Isaac prompts state of emergency
Tue, 28 Aug 2012 8:35p.m.
By Kevin McGill
The centre of Tropical Storm Isaac's projected path has taken 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 say 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 530 kilometres Monday, from Louisiana to western Florida. The National Hurricane Center said Isaac was expected to have top winds of around 153 kph when it hits land. Katrina's winds reached a high of more than 252 kph when it hit on August 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 11 pm EDT Monday (0300 GMT Tuesday), Isaac remained a tropical storm with winds of 110 kph. It was centred about 305 kilometres southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, and was moving northwest at 16 kph.
A tropical system becomes a Category 1 hurricane once winds reach 119 kph. The storm's centre was located about 415 kilometres southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and was moving northwest at 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 four metres on shore in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and up to 1.8 metres in the Florida Panhandle.
The US government said 78 percent 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 percent of daily US oil production and 6 percent of consumption. The agency said about 3 percent of daily US 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 gavelled 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.
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