As Isaac moves into warm water, threat shifts to northern Gulf

Story highlights

  • Mandatory evacuations are ordered for parts of Alabama, Louisiana
  • The governors of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi declare states of emergency
  • Isaac could make landfall on or near the seventh anniversary of Katrina
  • The tropical storm is expected to strengthen to a hurricane as it moves over the Gulf

Heavy rain and strong wind from Tropical Storm Isaac pounded parts of south Florida on Sunday, but the threat to the state lessened as forecasters said the storm would move west of its originally predicted path.

Isaac, which should strengthen into a hurricane in the next day or two, is expected now to strike further west, anywhere between Florida and Louisiana. The entire area from east of Morgan City, Louisiana, to Destin on the Florida Panhandle was under a hurricane warning.

It appeared the storm would mostly bypass Florida's west coast and the Republican National Convention in Tampa, where the schedule was pushed back a day by organizers.

"The best thing to do in a storm like this is get out of its way," said Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who urged residents to prepare for the worst.

He, along the governors of Louisiana and Alabama declared states of emergency to help cope with the storm, which could make landfall near or on the August 29 seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

CNN iReporter Frank Guida, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said water gushed through the doors and flooded the lobby of his building. The rain came in waves, every half hour or so. He sent video shot from the 18th floor, showing low visibility amid stormy skies and heavy rain.

"As I look out the window now, I can see that the wind is more unified and it is more intense," he said. "You can see everything is moving in the same direction, like the palm trees and the shrubs. I can hear shutters shaking."

As of 11 p.m. ET Sunday, Isaac was about 75 miles west-southwest of Key West, Florida, according to the National Hurricane Center. Packing winds of 65 miles per hour, it was moving west-northwest at 14 mph.

A day after slamming Haiti, where at least six deaths were reported, Isaac slowed a little while passing through the Straits of Florida and lashing Cuba and the Florida Keys. The storm was expected to gain strength as it moves through the warm Gulf waters.

Tropical Storm Isaac drenches Key West
Tropical Storm Isaac drenches Key West


    Tropical Storm Isaac drenches Key West


Tropical Storm Isaac drenches Key West 01:27
New Orleans preparing for Isaac
New Orleans preparing for Isaac


    New Orleans preparing for Isaac


New Orleans preparing for Isaac 02:12
Isaac hits Port-au-Prince
Isaac hits Port-au-Prince


    Isaac hits Port-au-Prince


Isaac hits Port-au-Prince 02:22
Jindal declares state of emergency in La
Jindal declares state of emergency in La


    Jindal declares state of emergency in La


Jindal declares state of emergency in La 01:05

iReport: Rain pounds Palm Beach County

By late Monday afternoon or early evening, Isaac's eye is forecast to be well west of Tampa. It is expected to make landfall late Tuesday or Wednesday -- Katrina's anniversary. By then it could be a Category 2 hurricane with winds of at least 96 mph.

"We are just on high alert. I know the anxiety level is high," New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. "The storm is somewhat uncertain. Out of an abundance of caution we will begin to take these precautions as quickly as we can."

He said neither the airport, convention center nor Superdome would be shelters of last resort as they were in 2005.

"We are much, much better prepared structurally than before," he said, adding, "If you are called upon, you should leave."

CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said there are so far some eerie similarities between Hurricane Katrina and Isaac.

The forecasts for the two storms were almost identical. "We hope that is where the comparisons end," he said.

"Hurricane Katrina went on to become a dangerous Category 5 hurricane in the central Gulf of Mexico," said Hennen. "Isaac is forecast to become a Category 2, 100 mph hurricane before it hits the Gulf Coast ... seven years to the date of Katrina's landfall."

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called for voluntary evacuations in 15 parishes. A mandatory evacuation was ordered for St. Charles Parish and for the east bank of Plaquemines Parish.

Officials in Plaquemines Parish declared a state of emergency and began preparing for the storm by bolstering levees and adding additional flood protection devices to low-lying highway areas.

In Alabama, officials ordered mandatory evacuations for parts of Mobile and Baldwin counties.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said some areas in his state had no power.

