Isaac could bring sizable storm surges and massive amounts of rain, presenting the most stern test yet for New Orleans’s rebuilt levees, which are designed to endure all but the most catastrophic storms. The storm is also likely to test the federal government’s ability to respond to a natural disaster in the region seven years after the Bush administration fumbled the task in the wake of Katrina.
For Republicans in Tampa, the coming storm presents another kind of challenge. With Isaac bearing down on the Gulf Coast, party leaders have been left to walk a delicate political tightrope: trying to bash President Obama’s handling of the economy and spotlight the GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, while potentially sharing broadcast time with scenes of hurricane devastation and the Obama administration’s response to it.
Officials on Monday urged those in Isaac’s wide-ranging path to take the storm seriously. Its huge size and sluggish forward progress — it is forecast to slow further as it comes ashore — could mean storm surges of six to 12 feet in low-lying coastal areas and heavy rains.
“These water hazards — the storm surge and the inland flooding — are things that sometimes people forget,” National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb told reporters Monday. “They consider tropical storms and hurricanes as just windstorms, and they are far more than that.”
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate urged residents to flee if asked. “When those evacuation orders are issued, we need people to heed them and move to higher ground,” he said. “Don’t wait.”
That sense of urgency had yet to pervade New Orleans on Monday, which cooked in 90-plus-degree heat beneath clear blue skies. City officials warned that Isaac could be a dangerous storm but stopped short of mandatory evacuations.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu sought to reassure residents about the threat posed by Isaac, taking to a podium in City Hall to boast that “there’s nothing this storm will bring us that we’re not capable of handling.”
He touted $10 billion of levee improvements since Hurricane Katrina and proclaimed the city “battle-ready.” A Category 3 hurricane — with winds more than 110 mph — might have prompted an evacuation, Landrieu said, but Isaac was looking likely to remain a Category 1.
Isaac’s approach did force the cancellation of events staged each year to remember those killed by Katrina. Also, prison superintendents worked through the night to transfer more than 1,000 inmates from vulnerable jails in the city.