FEMA head: Tropical Storm Isaac not just about New Orleans


10 a.m. track forecast from the National Hurricane Center.

Federal officials are warning the northern Gulf coast to get ready now for Isaac, cautioning the storm is an especially large and slow moving weather event even though it remains a Tropical Storm. Slow moving storms tend to lead to particular troubles with rain and flooding.

In a call with reporters, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Craig Fugate and National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb, urged people not to focus either on the track of the center of the storm -- now on a collision course for the New Orleans area -- nor the fact that the storm remains at this moment a tropical storm. Predictions now call for the storm to strengthen into a category 1 or possibly category 2 hurricane. They noted that the category system is based on wind speeds--and storm surge can be severe even with lower category storms.

"Don’t focus necessarily on where it may come in. This is a very large area of potential impact," Fugate said.

Fugate said federal officials have learned the lessons of Hurricane Katrina, which hit exactly seven years ago on Wednesday and are working closely with state and local officials in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi and have prepositioned emergency supplies. They've warned coastal communities could see storm surge of 6 to 12 feet and residents need to immediately heed evacuation orders issued by local officials. "The biggest thing we’ve learned is that we have to work together as a team at the state and federal level," Fugate said.

Fugate said he understood the focus on New Orleans is understandable given the upcoming Katrina anniversary and Isaac's current track. But, he warned: "This is not a New Orleans storm. This is a Gulf Coast storm. Some of the heaviest impacts may be in Alabama and Mississippi. Everybody’s focusing on New Orleans  and they don’t understand this threat is not a point. It’s a large area."

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.
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