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Isaac raises Katrina fears for Gulf Coast

NEW ORLEANS — From the New Orleans area to Destin in the Florida Panhandle, the northern gulf coast braced for Tropical Storm Isaac to grow into a dangerous category 2 hurricane.

It was on course to strike land on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a powerful storm that crippled New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and became a symbol of government ineptitude.

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for a large swath of the northern Gulf Coast from east of Morgan City, La., to Destin. A category 2 hurricane has sustained winds of between 96 and 110 mph.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called a state of emergency and suggested that people begin leaving 15 low-lying parishes. An emergency declaration was also issued in Mississippi by Gov. Phil Bryant amid concerns of storm surge threatening low-lying areas.

In coastal Plaquemines Parish, La., crews rushed to protect the levees that keep floodwaters from reaching that New Orleans suburb.

Elected leaders' vigilance toward tropical storms has heightened in the seven years since Katrina struck and became a symbol of government failure. More than 1,800 died, there were 53 levee breaches and the federal government was viewed as late and unprepared to handle the aftermath. Criticism was leveled at officials reaching all the way to the White House.

Oil companies began evacuating workers from offshore oil rigs and cutting production in advance of Isaac.

The bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said 39 production platforms and eight drilling rigs have been evacuated as of Sunday. That's about 6.5 percent of the 596 manned platforms and 10.5 percent of the 76 rigs operating in the gulf.

Evacuation procedures include closing safety valves under the ocean floor to avoid pollution in case a rig or platform is damaged.

The bureau says operators estimate that about 24 percent of the current daily oil production and 8 percent of natural gas production has been cut off.

Isaac was expected to draw significant strength from the warm, open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but there remained much uncertainty about its path.

The Gulf Coast hasn't been hit by a hurricane since 2008, when Dolly, Ike and Gustav all struck the region. Florida, meanwhile, has been hurricane-free since it was struck four times each in 2004 and 2005.

Florida Panhandle residents stocked up on water and gasoline, and at least one Pensacola store ran out of flashlight models and C and D batteries. Scott Reynolds, who lives near the water in Gulf Breeze, filled his car trunk with several cases of water, dozens of power bars and ramen noodles.

"Cigarettes — I'm stocking up on those too," he said.

In New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared a state of emergency and urged residents to begin preparing their homes as shelters through the storm.

He pressed residents to prepare to live, possibly for days, without water or power. If an evacuation is called, he said staying is a bad decision.

"You're making a mistake," he said.

Information from the New Orleans Times-Picayune was used in this report.

Isaac raises Katrina fears for Gulf Coast 08/26/12 [Last modified: Monday, August 27, 2012 12:18am]

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