Storm Surge, Rainfall Biggest Concern as Isaac Nears

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Hurricane Isaac Puts Gulf Coast on a 'High Level of Anxiety'
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Hurricane Isaac Puts Gulf Coast on a 'High Level of Anxiety' (ABC News)

Tropical storm Isaac is on the verge of becoming a Category 1 hurricane before it makes landfall, but forecasters say the biggest threat will be the rainfall and storm surge.

Forecasters have projected landfall as early as Tuesday night, a day short of the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. On Monday, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Isaac's similar path as Katrina and the anniversary was leaving much of the Gulf Coast on "a high level of anxiety."

Winds will be an issue initially when Isaac makes landfall with gusts up to 75 mph. Forecasters say the big threat with Isaac will be the storm surge around New Orleans and Biloxi, Miss., where water might rise six to nine feet. The slow moving storm could punish coastal areas with up to 20 inches of rain, which was one of Louisiana's Gov. Bobby Jindal's main concerns on Monday.

As of 5 a.m. ET, the center of the storm was 125 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and moving northwest at 12 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

FEMA director Craig Fugate and the National Hurricane Center's Dr. Rick Knabb say there has been too much focus on New Orleans bracing for Isaac on the anniversary of Katrina.

"I think people need to understand this is not a New Orleans storm. This is a Gulf Coast storm," Fugate said today. Despite hurricane warnings extended across more than 330 miles from Louisiana to western Florida, all eyes are still on New Orleans as this will be its first big test since Katrina. Louisiana has set up shelters and stockpiled more than a million packaged meals, 1.4 million bottles of water and 17,000 tarps.

Since the levees failed seven years ago over $14 billion have been spent on the 133-mile long floodwalls, spillways, gates and pumps surrounding New Orleans. While officials say the city is more prepared now than they were in 2005, they're still taking no chances when it comes to evacuations.

Fugate and Jindal warned people in low lying areas to get out of Isaac's way.

"Today is the day," Jindal said Monday. "Today is the final day you should be taking any final precautions. If you want to evacuate, today is the day to do that."

Early Monday, 50,000 people had already evacuated from southeast Louisiana's St. Charles parish. In addition, 2,000 jail inmates have been moved out of Isaac's expected path.

Jindal said over 4,000 National Guardsmen will be mobilized in case of emergency, but said he does not anticipate having to activate contraflow highway rules for evacuation purposes.

Jindal said that President Obama called him Monday to say that the governor's request for a pre-landfall federal disaster declaration had been approved. The approval opens up federal funding to potentially help Louisiana cope with any damage.

"We are going to need help after the storm as well," Jindal said. "This is not going to be done just after the storm makes landfall or even just after the storm leaves Louisiana."

Isaac's slow pace means it "could actually cause more damage," the governor said.

He said the storm could batter areas with tropical winds for up to 36 hours and could dump more than a foot of rain while lingering over some areas.

Jindal said he is skipping the Republican National Convention in Florida where he was expected to speak because of Isaac. "I will not be speaking or attending the Republican National Convention in Florida. There is no time for politics here in Louisiana," he said.

Fugate warned that Isaac's biggest punch may land in Alabama or Mississippi. The National Hurricane Center said to expect a storm surge of at least six feet with the possibility it could reach up to 12 feet.

FEMA activated its command center in Atlanta Monday. Division Director Ginger Edwards says past disasters are driving prep for this storm.

"After every disaster we learn new lessons but you know we're constantly exercising with the states. We're planning with the states and just becoming more and more, more and more involved and more prepared," said Edwards.

Alabama and Mississippi have already joined Louisiana in declaring states of emergency.

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport said there are no flights scheduled for Tuesday and the airport will not be used as an evacuation shelter. People will not be allowed to stay in the terminal during the storm, the airport said in a statement on Monday.

ABC News' Max Golembo, ABC News Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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