ST. LOUIS -- As Gulf Coast residents confronted a waterlogged landscape of flooded homes and debris-covered streets on Friday, tatters of what had been Hurricane Isaac blew toward the parched Midwest, dumping more than a foot of rain, causing isolated flash floods, and leaving thousands of people without power.
Heavy rains overwhelmed drainage systems in parts of Arkansas, flooding roads and prompting some emergency rescues. But after a scorching summer, dry soil and low-flowing rivers and streams appeared to be absorbing much of the rain, officials said.
"We've been in a pretty bad drought, and a lot of this rain is being soaked up," said Jayson Gosselin, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Weldon Spring, Mo., near St. Louis. "The ground can take a lot of rain, that's for sure."
As the slow-moving storm curls its way northeast, emergency crews in Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois have been bracing for a weekend of heavy rains and lashing winds, sandbagging homes and businesses, and preparing to close roads. Meanwhile, officials canceled Labor Day fireworks shows and shooed other end-of-summer festivals indoors.
It was the messy denouement of a soaking storm that had poured as much as 2 feet of water across parts of Louisiana and Mississippi.
On Friday, officials in Plaquemines Parish, Lousiana, announced they had found the bodies of a middle-aged man and woman in the kitchen of their flooded home.
Storm victims also included a man killed in a restaurant fire, two men killed in separate car accidents, a woman whose car was hit by a tree, and a man who fell from a tree.
As waters receded from some neighborhoods on the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, officials were slowly restoring electricity to the thousands left without power after the storm felled transmission lines and damaged power substations. And crews began punching holes in the parish's brimming back levees, a process that could take a week to complete.
Newly nominated Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney visited flood-ravaged communities in Louisiana, and President Obama said he would arrive Monday, appearances this part of the country is all too familiar with after Katrina and the Gulf oil spill.
In Lafitte, a fishing village south of New Orleans, Mr. Romney saw soaked homes, roads covered with brown water, and debris-littered neighborhoods.
Mr. Romney met along a highway with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and they talked about challenges facing the stricken area, which relies on fishing for its livelihood. He also spoke to town officials and emergency workers.
"I'm here to learn and obviously to draw some attention to what's going on here," Mr. Romney told the governor. "So that people around the country know that people down here need help."
Lafitte is just outside a region that is protected by levees and other flood protection measures built after Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans in 2005. The Army Corps of Engineers spent about $13 billion on the system.
Crown Point, Lafitte, and other nearby settlements that jut inland from the Gulf are accustomed to high water driven by hurricanes. But Isaac, a relatively weak storm by the standards of Betsy and Katrina, pushed in much more water than expected when it stalled after making landfall.
To the east, officials pumped and released water from a reservoir, easing the pressure behind an Isaac-stressed dam in Mississippi on the Louisiana border. The threat for the earthen dam on Lake Tangipahoa prompted evacuations in small towns and rural areas.
In Mississippi's Bay St. Louis, Allen Barrilleaux, spent Friday morning draining water from the engine of his flooded truck not far from a river. He had planned to ride out the storm with his wife, a friend, and 5-week-old son in their house, which is on stilts, but called for help Wednesday when the water came closer and large pine trees from a nearby mill swirled in the water. They were evacuated by boat.
Mr. Barrilleaux said hurricanes are part of life here, but disasters can hit anywhere.
"Life's cruel," he said, gripping a wrench with a greasy hand. Then he smiled.
"We're like that big old ant hill and a guy with a lawnmower just keeps mowing us down."
In Pine Bluff, Ark., about 45 miles southeast of Little Rock, overnight rains led to wind-flooded highways, swamping motorists along U.S. 63. The only reported injury was a motorist whose car was struck by a falling tree, officials said. Many residents laid down sandbags, but officials said about 20 homes were flooded.
"It was just the flash flooding from getting so much rain," said Karen Quarles, the emergency management director for Jefferson County, which encompasses Pine Bluff. "The drains and creeks and bayous couldn't handle it. Bayou Bartholomew runs through the city, and it filled up pretty quick."
"We were prepared," Ms. Quarles said. "We had been getting our barricades and road-closed signs and sandbags ready." She said the county was working to close flooded roads, but "some of the barricades floated away."
An alarming amount of water also rose around a minimum and medium-security prison about 20 miles north of Pine Bluff. But a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Correction said no prisoners were in danger -- nor were they likely to float their way to freedom.
Farmers and cattle ranchers across the Midwest watched the darkening skies with a mix of hope and anxiety. The storm was coming too late to revive their devastated corn crops, but a good, soaking rain could replenish wells, water their brown pastures, and help prime the fields for winter wheat planting. Too much rain all at once could flood them out, however, and heavy winds had the potential to blow down their fragile cornstalks.
And some said they had been bypassed altogether, let down once again by the false promise of rain.
"It sprinkled a little bit this morning and tried to shower a bit, but the ground is still dry," said Jim Stuever, a farmer who grows corn, cotton, and soybeans outside Dexter, Mo.
The spritz of rain was good enough to accomplish one thing, he said: It got his windshield clean.