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Isidore bears down on Louisiana

Drivers work to get their cars out of high water in New Orleans, 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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• Gallery: Lili hits Gulf Coast
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• Interactive: Top 10 worst hurricanes
• Interactive: Lili's projected track
• Special report: Hurricane Season
Tropical Storm Isidore
At 2 a.m. EDT Thursday
Latitude: 29.0 degrees north
Longitude: 90.1 degrees west
Position: About 75 miles south of New Orleans, Louisiana
Next advisory:  5 a.m. EDT Thursday

Tropical Storm Lili
At 2 a.m. EDT Thursday
Latitude: 14.3 degrees north
Longitude: 70.5 degrees west
Position: About 300 miles south of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Next advisory: 5 a.m. EDT Thursday

Hurricane Kyle
At 11 p.m. EDT Wednesday
Latitude: 28.6 degrees north
Longitude: 57.0 degrees west
Position: About 590 miles east-southeast of Bermuda
Next advisory:  5 a.m. EDT Thursday

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Rain and tropical storm force winds are slapping the Louisiana coast hours ahead of Isidore's landfall, which is expected early Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

National Weather Service spokesman Pat Slattery said the latest projections show the storm will come ashore from the Gulf of Mexico around 5 a.m.-6 a.m. ET on the Louisiana coast south of New Orleans.

The large storm is moving in a northward direction at near 13 mph.

Tim Erickson, a NWS meteorologist in Slidell, Louisiana, predicted it would hit between Grand Isle and Cocodrie.

Isidore's maximum sustained winds are currently near 65 mph and forecasters say it could strengthen slightly as it approaches shore. However, it would need winds of 74 mph to be considered a Category 1 hurricane.

A hurricane watch is in effect from Cameron, Louisiana, to Pascagoula, Mississippi. A tropical storm warning affects the coast from east of High Island, Texas, to St. Marks, Florida.

"If Isidore does not rebuild, there's not going to be a landfall like a hurricane," Slattery said. "There will be some storm surges of about 3-to-6 feet and heavy rains, but not the eyewall associated with a strong hurricane, which brings 10- to 12-foot surges."

Forecasters said the storm has already dumped 10 to 12 inches of rain on the New Orleans area and could also spawn tornadoes from southeastern Louisiana to the western Florida Panhandle.

Preparing for the big blast

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.

Both states have declared emergencies to handle the storm and its aftermath.

In New Orleans, water lapped at the doors of bars and restaurants in the historic French Quarter as steady rain heralded the imminent arrival of Isidore. (Full story)

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

New Orleans Police Capt. Marlin DeFellow told CNN that Interstate 10, which runs through the city, was closed in both directions after rising water quickly stranded several cars. No injuries were reported.

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.

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

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

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, he said.

Only about 50 of Grand Isle's 1,500 residents remain on the gulf resort island, said Assistant Fire Chief Brady Bradberry. Most of the population got out Tuesday before the only road linking the island to the mainland was flooded and closed.

"It's getting kind of squally here and we're getting the tides coming up high now," Bradberry said. "We're just sitting here playing cards, eating, and waiting for calls about any stragglers we might not know about."

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.

Morgan City and Houma, two cities in low-lying marshlands southwest of New Orleans, are also evacuating.

In neighboring Mississippi, a state of emergency was declared Tuesday morning after reports of price-gouging at gas stations and hotels on the Gulf Coast. When an emergency is declared, fixed prices are put into place, said Mississippi governor's office spokesman John Sewell.

Nearly 600 Mississippi residents are spending Wednesday night in at least 21 shelters set up in the three counties that border the Gulf of Mexico, according to a spokeswoman for the state's emergency management agency. There is one mandatory evacuation zone in Hancock County and evacuations have been recommended in parts of Harrison and Jackson counties.

The Mississippi Gaming Commission closed the state's popular Gulf Coast casinos Wednesday, leaving some diehard gamblers in their hotel with a pack of cards.

Forecasters warn the southeastern United States could see as much as 10 to 20 inches of rain in the next few days, causing life-threatening floods, and said the system's precipitation will reach as far as the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys.

Cities in Kentucky and parts of West Virginia, some 800 miles away from the coast, have already been doused with rains associated with Isidore.

Military installations along the Gulf Coast have moved ships and aircraft out of harm's way. Navy officials at the Atlantic Fleet decided Monday to set five of their six destroyers and frigates, based in Pascagoula, Mississippi, out to sea and away from the path of the storm.

Isidore -- which hit Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula last weekend as a Category 3 hurricane -- lost strength as it sat over the region, forcing at least 70,000 people from their homes. About 800,000 people lost phone and power lines. The storm has been blamed for at least two deaths in Mexico.

Kyle becomes a hurricane

The National Hurricane Center also is tracking Tropical Storm Lili in the eastern Caribbean about 300 miles (485 kilometers) south of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

Lili was moving Wednesday to the west at near 6 mph. The storm is expected to shift to the west-northwest in the next 24 hours.

A tropical storm watch has been issued for all of Jamaica and for the southern coasts of the Dominican Republic and for Haiti from Punta Palenque westward to Tiburon. The watch for southern Haiti may be upgraded to a tropical storm warning later tonight.

Forecasters are a bit concerned about the possible directions Lili could take. Now traveling toward the west-northwest at near 7 mph, the storm's movement could become erratic over the next 12 hours or so. Also, the storm is predicted to travel across Cuba by Saturday, and then it could possibly move toward either Florida or the Bahamas. (Full story)

Kyle became the third hurricane of this year's Atlantic season Wednesday evening.

At 11 p.m., Kyle's center was about 590 miles (950 kilometers) east-southeast of Bermuda. It's traveling about 9 mph over the open Atlantic and is a threat only to shipping interests in the area.

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