Gulf Coast evacuations begin ahead of Isaac

Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi have issued evacuation orders as Isaac slows and gathers strength in the Gulf of Mexico. Isaac could be a category 1 hurricane today and hit the Gulf Coast Tuesday.

Tropical Storm Isaac is seen in the Gulf of Mexico in this NOAA handout satellite image dated August 27, 2012. The latest report from the National Hurricane Center had the storm slowing in the warm Gulf, gathering new energy.

As Tropical Storm Isaac slowed, and gathered strength in the Gulf of Mexico, evacuations began across a broad swath of the Gulf Coast.

In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal canceled plans to attend the Republican National Convention, choosing to stay home and oversea evacuation efforts.

In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant is urging people in low-lying areas along the Gulf Coast to evacuate for Isaac, which is expected to bring heavy rain and high winds to the state, even if the center of the storm comes ashore in Louisiana.

Bryant said during a briefing Monday in Gulfport that 1,500 National Guard soldiers and airmen are on standby to respond, and at least 40 state troopers could be brought in to help the 80 already stationed in the southern counties.

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Bryant says he knows it's difficult for people to leave, but homes will be protected.

Isaac blew past the Florida Keys and was rolling northwestward over the open Gulf of Mexico on Monday. The National Hurricane Center predicted it would grow to a hurricane with winds of between 74 and 95 mph over the warm water and possibly hit sometime Tuesday somewhere along a roughly 300-mile stretch from the bayous southwest of New Orleans to the edge of the Florida Panhandle. The latest report from the  Hurricane Center had the storm slowing in the warm Gulf, gathering new energy.

Robert Latham, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, says shelters could start opening Monday, based on need.

In Alabama, the governor is warning against complacency as Isaac approaches the Gulf coast.

Gov. Robert Bentley held a news conference Monday in Mobile, where he said the sunny skies give a false sense of security. He said he ordered a mandatory evacuation of low-lying areas in Mobile and Baldwin counties and declared a state of emergency to make sure people had plenty of time to get out and to make sure all types of help, including the National Guard, are on standby.

Meteorologist Jeff Garmon of the National Weather Service says the Alabama coast could experience a storm surge of four feet and 8-12 inches of rain if Isaac stays on its current path toward Louisiana. But he warned that those numbers could rise if Isaac shifts east.

"I gassed up — truck and generator", John Corll, 59, a carpenter, said as he left a New Orleans coffee shop Monday morning. He went through Katrina in 2005 and was expecting a weaker storm this time, adding that he thinks the levee system is in better shape to handle a storm surge than when Katrina hit. "I think the state and local governments are much better prepared for the storm surge and emergencies," Corll said.

In Alabama, residents have also begun following the governor's order to evacuate coastal areas.

Cars and trucks filled with people and clothes started heading north when Gov. Robert Bentley's mandatory evacuation order took effect at 8 a.m. Monday. Some businesses normally open on Mondays along the Alabama coast are closed. Many have plywood covering their windows.

Gulf Shores resident Billy Cannon is among the evacuees. He's leaving the beach with his wife, ex-wife, daughter, son and four Chihuahuas. They plan to stay about 45 minutes away in Daphne.

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Cannon said he thinks the governor's early evacuation order was an overreaction but he understands why it was issued.

In southern Mobile County, about 60 people lined up Monday morning outside a methadone clinic located in a small strip of stores to get their doses before the clinic closed.

A block away, drivers filled red gas cans with fuel at a convenience store. Trucks left the coast pulling trailers with everything imaginable — boats, tractors, campers, lawn mowers, and even portable toilets.

A state of emergency covers the entire state of Alabama, and the governor has told the National Guard to be on standby.

More than a foot of rain could fall in coastal areas, forecasters warned.

At a news conference in Mobile, the governor warned people not to be complacent because of sunny skies Monday. "It gives us a false sense of security," he said.

The deluge was expected to begin Monday night, and could total 8-12 inches by Thursday, the National Weather Service said. Local areas near the coast could see 15 inches of rain, and coastal areas could see a storm surge of 4 feet, forecasters said.

Beach hotels in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are making plans to close, and public schools in the two coastal counties are closed at least through Wednesday.

Store shelves are emptying of batteries and gasoline cans, and many people spent the weekend boarding up windows and doors along the coast.

The storm will likely make landfall on the northern Gulf Coast late Tuesday, so the location was still far from certain, authorities said.

The governor and Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Art Faulkner planned a news conference for 11 a.m. Monday at the Mobile Convention Center to discuss the state's preparations.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott says the Florida Keys was spared major damage from Tropical Storm Isaac but Florida isn't out of the woods yet.

During a Monday news conference Scott said there are worries Isaac could bring flooding in the Panhandle. Scott says about 65,000 South Florida residents were without power as of noon Monday. The governor says the Panhandle also is at risk of tornadoes.

Scott says he is returning to Tallahassee and won't be attending any GOP convention events in Tampa until at least Wednesday.

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