Tropical Storm Isaac wasnt quite done with South Florida on Monday, flooding neighborhoods and knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes with intense rain squalls spun from its center, 350 miles away in the Gulf of Mexico. Palm Beach County was hit hardest, awash in more than a foot of rain.
Worse was in store for the Gulf Coast, where New Orleans lay near dead center of a looming hurricane strike Tuesday evening, just a day short of the seventh anniversary of catastrophic Hurricane Katrina.
By 8 a.m. Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said Isaac slowed down a bit but remained a 70-mph storm, but it was expected to make landfall as 90-mph, Category 1 storm.
Broward County remains on a flood watch through Tuesday evening and rain bands continued to drench the coast of South Florida Tuesday morning.
Isaac's projected landfall as Category 1 hurricane would keep it well below Katrinas intensity, but it was still a sprawling, slow-moving system capable of inundating a 300-mile wide swath from Louisiana marshes to the Panhandle beaches with a wall of sea water and drenching storms.
In a region bulldozed by hurricanes Katrina and Ivan in the past decade, the anxiety was growing. Pensacola Beach, a slender barrier island dotted with hotels, ice cream parlors and kitschy tourist attractions, was all but abandoned Monday after Escambia County ordered an evacuation.
Michelle Newell, 43, had lugged out furniture, boarded windows, raised her washing machine on bricks and surrounded her home with 160 sandbags filled with sand swept onto the property by Ivan in 2004.
Ive done everything I can, said Newell, sweat running down her face. Theres nothing left to do but wait.
In New Orleans, now protected by billions of dollars in stronger levees and large pumps, Mayor Mitch Landrieu was confident his city was prepared and he urged residents to hunker down. With Isaac forecast to remain below major Category 3 strength, there were no plans to evacuate the city.
Its going to be all right, Landrieu told reporters.
But emergency managers in four states Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida ordered vulnerable coastal communities to evacuate and declared states of emergency.
Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said supplies had already been moved into place and he urged residents not to underestimate Isaac.
People are too focused on where they think its going to make landfall, Fugate said during a conference call. Its going to have effects well away from the center of circulation.
NHC director Rick Knabb said Isaac could push storm surge up to 12 feet high near its core. With Isaac expected to slow to a crawl, it could rain for nearly two days on the Gulf Coast, with up to 18 inches possible in the worst spots.
A slow-moving, large system poses a lot of problems regardless of how strong it is, Knabb said.
In the Caribbean, Isaacs death toll continued to grow, reaching 19 in Haiti, which was still assessing damage, along with two more victims in the Dominican Republic swept away in an engorged river.
In South Florida, Isaacs impact was topped by continued power outages, made more frustrating because Isaacs top gusts never reached hurricane speed. Florida Power & Light said thousands of homes and businesses in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties remained in the dark.