"We are experiencing some minor outages in the southern part of the state," he said at a news conference in Tampa. He said his main concern for Tampa was no longer a direct hit from Isaac but tropical storm force winds.

Even with the change in the storm's predicted track, GOP officials decided to push back Monday's scheduled start of the Republican National Convention in Tampa by one day, hoping the move will make it safer and easier for delegates to attend.

Some airlines had canceled some flights between airports in south Florida. Officials at Miami-Dade Airport said 555 flights, both arrivals and departures, were canceled Sunday.

Jindal unsure about convention attendance - again

In Key West, the southernmost point in the United States, heavy rains lashed boarded-up windows. Hotels were largely vacant even though no evacuation orders had been issued. By Sunday evening, the skies had started to clear.

CNN iReporter Ally Miller, who lives about 30 miles noth of Key West, Florida, shot dramatic video of the storm, showing wind and rain whipping the top of a palm tree.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Society were concerned that Isaac, headed towards areas hit by Tropical Storm Debby in June, will compound damage done there, especially dune and beach erosion.

Lee County, in southwest Florida, ordered residents in six communities, including the popular tourist spot of Fort Myers Beach, to evacuate, citing the possibility of significant storm surge.

The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said Sunday that 39 production platforms and eight oil rigs in the Gulf had been evacuated already. BP said it will evacuate all oil platform workers in the Gulf on Monday.

Meanwhile, authorities in Haiti were assessing Isaac's aftermath.

The storm left at least six people dead when it struck the impoverished Caribbean nation on Saturday, pounding camps where hundreds of thousands of people live in tents.

The country is still recovering from a devastating earthquake that struck more than two years ago, and its challenges are compounded by the fact it is led by a relatively new government with limited resources. All that said, the top U.N. humanitarian official in the nation praised the initial response efforts.

"So far, I think we're faring reasonably well in our response," Kevin Kennedy said Saturday, referring to the efforts of the Haitian government, U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations.

Focus turns to Florida as Isaac passes Haiti

Share your photos, videos and stories from Isaac

iReport: Isaac floods roads and bridges on Santo Domingo

Photos: Tropical Storm Isaac takes aim at Florida

Photos: Finding beauty in violent storms

      Hurricane season 2012

    • The storm that broke records, and hearts

      A mother learns that her newborn is part of a hospital evacuation. Facebook posts from a member of the HMS Bounty turn ominous. A man worries about the wind and rain, but another force of nature hits home.
    • In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, a storm that ripped so much apart, people have come together to provide help and hope.

      In Sandy's wake, help comes in unexpected ways

      Tourists become volunteer rescue workers. The connected provide power outlets and Wi-Fi. Performers lift spirits. Photographers preserve images. Doctors work overtime to keep hospitals running and patients alive.
    • Despite a mangled phone screen, volunteer Candice Osborne is able to quickly respond to the needs of Superstorm Sandy victims with the help of social media.

      Social media make helping personal

      It has been in operation only since October 30, but the Facebook page for "Giving back to those affected by Sandy" has a longer timeline than most Facebook members.
    • Steph Goralnick

      Let's not forget Superstorm Sandy's victims

      It's important to remember that even as the effect of Superstorm Sandy recedes from the news, there are still devastated areas that are without electricity, heat or hot water.
    • Americares volunteers help clean out flood damaged homes in Queens, New York during Operation "Muck-Out"

      Volunteers help Sandy victims start over

      Our AmeriCares "Operation Muck-Out" team immediately got to work, ripping out the interior walls and removing the insulation until only wooden beams were standing.
    • exp point harlow murray sandy_00013211

      Trying to keep the family business afloat

      Ashley Murray became the first female president of Liberty Industrial Gases and Welding Supplies Inc. in Brooklyn. But now the family history Murray was charged with preserving is at risk of ending after Superstorm Sandy.
    • Jeannette Van Houten and other residents of Union Beach, New Jersey, have found family photos such as this one scattered after Superstorms Sandy. They want to return them to their rightful owners.

      Finding joy among the wreckage

      The adage says "a picture is worth a thousand words," but when Leeann Lewandowski happened upon a photograph of her late mother on Facebook after her home was destroyed in Superstorm Sandy, she was speechless.