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Isaac bears down on Florida, but Keys residents remain sunny

On Sunday, Tropical Storm Isaac skirted the Florida Keys, but barely ruffled residents. The storm is expected to gain strength, and could become a Category 2 hurricane Tuesday or Wednesday.

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Hurricane center forecasters are uncertain of the storm's path because two of their best computer models now track the storm on opposite sides of a broad cone. One model has Isaac going well west and the other well east. For the moment, the predicted track goes up the middle.

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Florida Panhandle residents stocked up on water and gasoline, and at least one Pensacola store ran out of flashlight models and C and D batteries. Scott Reynolds, who lives near the water in Gulf Breeze, filled his car trunk with several cases of water, dozens of power bars and ramen noodles.

"Cigarettes — I'm stocking up on those too," he said.

Forecasters stressed that the storm's exact location remained extremely uncertain — a fact not lost on Tony Varnado as he cut sheets of plywood to board up his family's beach home on Pensacola Beach. With the storm's projected path creeping farther to the west, the Mandeville, La., resident joked he might be boarding up the wrong house.

"I'm going to head back that way as soon as we are done here to make sure we are prepared if hits there," he said.

Before reaching Florida, Isaac was blamed for seven 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.

In Tampa, convention officials said they would convene briefly on Monday, then recess until Tuesday afternoon, when the storm was expected to have passed. Gov. Rick Scott canceled his plans to attend convention events on Sunday and Monday.

At Miami International Airport, more than 450 flights Sunday were canceled. Inside the American Airlines terminal, people craned for a look out of one of the doors as a particularly strong band of Isaac began lashing the airport with strong rain and high wind.

Michele Remillard said she was trying to get a seat on a flight to New Orleans, well aware the city could be affected by Isaac later this week. In coastal Plaquemines Parish, La., crews rushed to protect the levees that keep floodwaters from reaching that New Orleans suburb.

"It's a little scary," said Remillard, who was in town for a wedding. "But I need to get home, you know? And if the storm comes my way again, who knows, I might have to come back here."

In Mississippi, officials were drafting an emergency declaration that the governor could sign as early as Sunday. Evacuations had not yet been ordered but were likely, especially in areas vulnerable to storm surge, said Greg Flynn, spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

As of 2 p.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Key West, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. Isaac had top sustained winds of 60 mph (97 kph) and was moving to the northwest at 18 mph (29 kph).

Tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 205 miles (335 km) from the center, meaning storm conditions are possible even in places not in Isaac's direct path.
Associated Press writers Tony Winton in Key West, Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Fla., and Tim Reynolds and Suzette Laboy in Miami contributed to this report.

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