12:26 PM CDT, August 27, 2012
As the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall approaches, New Orleans -- and much of the Gulf Coast -- is preparing to put into practice the lessons learned from that defining storm.
Tropical Storm Isaac is following a path eerily similar to Katrina's in 2005.
There are some obvious differences -- Isaac is much weaker than Katrina -- but the storm nonetheless will require Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi to execute emergency management plans that were partly shaped by Katrina.
Thousands in the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Monday were leaving their Gulf Coast homes under mandatory evacuation.
But Ryan Unger, of St. Charles Parish, next to New Orleans, was one of the residents planning to stay in place despite an evacuation order. He filled up tanks Sunday night in case he has to run his generator.
"Starting to get a little sense of anxiety, like, OK, am I ready for it?" he said. "Realizing we ain't really ready for a storm. So we're just all thinking about what we gotta do to get in place to get ready for it."
On Monday morning Isaac was centered about 310 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River. It was forecast to become a hurricane "in a day or so," the National Hurricane Center said.
The governors of the three imperiled states each declared an emergency, with Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley ordering mandatory evacuations for residents who live along the coast and for those in some low-lying areas inland.
Some 9,000 residents in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, were ordered to evacuate Monday morning. The towns of Jean Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria are affected.
"We're worried about tidal surge," Jean Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner said.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called on residents in coastal parishes prone to flooding to voluntarily evacuate. A mandatory evacuation was ordered for St. Charles Parish and for parts of Plaquemines Parish.
Even pro football player Courtney Roby of the New Orleans Saints was a little nervous.
"Kinda a scary feeling of uncertainty," he said via Twitter.
The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, from Morgan City, Louisiana, east to Destin, Florida.
A landfall on Wednesday would coincide with the seventh anniversary of the arrival of the much stronger Hurricane Katrina.
Mississippi officials dispatched 1,500 National Guard troops to the state's three southern counties to help with emergency operations, as well as 45 state troopers to ease traffic flow.
The state has distributed 10,000 sandbags to residents ahead of the storm.
"In short, we have done everything in our power to be prepared for the storm," Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said.
Alabama authorities warned residents Monday that strong winds and high water may affect the state's coast even if the storm hits as far west as Louisiana.
"It is a very large storm," Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Art Faulkner said. "And oftentimes we confuse and focus on a specific dot that may be identified as the center of the storm when very dangerous conditions may exist as far as 200 miles from that specific dot."
Isaac's strength was holding steady Monday as it moved at 14 mph through the warm Gulf waters, forecasters said. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph, according to a hurricane center advisory.
In the coastal Mississippi city of Pass Christian, people were moving their boats to higher ground and preparing their homes.
"Lookin' like we're gonna be ground zero again," said Daryl Vaught, as he prepared to place sandbags in front of his doors and garage.
"It seems like Katrina just happened yesterday," Vaught told CNN affiliate WDSU. "Hopefully we'll dodge a bullet here this time. I didn't last time."
It appeared Monday that the storm's ferocity would mostly bypass Florida's west coast and the Republican National Convention in Tampa, where the schedule was pushed back a day by organizers over concerns about the storm.
Isaac's eye is forecast to pass well west of Tampa.
Still, Isaac's reach is so large that Florida was getting heavy doses of rain and wind.
According to the hurricane center, tropical storm-force winds stretch 204 miles from the storm's center. To put that in context, if the center of Isaac were located in Washington, its winds would be felt in New York City and Raleigh, North Carolina.
In Pompano Beach, Florida, Scott Segal put up hurricane shutters outside his condo as the rain came in horizontally.
"The wind is getting stronger, and the ocean is starting to build, and the waves are getting bigger," he said. "I am prepared, but not nervous."
Frank Guida was hunkering down in Fort Lauderdale.
"You can see everything is moving in the same direction, like the palm trees and the shrubs. I can hear shutters shaking," he said. Despite the intensified rainfall, he stocked up on water and food, and was staying at home.
After slamming into Haiti, where at least six people died in storm-related incidents Saturday, Isaac lashed Cuba and the Florida Keys.
There are so far some eerie similarities between Hurricane Katrina and Isaac, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said.
The forecast track for Isaac and the one for Katrina in 2005 are almost identical, he said.
"Hurricane Katrina went on to become a dangerous Category 5 hurricane in the central Gulf of Mexico," Hennen said.
On August 29, 2005, Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, killing roughly 1,800 people.
"We are just on high alert. I know the anxiety level is high," New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.
Currently, there are no plans to order evacuations of New Orleans. If an evacuation is ordered, buses and trains would be used to move residents, Landrieu said.
The airport, the convention center and the Superdome would not be shelters of last resort as they were in 2005.
"We are much, much better prepared structurally than before," he said, adding that "if you are called upon, you should leave."
In Gulfport, Mississippi, authorities ordered the port cleared of cargo vessels.
Eight oil rigs and 39 production platforms in the gulf were evacuated by late Sunday, according to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. BP said it would evacuate its oil platform workers Monday.
As preparations continued on the northern Gulf Coast, Florida Gov. Rick Scott was assessing damage as Isaac skirted the state's western coast, bringing strong winds and heavy rain.
"We are experiencing some minor outages in the southern part of the state," he said at a news conference in Tampa. He said his main concern for Tampa was no longer a direct hit from Isaac but tropical-storm-force winds.
CNN's Mariano Castillo, Matt Smith, Josh Levs, Dave Alsup, Chelsea J. Carter, Tom Cohen, Martin Savidge, Gary Tuchman and Jim Spellman, and journalist Jean Junior Osman contributed to this report.
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