Gerald Herbert, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — Finally reaching hurricane status, the unwieldy and wobbly Isaac bore down on this city Tuesday, offering one of the first tests for a stronger, more fortified levee system built after the catastrophic failures during Hurricane Katrina.
Seven years after that storm transformed this city, the mood was calm as the first wave of rain bands and wind gusts rolled ashore, and these battle-tested residents took the storm in stride, knowing they've been through a lot worse. Isaac looked to make landfall as early as Tuesday as a Category 1 hurricane with winds of at least 74 mph — much lower than the 135 mph winds Katrina packed in 2005.
Many residents along the Gulf Coast opted to ride it out in shelters or at home and officials, while sounding alarm about the dangers of the powerful storm, decided not to call for mass evacuations. Still, there was a threat of storm surge and the possibility of nearly two feet of rain as it slowly trudges inland.
"We don't expect a Katrina-like event, but remember there are things about a Category 1 storm that can kill you," Mayor Mitch Landrieu said, urging people to use common sense and to stay off any streets that may flood.
Isaac became a hurricane Tuesday, a massive storm that reached more than 200 miles from its center, threatening to flood the coasts of four states with storm surge and heavy rains on its way to New Orleans.
At businesses near the French Quarter, windows were boarded up and sandbags were stacked a few feet high in front of doors.
Some tourists said they would ride out the storm near the city's famed Bourbon Street, and there was little to suggest a sense of worry.
New Orleans has been through Betsy, Camille and Katrina.
At a Hyatt hotel in the French Quarter, Nazareth Joseph braced for a busy week and fat overtime paychecks. Joseph said he was trapped in the city for several days after Katrina and helped neighbors escape the floodwaters.
"We made it through Katrina, we can definitely make it through this. It's going to take a lot more to run me, I know how to survive," he said.
The Coast Guard was searching the Gulf of Mexico near the Florida-Alabama state line Tuesday for a man didn't return home from a water-scooter trip as Isaac was approaching. The search began after the man's wife called the Pensacola, Fla., station about 8:45 p.m. Monday, Chief Petty Officer Bobby Nash said.
Otherwise, the damage so far in the United States was political: Republicans cut one day off their presidential nominating convention in Tampa, though in the end it bypassed the bayside city. Isaac is also testing elected officials along the Gulf from governors on down to show they're prepared for an emergency response.
President Barack Obama said Gulf Coast residents should listen to local authorities and follow their directions as Isaac approached.
"Now is not the time to tempt fate. Now is not the time to dismiss official warnings. You need to take this seriously," Obama said.
In Houma, a city southwest of New Orleans, people filled a municipal auditorium-turned-shelter. However, in the bayou country of Terrebonne Parish off Highway 24, storms pose a perennial dilemma for those living a hardscrabble life.
While some of the homes along Bayou Terrebonne and other nearby waterways show signs of affluence, this section of Louisiana 24 is mostly lined with trailer homes or small, often run-down houses. Staying could be dangerous, but many here who could be in harm's way have nowhere to go and little money to get there, especially given the high price of gasoline.
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