New Orleans Gulf Coast Brace As Isaac to become Category 1 Hurricane

Tropical Storm Isaac is very close to becoming a full blown Hurricane moving very rapidly to the north west and headed for New Orleans. It’s not a clearly defined eye as of yet but with winds gusting at about 70 mph it’s going to be critical. Sometimes around Tuesday morning it’s expected to be a category one Hurricane. The sprawling system, now slowly strengthening in the Gulf of Mexico, is expected to make landfall Tuesday night.

In an update on Isaac Monday, the National Hurricane Center pinpointed the storm as south of Alabama and predicted the coasts of Mississippi and Louisiana would receive the brunt of the impact early Tuesday evening. Again, the storm’s current maximum sustained winds have increased to around 70 miles per hour as it continues its slow northwesterly crawl.

Despite being a lesser-magnitude storm than Hurricane Katrina, which was a Category 3 storm at landfall, Isaac is already nearly as large. Tropical storm-force winds radiate 205 miles out from Isaac’s center, while Katrina’s extended 230 miles out, according to Jeff Masters, co-founder and director of meteorolgy at Weatherunderground.

“We have a plan in place to secure the city, and we have a plan to respond quickly in the event of emergencies,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. “We’re confident that the work we’ve done in the last few years makes us fully capable of handling this type of storm.”

Katrina devastated New Orlean’s Lower Ninth Ward in 2005, but resident Herbert Gettridge pledged to weather the latest storm to batter the Crescent City.

“I’m not going no place. I’m going to stay right here and see what happens,” he told CNN affiliate WVUE-TV. “I can swim if it floods again.”

Gettridge, 89, has rebuilt his home twice — once after Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and then, 40 years later, following Katrina. “Whatever damage it does, I can put it together again,” he said.

Most of Katrina’s nearly 1,800 deaths occurred when the protective levees around New Orleans failed, flooding the city. But Landrieu said the levees have had $10 billion in improvements since 2005, and the city’s pump stations have backup generators ready in case of electrical outages.

One of those stations is the biggest in the world and some can move as much as 150,000 gallons per second.

One of those stations is the biggest in the world and some can move as much as 150,000 gallons per second.

“This is the best system that the greater New Orleans area has ever seen,” Col. Ed Fleming of the Army Corps of Engineers said.

The region appeared to catch a break as the system was slow to strengthen.

Isaac is expected to be weaker than Katrina, which came ashore on August 29, 2005, as a Category 3 hurricane with 125-mph winds.

The storm’s slow speed and huge width will likely mean several days of rain on the Gulf Coast and a strong storm surge despite relatively weak wind speeds, Masters says.

“We’re used to seeing hurricanes come ashore and be gone in a few hours. This storm will be pounding the coast for two days,” Masters says. “You’re going to have very high amounts of rain, in some places 20 inches of it. I don’t care how good your drain is that’s going to cause problems.”

The sheer volume of rain could cause freshwater flooding, especially because the ground is already saturated from ample rain in recent weeks, says John Schroeder, a professor of atmospheric science at Texas Tech University who has begun taking measurements in Lousiana.

Damage caused from water (as opposed to wind) could mean extensive, and costly cleanup efforts for the city of New Orleans despite a relatively weak storm, says Alan Rubin, an attorney with Cozen O’Connor and national expert on hurricane relief efforts.

“The wind ones you can consider them like mini-tornadoes. They’re horrible in terms of what they hit directly but then it’s done,” Rubin says. “The wet ones are much worse because you can’t stop water, once it gets into your home it’s destroyed.”

Often insurance companies will declare a home completely totaled based on the water line within it, which adds the costs of inspection and tearing down homes to the storm’s damage bill. The storm will cause more than $1 billion in damage, Masters predicted.

Isaac is also following a very similar path to Katrina on the latter’s seventh anniversary, and has prompted mandatory evacuations in many of the areas struck hardest by it. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced Monday he would forego his primetime convention speaking slot Wednesday to preside over storm preparations and recovery.

At 5 a.m. ET, Isaac’s winds remained at 70 mph — just under hurricane strength, the National Hurricane Center in Miami reported.

Isaac was centered about 125 miles (205 kilometers) south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, and it was moving to the northwest at 12 mph.

But tropical-storm-force winds extended more than 200 miles from the center, and hurricane warnings stretched from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border. Tropical storm warnings extended eastward to Destin, Florida, and westward from Morgan City to Cameron, Louisiana, about 200 miles west of New Orleans.

The storm lashed Cuba and the Florida Keys over the weekend after slamming into Haiti, where at least 19 people had been reported dead by Monday, the country’s civil protection agency reported.

The Hurricane Center projected storm surges of 3 to 6 feet for the Florida Panhandle, 6 to 9 feet for the Alabama coast and 6 to 12 feet for the Mississippi and southeastern Louisiana shores.

In Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, Hancock County authorities ordered residents of low-lying areas to evacuate Monday evening. The National Park Service had already ordered visitors to leave the barrier islands off the Mississippi coast.

Jackson County, which includes the coastal cities of Pascagoula, Gautier and Ocean Springs, ordered evacuations for anyone living south of U.S. Highway 90 — a major artery along the Mississippi coast — or for those living in mobile homes, along rivers and in other vulnerable areas.

“Those residents that experienced flooding during Hurricane Katrina should evaluate what the effects of the possible 8-12 foot tidal surge would have to their property and make an informed decision with regard to evacuation,” a message from the county Board of Supervisors added.

But on Dauphin Island, south of Mobile, many residents were preparing to sit out Isaac at home, said Alexa Alexander.

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