Tropical Storm Isaac: Hurricane Warnings Issued for Gulf Coast
After grazing the Florida Keys, Tropical Storm Isaac churned toward the northern Gulf of Mexico today with landfall expected in New Orleans late Tuesday and early Wednesday.
If Isaac hits the Gulf Coast Wednesday morning it would come on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed hundreds of people and flooded 80 percent of New Orleans. A hurricane hasn't hit the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency and said he's "strongly advising" people in low-lying areas of coastal Louisiana to evacuate before the storm. St. Charles Parish officials told the parish's 53,000 residents to leave ahead of the storm. Alabama and Mississippi have also declared a state of emergency. A hurricane warning was in effect for an area that covers a roughly 300-mile stretch of the Gulf Coast in four states from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu confirmed that anxiety levels were high.
"The timing of this storm coming on, as fate would have it, on the anniversary of Katrina, has everybody in a state and sense of alertness, and that is a good thing," he said Sunday.
"There is a 70 to 80 percent chance we'll have tropical storm winds in southeast Louisiana and again as it moves west you'll see more of our state could potentially be covered, by those wind warnings," Jindal said Sunday.
As of 5 a.m. ET, Isaac's winds were whipping at 65 mph and were expected to strengthen as Isaac moves over the eastern region of the Gulf of Mexico. To be considered a Category 1 hurricane, winds have to reach 74 mph or higher. Much of South Florida remained under a tornado watch early Monday as the remnants of Isaac moved across the area.
Storm surges along the Gulf Coast could reach at least 12 feet with up to 15 inches of rain. The center of the storm is about 180 miles southwest of Fort Myers, Fla., and 405 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, according to the National Hurricane Center. Because of the western shift in the path of Isaac, a tropical storm watch has been extended to Texas.
"With winds of that strength, one of the greatest concerns is storm surge, where the water will be moving ashore, blown in by the winds," said Ed Rappaport, forecaster with the National Hurricane Center.
Since the storm is apparently moving farther west, the Tampa Bay area is not expected to be affected as much as was initially feared. Fears that Isaac would pound Tampa on Monday led GOP officials to postpone the start of the Republican National Convention to Tuesday.
Overnight, Isaac dumped more than 8 inches of rain on South Florida, flooding many streets.
A tropical storm warning is still in effect for Tampa Bay and Miami. Tampa Bay is experiencing occasional gusty winds up to 30 mph within some rain bands. This type of weather will continue through the morning and then improve dramatically in the afternoon. The highest wind gust was 70 mph in the Florida Keys. Wind gusts in Miami and Fort Lauderdale were 60 to 66 mph.
Nearly 1 million students in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties will remain home Monday with all public and Catholic schools closed.
In Alabama, residents were advised to start evacuating Monday morning. Elizabeth Saunders of the Red Cross in Mobile, Ala., said a state of emergency declaration Sunday would help the Red Cross assist residents.
"That means that they can move resources to help down here to help us and then they can help people after the storm passes through as well," said Saunders. "Because we do live on the Gulf coast we have past experience with these types of things and so they're doing what they know to do to prepare their homes, prepare their families."
Airlines canceled 742 flights by Sunday afternoon with airports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale canceling 589, according to the flight-tracking service FlightAware. Overall, airliners have canceled 184 flights for Monday but expect to be operating normally by late Monday, according to FlightAware.
ABC News' Dean Schabner and Max Golembo, ABC News Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.