National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb told reporters on an early afternoon conference call today that Isaac has officially reached hurricane strength as the Category 1 storm barrels toward the Gulf Coast.
The roughly 800-mile-wide storm was inching along at just 10 mph and could slow down even more — and possibly reach Category 2 status — as it makes landfall late tonight or early tomorrow.
“The weather is really going downhill fast,” Knabb warned. “It’s coming in and it’s going to be a long-duration event; it’s going to last a long time going to affect a lot of people.”
“We’re dealing with a big storm and there could be significant flooding and other damage across a large area,” President Obama said this morning. “Now is not the time to tempt fate. Now is not the time to dismiss official warnings. You need to take this seriously.”
With concerns lingering for many about how well the repaired levees protecting New Orelans might hold up under another surge, one Louisiana senator decided to ride out the storm at the site with the Army Corps of Engineers.
“This is going to be some sort of a test of the post Katrina system so I want to see how we all perform in the test including the Corps of Engineers in terms of their preparations and processes,” said David Vitter (R-La.). “I’m going to be with them all through the storm.”
Vitter evacuated his family, but said on CNN this morning that he could understand why many would stay “given this nature of this storm.”
“My biggest concern is not with the system that’s been built since Katrina. It’s with all of the areas outside that system,” the senator said. “We really built the system for the last storm. There are major populated areas outside of that system, Western St. Charles, lower Jefferson, those are very, very vulnerable areas with significant population in them.”
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said it would be a test of the pump drainage system improved since Katrina.
“In fact, the pumping system near the surge near the surge barrier can pump an Olympic sized swimming pool in four seconds. That’s how strong some of the pumping systems are here,” she said on CNN. “…If it’s Category 3, we’ll evacuate. But it’s better and safer to shelter in place. That’s why the federal government has invested over $55 billion in making this region more resilient.”
Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) told Obama yesterday that his “limited declaration” of a state of emergency for Louisiana doesn’t “provide for reimbursement of expenses that the state is taking to prepare for the storm.”
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told reporters on today’s call that the direct assistance Obama approved covers anything that the governors have identified as being beyond their own resources.
“We felt it was more important to get the first part of the request out,” Fugate said, adding that Jindal should apply for reimbursement after the fact.