Barack Obama said Gulf Coast residents should listen to local authorities and
follow their directions as Isaac approached.
"Now is not
the time to tempt fate. Now is not the time to dismiss official warnings. You
need to take this seriously," Mr Obama said.
In Houma, a city
southwest of New Orleans, people filled a municipal auditorium-turned-shelter.
However, in the bayou country of Terrebonne Parish off Highway 24, storms pose
a perennial dilemma for those living a hardscrabble life.
While some of the
homes along Bayou Terrebonne and other nearby waterways show signs of
affluence, this section of Louisiana 24 is mostly lined with trailer homes or
small, often run-down houses. Staying could be dangerous, but many here who
could be in harm's way have nowhere to go and little money to get there,
especially given the high price of gasoline.
lives in a trailer on low-lying land but was talking with a cousin who lived
closer to the bayou. They and two friends chatted as the storm approached. Ms
Boudreaux laughed when asked what she'll do if the storm hits.
surrounded by all family," she said, referring to her friends as well as
her cousin. "I'll just pick up my little fat feet and run, I guess."
The Coast Guard
was searching the Gulf of Mexico near the Florida-Alabama state line for a man
who failed to return home from a water-scooter trip as Isaac was approaching
the coast. The search began after the man's wife called the Pensacola, Florida,
station about 8.45pm local time Monday, Chief Petty Officer Bobby Nash says.
that Isaac was a large storm whose effects could reach out 322km from its
centre. Water may be worse than wind because the storm could push walls of
water while dumping rain to flood the low-lying coast in Louisiana,
Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
So far, the main
damage in the United States was political: Republicans cut one day off their
presidential nominating convention in Tampa in case the storm struck there,
though in the end it bypassed the bayside city. Isaac is also testing elected
officials along the Gulf from governors on down to show they're prepared for an
Isaac's track is
forecast to bring it to New Orleans seven years after Katrina hit as a much
stronger storm on August 29, 2005.
This time, federal
officials say the updated levees around the city are equipped to handle storms
stronger than Isaac.
The US Army Corps
of Engineers was given about $US14 billion to improve flood defences, and most
of the work has been completed. The levees surrounding New Orleans are designed
to withstand far more than the forecast 3.7-metre surge. And the city's flood
control system can pump out an inch of water (2.5 centimetres) per hour for the
first hour, and a half-inch of water each hour after that.
But with landfall
expected near the Katrina anniversary, anxiety was high, especially in the
Lower 9th Ward, wiped out by Katrina after floodwalls burst and let the waters
really trust the levees," said Robert Washington, who planned to evacuate
along with his wife and five children.
"I don't want
to take that chance. I saw how it looked after Katrina back here."
He leaned over the
banister of his porch railing and looked out onto empty lots where houses stood
before Katrina. His neighbourhood, just a few blocks away from where the
floodwall protecting the Lower 9th Ward broke open, remains largely empty.
Farther away on
the Alabama coast, Isaac had begun pelting the shore with intermittent
downpours - one moment it was dry, and the next brought rain blowing sideways
in a strong breeze. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley lifted mandatory evacuation
orders for low-lying coastal areas but encouraged residents to remain vigilant
The boardwalk at
the tourist town of Gulf Shores was virtually deserted except for John McCombs,
who ventured out to see waves lapping at the seawall at the public beach.
Within moments he
was drenched and running for cover as a band of rain hit the wooden walkway.
It's here," he said, scurrying back across the street.
haunting locals is how much oil left over from the Gulf oil spill in 2010 might
wind up on the beaches because of Isaac. Experts believe large tar mats lie
submerged just off the coast, but no one knows where they are or how many might
be in the Gulf.
Isaac was centered
about 121 kilometres south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River at
midday and was moving northwest at 16kph, according to the National Hurricane
Centre in Miami. It was 257km southeast of New Orleans.
approach on the eve of the Katrina anniversary invited comparisons, the storm
is nowhere near as powerful as Katrina was when it struck. Katrina at one point
reached Category 5 status with winds of more than 253 kph, and made landfall as
a Category 3 storm.
at the National Hurricane Centre warned that Isaac, especially if it strikes at
high tide, could cause storm surges of up to 3.7 metres along the coasts of
southeast Louisiana and Mississippi and up to 1.8 metres as far away as the Florida
Rain from the
storm could total up to 36cm, with some isolated areas getting as much as 51cm,
along the coast from southeast Louisiana to the extreme western end of the
morning, there were few signs on New Orleans' famed Canal Street that a
hurricane was imminent. A group of apparently intoxicated tourists asked
30-year-old Adrian Thomas to snap their photo as he scanned the headlines of
The Times-Picayune in a newspaper box.
Mr Thomas said he
was waiting for his father to wire him money so he could leave for his hometown
of Greenville, Mississippi, which is along the Mississippi River more than 322
kilometres from the coast. However, he said he might not make it out in time -
and he was just fine with that.
it's going to be all right," he said. "If I have to stay here and
ride it out, I'll ride it out."
beachfront casinos were shutting down as a beach road flooded and residents
hurried to shelters. Coastal residents Charlotte Timmons and Brenda Batey said
they planned to stay put unless Isaac took a more menacing turn, believing it
wouldn't cause the devastation of some past storms.
people have a more cautious attitude toward tropical weather, perhaps so
cautious that there's a danger of complacency setting in after near misses, Mr
crying wolf," said Mr Timmons, a 63-year-old retired media manager.
"If they make
such a big deal and start moving people out (too soon) and then it fizzles,
people might not leave the next time."
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