NEW ORLEANS (CN) – Tropical storm Isaac is expected to smack New Orleans tonight as a hurricane, and nervous residents hope that levees fortified after Hurricane Katrina will hold.
States of emergency were declared from Louisiana to Florida, and hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents continue preparing for the storm.
The National Hurricane Center predicted Isaac would make landfall near New Orleans tonight or early Wednesday as a Category 1 or 2 storm, with winds of up to 100 mph and up to 20 inches of rain.
A tropical storm must have sustained winds of 74 mph to be a hurricane. Isaac’s winds were measured at 70 mph early this morning (Tuesday).
Schools, businesses and courthouses were closed Monday from New Orleans to Florida, including Tampa, where the Republican National Convention was delayed by a day.
Government officials in New Orleans told residents to be prepared to be without water and electricity for up to several days.
A mandatory evacuation of New Orleans was not declared, as it was during Hurricane Gustav, the last hurricane to threaten the city, 4 years ago during Memorial Day weekend. But city officials urged residents to complete hurricane preparations by Monday evening.
Gov. Bobby Jindal on Monday afternoon asked everyone planning to evacuate to go by Monday to avoid being caught in the developing storm.
Numerous New Orleans-area gas stations ran out of gas late Sunday evening after panicked residents waited in long lines to fill their tanks.
If Hurricane Isaac makes landfall in New Orleans late this evening or early Wednesday, as predicted, it will arrive on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
The massive 2005 hurricane was responsible for 1,300 deaths and unprecedented flooding in New Orleans.
On Monday in Miami, all Dade County courts and clerks offices were closed, and 293,000 South Florida residents lost power; about 80,000 were still without power Monday night, Gov. Rick Scott said.
The hurricane watch for Miami and Dade County was lifted Sunday afternoon after the tropical storm’s 65 mph winds caused hundreds of flights to and from Miami International Airport to be canceled. No deaths were reported in the United States, though the storm killed 24 in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, according to The Associated Press.
Though Miami Beach declared South Beach closed, many people ventured out under dark heavy storm clouds to play in the high surf, as the wind tossed raindrops like daggers. (The photo shows Bayfront Park in downtown Miami at 5 p.m. Monday.)
Retail and restaurants closed, though in Florida fashion, many liquor stores and some independent convenience stores remained open.
South Florida got up to a foot of rain, causing some flash flooding.
Miami-Dade County courts were expected to be open today for business as usual.
(Courthouse News reporters Sabrina Canfield reported from New Orleans, and Marimer Matos from Miami.)