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.
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 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.
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 p.m. EDT Monday (0300 GMT Tuesday), Isaac remained a tropical storm with winds of 70 mph (110 kph). It was centred about 190 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, and was moving northwest at 10 mph (16 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 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.”