NEW ORLEANS – The centre of Tropical Storm Isaac’s projected path took it directly toward New Orleans for a projected landfall as early as Tuesday night, nearly seven years to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.
Forecasters on Monday said Isaac will intensify into a Category 1 hurricane later Monday or Tuesday — far less powerful than Katrina in 2005. Still, residents shuddered and President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Louisiana, making federal funding available for emergency activities related to the storm.
Isaac, which left 24 dead in Haiti and the Dominican Republic over the weekend, has shifted course from Tampa, where the Republican National Convention pushed back its start to Tuesday in case the storm passed closer to the gulfside city.
Hurricane warnings extended across some 330 miles (530 kilometres) Monday, from Louisiana to western Florida. The National Hurricane Center said Isaac was expected to have top winds of around 95 mph (153 kph) when it hits land. Katrina’s winds reached a high of more than 157 mph (252 kph) when it hit on Aug. 29, 2005.
The size of the warning area and the storm’s wide bands of rain and wind prompted emergency declarations in Mississippi, Florida and Alabama as well. Evacuations were ordered for some low-lying areas, and hurricane-tested residents were boarding up homes and stocking up on food and water.
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said the updated flood defences around New Orleans are equipped to handle storms stronger than Isaac. Levee failures led to the catastrophic flooding in the area after Katrina, which killed 1,800.
In New Orleans, officials had no plans to order evacuations and instead told residents to hunker down and make do with the supplies they had.
“It’s going to be all right,” said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
As of 8 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT) on Monday, Isaac remained a tropical storm with winds of 70 mph (110 kph). Its centre was about 230 miles (370 kilometres) southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, and it was moving northwest at 10 mph (17 kph).
A tropical system becomes a Category 1 hurricane once winds reach 74 mph (119 kph). The storm’s centre was located about 255 miles (415 kilometres) southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and was moving northwest at 12 mph (19kph). Storm surge was considered a major threat.
Not everyone was waiting to see what happened. Shawanda Harris lost everything she owned when her New Orleans apartment was flooded during Katrina. On Monday, her neighbourhood was packing up and leaving. She planned to caravan out of the city with relatives.
“People ain’t taking chances now,” she said.
She said Isaac was coming — just as Katrina did — at the end of the month, when many people are low on money.
“They got rent to pay. They got bills. Payday isn’t until the end of the month, Friday,” she said. “Right now, half our family got money. Some of our family got nothing. That’s why we’re leaving together.”
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, in a conference call with reporters earlier in the day, said people shouldn’t focus just on New Orleans. “This is not a New Orleans storm. This is a Gulf Coast storm. Some of the heaviest impact may be in Alabama and Mississippi,” he said.
If the storm hits during high tide, it could push floodwaters as deep as 12 feet (four meters) on shore in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and up to six feet (1.8 metres) in the Florida Panhandle.
The U.S. government said 78 per cent of the oil production in the Gulf of Mexico had been halted in preparation for Isaac. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said about 1 million barrels per day of oil production had been stopped as companies evacuated 346 offshore oil and gas production platforms.
That’s 17 per cent of daily U.S. oil production and 6 per cent of consumption. The agency said about 3 per cent of daily U.S. natural gas production and consumption had also been affected. Production was expected to quickly resume after the storm passes.
Even though the storm was moving well west of Tampa, tropical storm-force winds and heavy rains were possible because of Isaac’s large size, forecasters said. Republicans briefly gaveled their convention to order Monday afternoon and then recessed until Tuesday.
Before reaching Florida, Isaac was blamed for 19 deaths in Haiti and five more in the Dominican Republic, and it downed trees and power lines in Cuba.
Associated Press writers Tony Winton in Key West, Florida; Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Florida.; Mike Schneider in Tampa, Florida.; Cain Burdeau and Stacey Plaisance in New Orleans; and Tim Reynolds, Curt Anderson and Suzette Laboy in Miami contributed to this report.