Tropical Storm Isaac Nears With Rainfall the Biggest Concern

Forecasters have projected landfall as early as tonight, a day short of the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu Monday said Isaac’s path is similar to Katrina’s and the anniversary has left much of the Gulf Coast on “a high level of anxiety.”

Winds will be an issue initially when Isaac makes landfall with gusts up to 80 mph. Forecasters say the big threat will be the storm surge around New Orleans and Biloxi, Miss., where water might rise six to nine feet. The slow-moving storm is forecasted to hover over the Gulf Coast and could punish coastal areas with up to 20 inches of rain, which was one of the big concerns.

“One of the things that concerns me is not only is Isaac getting stronger slowly, and we think it’s going to become a hurricane today, is it is a large system, and the models show the forward speed slowing down, and that’s not good, when a large system moves slowly, that means a lot of rainfall,” Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, told “Good Morning America” today.

As of 5 a.m. ET, the center of the storm was 125 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and moving northwest at 12 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Knabb and Federal Emergency Management Agency director Craig Fugate say there has been too much focus on New Orleans’ bracing for Isaac on the anniversary of Katrina.

“I think people need to understand this is not a New Orleans storm,” Fugate said Monday. “This is a Gulf Coast storm.”

Despite hurricane warnings extended across more than 330 miles from Louisiana to Western Florida, all eyes are still on New Orleans because this will be its first big test since Katrina. Louisiana has set up shelters and stockpiled more than a million packaged meals, 1.4 million bottles of water and 17,000 tarps.

Since the levees failed seven years ago, more than $14 billion have been spent on the 133-mile long floodwalls, spillways, gates and pumps surrounding New Orleans. While officials say the city is more prepared now than it was in 2005, it’s still taking no chances when it comes to evacuations.

Fugate and Gov. Bobby Jindal warned people in low-lying areas to get out of Isaac’s way.

“Today is the day,” Jindal said Monday. “Today is the final day you should be taking any final precautions. If you want to evacuate, today is the day to do that.”

Early Monday, 50,000 people had already evacuated from southeast Louisiana’s St. Charles parish. In addition, 2,000 jail inmates have been moved out of Isaac’s expected path.

Jindal said more than 4,000 National Guardsmen will be mobilized in case of emergency, but said he does not anticipate having to activate contraflow highway rules for evacuation purposes.

Jindal said President Obama called him Monday to say that the governor’s request for a pre-landfall federal disaster declaration had been approved. The approval opens up federal funding to potentially help Louisiana cope with any damage.

“We are going to need help after the storm as well,” Jindal said. “This is not going to be done just after the storm makes landfall or even just after the storm leaves Louisiana.”

Isaac’s slow pace means it “could actually cause more damage,” the governor said.

He said the storm could batter areas with tropical winds for up to 36 hours and could dump more than a foot of rain while lingering over some areas.

Jindal said he is skipping the Republican National Convention in Florida, where he had been expected to speak, because of Isaac. “I will not be speaking or attending the Republican National Convention in Florida. There is no time for politics here in Louisiana,” he said.

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