, 2011, showing repaired section of back levee.
Member Since: September 11, 2007 Posts: 145 Comments: 16919
4. HurricaneDean07
3:35 AM GMT on September 04, 2012
Thanks Dr. Norcross.
Glad to you've joined the crew, Weather Underground has really grown up hasn't it?

Anyway... I'm not really watching the Tropics that significantly after Isaac crossed the Arkansas/Louisiana border.
Leslie appears that she will stall out with the poor steering and try to reorganize some, as it slowly heads northward. Then the steering will become a little more evident and Leslie will get nudged westward by the Azores ridge. Once Isaac's remnant low reaches Leslie's location Leslie will probably be skurting off to the west, or right over Bermuda as a Strong Category 1 - Strong Category 2.
It's a decent possibility Leslie might reach Major Hurricane status briefly as it lifts off to the northward and into the Jetstream.
From there, depending on how far west she reaches during the weak steering, will determine if she will reach the Canadian maritimes.

TD 13 will not be any threat, and will just be a small system to spectate.

The models are picking up on some development of more Tropical waves throughout the next 15 days...
Member Since: October 3, 2010 Posts: 40 Comments: 4129
3. MrstormX
3:26 AM GMT on September 04, 2012
The irony here is the Weather Channel is equally as guilty as other media, I saw the coverage. Other then the true "experts" like you Bryan, the discussion on Isaac was really dumbed down. The other "Mainstream" Networks were even worse though, with their dual coverage of the Republican Convention and the storm. Isaac felt like an afterthought, it was pretty much like "oh by the way there Isaac is heading toward Louisiana but it is still just a TS."
Member Since: May 27, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 4438
2. Patrap
3:20 AM GMT on September 04, 2012
And somebody please purchase Jim and Al some Helmets for when their out in the Hurricane wind's.

One leads by example, and well their's was really "bad like" one could say.





Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129449
1. Patrap
3:17 AM GMT on September 04, 2012
Sometimes, the needs of the many, outweigh the need's of a few,

..or the One.



Braithwaite father and son rescue about 120 from Hurricane Isaac's floodwaters
Published: Sunday, September 02, 2012, 9:30 PM


On Tuesday night, Isaac's winds whipping and floodwaters high, a Braithwaite father and son kept watch over the minimal levee between eastern Plaquemines Parish and the Gulf of Mexico. As midnight hit, Jesse Shaffer Sr. and Jr. decided one would rest for an hour while the other sat on the levee, locally known as the "wall." Then they would switch, hour by hour, charting the water's rise. But at 12:10 a.m. Wednesday, relatives called to say the water already was rushing over the wall several miles south of their location.

On the northern end of Braithwaite, "it was coming up 6 inches every 10 minutes," Shaffer Jr. said.
Water quickly flowed into lawns and down streets in eastern Plaquemines Parish. Then, it seeped into first floors. Residents who had remained in their homes soon climbed stairs with possessions in tow. As the water rose further, many climbed again, to attics and roofs.
Eventually, they had climbed as high as they could. They flailed their arms and screamed.

With official emergency crews waiting for the winds to subside and the sun to rise, no one responded to their cry, except the Shaffers, who are credited with helping to save about 120 lives.
They rescued a 6-month-old baby and a 70-year-old man. They chopped through roof ventilation systems to gain entry. Some residents swam to them. The Schaffers discovered others fragilely bobbing in the currents, clutching debris that floated 10 to 15 feet above asphalt streets.

And whereas Wednesday morning everyone scrambled with all their might to exit, residents now desperately want to return. They want to survey the lake that once was home, and determine what remains of their material lives.
So as Hurricane Isaac moved on, the Shaffers have taken on a new community role: They are guiding residents back.
Many returning residents said this weekend that they will no longer rebuild within Plaquemines' walls. They said, instead, they will move a few miles north to St. Bernard Parish's protected enclave.

Cut off from the world

Eastern Plaquemines residents call their insubstantial 8- to 9-foot levee the "wall." It's supposed to protect eastern Plaquemines from Braithwaite to White Ditch, but it does not meet federal standards and leaves residents vulnerable when storms approach.
The wall is also what they call the mammoth new 26- to 32-foot federal levee system that cuts across the St. Bernard and eastern Plaquemines Parish line, protecting St. Bernard from waters to the south.
Eastern Plaquemines has just one parish border: To the south, east and west is Mother Nature, either the Mississippi River or the unbridled Gulf of Mexico.

When a massive storm is set to hit, the 20-foot-tall levee gate on Braithwaite's northern border shutters, removing easy entry for eastern Plaquemines residents to the walled-off world of safety. By the time the 8-foot parish wall alongside the Gulf began overtopping Wednesday morning, most residents who lived behind it and could flee had done so. Shaffer and son observed the caravan of cars racing into St. Bernard. Eastern Plaquemines had only about 2,000 inhabitants in 700 homes, and while most already had evacuated before the gate closed, the remaining hundreds crossed the border by riding along the levee itself as the actual road was blocked by that solid 20-foot gate.

"We had watched the cars coming through, and the surge coming over the levee kept getting stronger and stronger. And those cars had to drive through the surge coming over like a waterfall. It was crazy," the younger Shaffer said. "There was a lot of people that didn't make it. They didn't have cars there, so ..."
Helping people reach the wall
The spontaneous rescue effort began about 4 a.m. Wednesday with Jesse Shaffer Sr., 53, searching the east bank with his brother-in-law, Lanny Lafrance, 52. That was about seven hours before any other rescue team arrived.

"I had some friends calling me that were stuck. We had to get to them, and the Sheriff's Office was on the other side of the river ... and the water came up so quick," Shaffer Sr. said.
Before dawn, the men already had scooped up eight people, including two floating on a spare tire and a couple with a baby.

"This man here, Jesse, I called him and said my son and grandson were trapped, and he said 'I'm on my way,'" said Mary Williams, 66, who couldn't enter her home on Saturday because the water still was too high. "Him, he needs to go to the President. He needs to be a national hero."
At the break of dawn Wednesday, Shaffer Sr. rescued her son, Richard Clark, along with several others trapped on the second floor of his Braithwaite home. Clark said Shaffer's boat "was the first one we seen that morning." He said he had called the Coast Guard two hours earlier but officials had told him the winds were too strong to stage a rescue.
"We didn't know at the time if we would drown or not," Clark said.

With winds still gusting at near-hurricane force, Shaffer Sr. pulled up to Clark's second-floor window in his Carolina skiff.
Until the sun rose, Shaffer Sr. wouldn't let his 25-year-old son join him on the rescue mission. He was protective of his son.
At least in the light, you can find a tree to grab on to if the boat goes under, the father said.
Shaffer Sr., a former cabinet maker, current shrimp trawler and commissioned deputy sheriff, knew his community well enough to navigate it in pitch dark, in a boat, with 80 mph winds and fierce currents.
While he waited to join his father on the boat, Shaffer Jr. used his youthful instincts.
"I put it on Facebook. I said, 'Message me, text message me.' By the end of the day, I had 80 texts... addresses, locations of more individuals who had to be rescued," he said.

Shaffer Jr., a volunteer firefighter, emergency medical technician and nurse, vividly recalls his first rescue.
"We was heading south on Highway 39, past this house that was a trailer home and there was five people on there and they were screaming, they were just screaming like crazy," he said.
"They were so relieved to see us. They were spinning around. They were screaming the whole time. By the time we pulled to their roof, they had about that much, that much leeway before the entire house was engulfed with water," he said, holding his hands a few inches apart.


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