Isaac Nears Hurricane Strength, Forecast for Landfall Tuesday Night

ANTHONY CASTELLANO, ALEXANDRA LUDKA and CHRISTINA NG
Good Morning America
Hurricane Isaac Puts Gulf Coast on a 'High Level of Anxiety'
Hurricane Isaac Puts Gulf Coast on a 'High Level of Anxiety' (ABC News)

Tropical Storm Isaac is gaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico and is expected to make landfall as a hurricane a day short of the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Forecasters have projected landfall as early as Tuesday night, and possibly as a Category 1 hurricane as it makes its way through the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

"Maximum winds have increased to 70 mph and expect Isaac will be a hurricane before landfall," said Ed Rappaport, deputy director at the National Hurricane Center.

On Monday, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Isaac's similar path as Katrina and the anniversary was leaving much of the Gulf Coast on "a high level of anxiety."

As of 11 p.m. ET, the center of the storm was 145 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and moving northwest at 10 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The slow moving storm could punish coastal areas with up to 36 hours of tropical winds and 10 to 16 inches of rain, Louisiana's Gov. Bobby Jindal warned Monday.

FEMA director Craig Fugate and the National Hurricane Center's Dr. Rick Knabb 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. This is a Gulf Coast storm," Fugate said today. Despite hurricane warnings extended across more than 330 miles from Louisiana to western Florida, all eyes are still on New Orleans as 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 over $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 they were in 2005, they're still taking no chances when it comes to evacuations.

Fugate and 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 over 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 that 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 was 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.

Fugate warned that Isaac's biggest punch may land in Alabama or Mississippi. The National Hurricane Center said to expect a storm surge of at least six feet with the possibility it could reach up to 12 feet.

FEMA activated its command center in Atlanta Monday. Division Director Ginger Edwards says past disasters are driving prep for this storm.

"After every disaster we learn new lessons but you know we're constantly exercising with the states. We're planning with the states and just becoming more and more, more and more involved and more prepared," said Edwards.

Alabama and Mississippi have already joined Louisiana in declaring states of emergency.

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport said there are no flights scheduled for Tuesday and the airport will not be used as an evacuation shelter. People will not be allowed to stay in the terminal during the storm, the airport said in a statement on Monday.

ABC News Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.