Tropical Storm Isaac closed in on the Gulf Coast on Monday, triggering mandatory evacuation orders and disrupting U.S. offshore oil production as it threatened to make landfall between Florida and Louisiana as a Category 2 hurricane.
The wide, slow-moving storm swiped south Florida on Sunday and strengthened over the warm Gulf waters. It was expected to reach land tonight or early Wednesday, the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
The National Hurricane Center warned that the storm could push vast amounts of seawater over the shore, flooding the northern Gulf Coast with a storm surge of up to 12 feet in some areas. Isaac was expected to slow down and pour “tremendous amounts” of rain on the region, causing potentially deadly flooding far inland, hurricane center Director Rick Knabb said.
Isaac could take direct aim at New Orleans, which is still struggling to fully recover from Katrina, a storm that swept across the city Aug. 29, 2005, killing more than 1,800 people and causing billions of dollars of damage.
At 5 p.m. EDT Monday, Isaac was centered 255 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with top sustained winds of 70 mph and swirling northwest at 12 mph.
It was forecast to strengthen into a Category 2 hurricane, with top winds of 100 mph, before moving over the Gulf Coast no later than early Wednesday.
Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the worst effects could be in Mississippi and Alabama.
“This is not a New Orleans storm. This is a Gulf Coast storm,” Fugate said.
Energy producers in the Gulf shut down some of their operations ahead of what could be the biggest test for U.S. energy installations since 2008, when hurricanes Gustav and Ike disrupted offshore oil output for months and damaged onshore natural gas processing plants, pipelines and some refineries.