Alan Diaz, Associated Press
KEY WEST, Fla. — Tropical Storm Isaac rolled over the open Gulf of Mexico on Monday, where it was expected to grow into a hurricane before hitting land somewhere between Louisiana and Florida and close to the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
The storm that left eight dead in Haiti blew past the Florida Keys with little damage and promised a drenching but little more for Tampa, where the planned Monday start of the Republican National Convention was pushed back a day in case Isaac passed closer to the bayside city.
The National Hurricane Center predicted Isaac would grow to a Category 1 hurricane over the warm Gulf and possibly hit late Tuesday somewhere along a roughly 300-mile stretch from the bayous southwest of New Orleans to the Florida Panhandle. That would be one day shy of seven years after Hurricane Katrina struck catastrophically in 2005.
Earlier predictions said Isaac would be a Category 2 hurricane but National Hurricane Center director Rick Knabb told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday that Isaac wouldn't be as strong as they initially thought. But Knabb urged residents not to focus their preparations the storm's current strength because such storms often do not stick to forecasters' predictions.
The size of the warning area and the storm's wide bands of rain and wind prompted emergency declarations in four states, and the hurricane-tested residents were boarding up homes, sticking up on food and water or getting ready to evacuate.
"I'm helping my friend pack and board up his beach house just in case (Isaac) makes its way over here," Pensacola resident Andrew Flock said Sunday.
Forecasters said Isaac could pack a double punch of flood threats for the Gulf Coast. If it hits during high tide, the storm could push floodwaters as deep as 12 feet on shore in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and up to six feet in the Florida Panhandle.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called a state of emergency, and 53,000 residents of St. Charles Parish near New Orleans were told to leave ahead of the storm. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley also declared states of emergency.
Meanwhile, the oncoming storm stopped work on rigs that account for 24 percent of daily oil production in the U.S. potion of the Gulf of Mexico and eight percent of daily natural gas production there, the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said in its latest update Sunday.
Several area governors have altered their plans for this week's GOP convention in Tampa. Bentley has canceled his trip, and Jindal said he's likely to do so unless the threat from the storm subsides. Scott gave up a chance to speak.
Amtrak cancelled train service in Louisiana for Tuesday and Wednesday. The route than runs from New York to New Orleans would end in Atlanta, while its route from Los Angeles to New Orleans would stop in San Antonio. Amtrak was also suspending part of its rail line between Miami and Orlando, Fla.
Grocery and home improvement stores as well as fuel stations in Louisiana reported brisk business as residents sought to prepare for Isaac. Some gas stations were running out of supplies.
Even though the storm was moving well west of Tampa, tropical storm-force winds and heavy rains were possible in the area because of Isaac's large size, forecasters said. A small group of protesters braved rainy weather Sunday and vowed to continue despite the weather, which already forced the Republicans to cancel Monday's opening session of the convention. Instead, the GOP will briefly gavel the gathering to order Monday afternoon and then recess until Tuesday.
Tampa Mayor Bill Buckhorn, a Democrat, said the weather would be "squirrely" but predicted the storm would not unduly interfere with the convention.
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