A tropical storm threatening to grow into a hurricane is heading towards America’s Gulf Coast.
The US National Hurricane Centre predicted it would grow to a Category 2 hurricane and possibly hit late on Tuesday somewhere between west of New Orleans and the edge of the Florida Panhandle. That would be a day short of seven years after the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina struck.
A Category 2 hurricane has sustained winds of between 96 and 110 mph and a strong storm surge.
Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama declared states of emergency, while oil companies began evacuating workers and cutting production at Gulf offshore rigs.
Even though the storm, labelled Isaac, was moving well west of Tampa, Florida, where the Republican Party convention is being held this week, storm-force winds and heavy rain were possible in the area because of Isaac’s large size, forecasters said.
Tampa Mayor Bill Buckhorn, a Democrat, said the weather would be “squirrely” but predicted the storm would not unduly interfere with the convention.
“We’re going to show the world on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday what a great place this is,” he said. “As a state and a city, we’re going to put on a good show and be a great host for the Republican Party.”
Florida, historically the state most prone to hurricanes, has been hurricane-free since it was hit four times each in 2004 and 2005. Isaac will probably prove barely a memory for South Florida and Keys residents, who mostly took the storm in stride as its centre passed just south of Key West on Sunday.
“This is routine for us,” said Annie Lopez, 47, a lifelong Key West resident. “It’s down to a science.”
Added Jean Claude Philemy of Miami: “Every year it’s almost the same. We can deal with it.”
The storm did knock out power temporarily for around 16,000 people throughout South Florida, and 555 flights were cancelled at Miami International Airport.
In the low-lying Keys, isolated patches of flooding were reported and some roads were littered with downed palm fronds and small branches. But officials said damage appeared to be minimal, and many Keys residents held true to their any-excuse-for-a-party reputation.
The Gulf Coast has not been hit by a hurricane since 2008, when Dolly, Ike and Gustav all struck the region.
Before reaching Florida, Isaac was blamed for eight deaths in Haiti and two more in the Dominican Republic, and downed trees and power lines in Cuba.
It bore down on the Keys two days after the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, which caused more than $25bn in damage and killed 26 people in South Florida.