As Isaac nears hurricane strength, New Orleans braces for flooding (+video)
Isaac is forecast to become a category 1 hurricane today, bringing 14 inches of rain and storm surges of up to 12 feet. Hurricane Isaac will be the first test of post-Katrina levee improvements in New Orleans.
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This time, federal officials say the updated levees around the city are equipped to handle storms stronger than Isaac. The Army Corps of Engineers was given about $14 billion to improve flood defenses, and most of the work has been completed.Skip to next paragraph
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New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu did not activate a mandatory evacuation Monday. Instead, officials urged residents to hunker down and make do with the supplies they had.
But with landfall expected near the Katrina anniversary, anxiety was high, especially in the Lower 9th Ward, wiped out by Katrina after floodwalls burst and let the waters rush in.
"I don't really trust the levees," said Robert Washington, who planned to evacuate along with his wife and five children. "I don't want to take that chance. I saw how it looked after Katrina back here."
He leaned over the banister of his porch railing and looked out onto empty lots where houses stood before Katrina. His neighborhood, just a few blocks away from where the floodwall protecting the Lower 9th Ward broke open, remains largely empty.
A few streets over, Arthur Smith was unpacking supplies from his car and taking them into his renovated house.
"We have the lamp oil, the water, non-perishable food items, the radio that works without a battery," he said, listing some items on his checklist.
He was planning to either evacuate or hunker down with his 76-year-old mother and sister. He said that decision would be made Tuesday morning once Isaac's forecast became better defined.
Early Tuesday, Isaac was packing top sustained winds of 70 mph. The storm system was centered about 105 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River just before 8 a.m. EDT and moving northwest at 7 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Although Isaac's approach on the eve of the Katrina anniversary invited comparisons, the storm is nowhere near as powerful as Katrina was when it struck. Katrina at one point reached Category 5 status with winds of more than 157 mph, and made landfall as a Category 3 storm.
Still, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center warned that Isaac, especially if it strikes at high tide, could cause storm surges of up to 12 feet along the coasts of southeast Louisiana and Mississippi and up to 6 feet as far away as the Florida Panhandle..
Rain from the storm could total up to 14 inches, with some isolated areas getting as much as 20 inches, along the coast from southeast Louisiana to the extreme western end of the Florida Panhandle.
Burdeau reported from New Orleans.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.