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'We don't run, we party'

Isidore brings big rain to Big Easy

Carpenters board up a New Orleans gallery in anticipation of Tropical Storm Isidore's expected landfall in Louisiana.
Carpenters board up a New Orleans gallery in anticipation of Tropical Storm Isidore's expected landfall in Louisiana.

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New Orleans is getting ready for Tropical Storm Isidore, which is poised to hit the Louisiana coast. CNN's John Zarrella reports (September 26)
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CNN's Jason Bellini travels with the 'hurricane hunters.'
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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Water lapped at the doors of bars and restaurants in the historic French Quarter here Wednesday afternoon as steady rain heralded the imminent arrival of Tropical Storm Isidore, projected to make landfall early Thursday morning.

Hurricane-hardened residents in New Orleans and coastal towns across Louisiana and Mississippi performed the now-familiar rites of boarding up windows and storing outdoor furniture before many headed to higher ground.

But many restaurants and bars in the French Quarter remained open. One boarded up window of an oyster bar had this message: "We don't run, we party. Go away, Isidore!" The city, which lies below sea-level, is prone to flooding.

A curfew order was issued later in the day, telling residents and visitors to stay off the streets for safety reasons between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Mayor Ray Nagin closed city hall at noon Wednesday and ordered all non-essential employees to stay home until further notice. He urged business owners to do the same.

However, he said he believes New Orleans is well-prepared.

"We've upgraded our pumping systems tremendously over the past couple of years," he said. "I think we can just hunker down and handle that storm as it comes."

A major highway in the city has been closed in both directions because much of it is underwater. New Orleans Police Capt. Marlin DeFellow told CNN that I-10, which runs through the city, was shut down after rising water quickly stranded several cars. No injuries were reported

The city's airport is still officially open, but most airlines have canceled flights into New Orleans, according to mayoral spokeswoman Rosalind Blanco-Cook.

The Orleans Levee Board closed all the flood gates in and around New Orleans by late afternoon to head off the expected high waters, she added.

Both animals and people moved

"Also, the mayor ordered people in Lake Catherine, Venetian Isle and Irish Bayou to evacuate, because those areas are so low," Blanco-Cook said. Morgan City and Houma, two cities in low-lying marshlands southwest of New Orleans, were also evacuated.

Evacuations continue in parts of southern Louisiana, including Jefferson, LaFourche and Plaquemines parishes, said Deborah Conrad, spokeswoman of Louisiana's Office of Emergency Preparedness.

The storm also shut down the Audubon Zoo, as well as the nearby aquarium, IMAX and nature center until Friday. Zookeepers moved a pair of rare Chinese alligators indoors Wednesday, and the zoo's lions, tigers, bears and other dangerous animals were put in their cement-block style night houses to protect them from the storm, said zoo spokeswoman Sarah Burnette.

Soraya Flores, spokeswoman for the Orleans Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness, said the Louisiana Superdome is being used as a "special needs" shelter that would take in people in wheelchairs or confined to hospital beds and those who have other medical problems. Between 100 to 300 people are expected to use the facility.

At least eight emergency shelters have been set up throughout the state, according to Jim Bridges of the OEP. There are nearly 1,300 people in the shelters, she said.

A state of emergency has been in effect in Louisiana since Monday, and an emergency operations center has been activated to coordinate whatever needs to be done, Conrad said.

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