KEY WEST, Fla. — Tropical Storm Isaac passed the Florida Keys late Sunday before turning northwest and potentially striking as a Category 2 hurricane somewhere between New Orleans and the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday.
Although Isaac barely stirred Keys residents from their fabled nonchalance, the Gulf Coast braced for the possibility that the extensive storm will strengthen into a dangerous hurricane by the time it makes landfall.
Isaac was on course to strike land on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a powerful storm that crippled New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005 and became a symbol of government ineptitude.
The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for a large swath of the northern Gulf Coast from east of Morgan City, La. — which includes the New Orleans area — to Destin, Fla. A Category 2 hurricane has sustained winds of between 96 and 110 miles per hour.
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 $25 billion in damage just north of the island chain.
Governor Bobby Jindal called a state of emergency in Louisiana and suggested that people begin leaving low-lying parts of the state.
Jindal also said he may skip a speaking engagement later this week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa unless the threat to his state subsides.Governor Robert Bentley of Alabama has also canceled his trip to the convention because of Isaac.
Elected leaders’ vigilance toward tropical storms has heightened in the seven years since Katrina struck and became a symbol of government failure. More than 1,800 died, there were 53 levee breaches, and the federal government was viewed as late and unprepared to handle the aftermath. Criticism was leveled at officials reaching all the way to the White House.
An emergency declaration was also issued in Mississippi by Governor Phil Bryant amid concerns of storm surge threatening low-lying areas. Oil companies began evacuating workers from offshore oil rigs and cutting production in advance of Isaac.
The storm was on a course to pass west of Tampa, but it had already disrupted the Republicans’ schedule there because of the likelihood of heavy rain and strong winds that extended more than 200 miles from its center.
Isaac caused considerable inconvenience, with more than 550 flights canceled at Miami International Airport and about 150 from Fort Lauderdale’s airport. There were scattered power outages from Key West to Fort Lauderdale affecting more than 16,000 customers, and flooding occurred in low-lying areas.
Governor Rick Scott said at a news conference Sunday evening that only minor damage was reported from Isaac.
In Tampa, Republican convention officials said they would convene briefly on Monday, then recess until Tuesday afternoon, when the storm was expected to have passed. Scott canceled his plans to attend convention events on Sunday and Monday.
The Gulf Coast hasn’t been hit by a hurricane since 2008. Florida, meanwhile, has been hurricane-free since it was struck four times each in 2004 and 2005.