Tropical Storm Isaac closing in on Gulf Coast, hurricane status likely soon

Tropical Storm Isaac is close to becoming a hurricane and is expected to make landfall as a Category 1 storm Tuesday night, the National Hurricane Center said.

It is forecast to hit near the southwest pass of the Mississippi River and move slowly across the region, pounding a large swath of the Gulf Coast with heavy rain and gashing winds.

Isaac is "on the verge of becoming a hurricane," the center said on Twitter.

"Significant storm surge can be expected," the center said in an 8 a.m. ET advisory.

And because the storm is moving slowly, Isaac will have plenty of time to wreak havoc. It could bring rainfall of up to 14 inches, the hurricane center said.

Already, tropical storm-force winds were beginning to batter the coast, with gusts spreading inland, the hurricane center said.

President Barack Obama called on Gulf Coast residents to prepare. "Now's not the time to tempt fate," he said. "Now's not the time to dismiss official warnings. You need to take this seriously."

The National Weather service cautioned residents of the region not to focus on the exact forecast track and to prepare: "Now is the time to rush to completion preparations for the protection of life and property. Evacuate if directed to do so by local officials or if your home is vulnerable to high winds or flooding."

In Biloxi, Mississippi, popular casinos began to close down Tuesday.

Isaac's center was about 185 miles (300 kilometers) southeast of New Orleans, and about 185 miles south of Gulfport, Mississippi. It was moving northwest at 7 miles per hour.

Maximum sustained winds were at 70 mph. A storm reaches hurricane status when those winds are at 74 mph.

The hurricane center called on people at ports, docks and marinas to "urgently complete" emergency preparations. For people who live on boats, it was time to "make final preparations for securing your craft before leaving it."

"We have a plan in place to secure the city, and we have a plan to respond quickly in the event of emergencies," New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. "We're confident that the work we've done in the last few years makes us fully capable of handling this type of storm."

By Tuesday morning, it was too late to evacuate New Orleans, Landrieu said.

Several New Orleans residents told CNN they planned to wait out the storm and were not concerned that the nightmare of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 would be repeated. Isaac is not predicted to bring such dire conditions, and law and order have improved vastly, they said.

If Isaac slows and landfall comes after midnight, it will hit on Katrina's seventh anniversary.

Jackie Grosch had to rebuild her home in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, but the St. Bernard Parish resident said she was going to wait Isaac out.

"Well, it gets old after a while -- packing up, taking the journey to wherever we're going to go. We thought about it and decided to stay," she said.

Nonetheless, her family is prepared with a generator, weather radio and life jackets -- "just in case."