“People need to be aware that the bands from the hurricane could bring some heavy rain, on and off,” Tim Padgett, county emergency management director, said Tuesday afternoon. “The National Weather Service is predicting 2 to 3 inches of rain, stretching through the weekend. Since the lake levels are down, there’s no major threat of flooding. Wind should not be a factor and the possibility of a tornado has gone down to low risk.”
However, one place county residents may see an effect of the storm is in the fuel prices at local gasoline dealers. Prices had climbed to $3.94 per gallon at some stations Tuesday and are likely to go higher. Some smaller Carroll County stations, who still had gasoline bought at lower wholesale prices, were selling it as low as $3.67 per gallon Tuesday. However, the prices at higher volume stations, restocking at higher wholesale prices, were above $3.80 per gallon.
“We’ve seen an average increase of seven cents in Georgia,” said Jessica Brady, spokesperson for AAA South. “It’s uncertain at this point how much higher prices will go. It’s too early to tell at this point. After the hurricane runs its course, workers will be going back to the platforms and refineries.”
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Isaac became a Category 1 hurricane Tuesday with winds of 75 mph. It could get stronger and possibly flood the coasts of four states with storm surge and heavy rains on its way to New Orleans.
Shelters opened for those who chose to stay or missed the chance to get away before the outer bands of the large storm blew ashore ahead of a forecast landfall in southeast Louisiana on Tuesday night or early Wednesday. However, with the exception of some low-lying areas, officials had not ordered mass evacuations.
President Barack Obama said Gulf Coast residents should listen to local authorities and follow their directions as Isaac approached.
“Now is not the time to tempt fate. Now is not the time to dismiss official warnings. You need to take this seriously,” Obama said.
In Houma, a city southwest of New Orleans, people filled a municipal auditorium-turned-shelter. However, in the bayou country of Terrebonne Parish off Highway 24, storms pose a perennial dilemma for those living a hardscrabble life.
While some of the homes along Bayou Terrebonne and other nearby waterways show signs of affluence, this section of Louisiana 24 is mostly lined with trailer homes or small, often run-down houses. Staying could be dangerous, but many here who could be in harm’s way have nowhere to go and little money to get there, especially given the high price of gasoline.
Forecasters warned that Isaac was a large storm whose effects could reach out 200 miles from its center. Water may be worse than wind because the storm could push walls of water while dumping rain to flood the low-lying coast in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
So far, the main damage in the United States was political: Republicans cut one day off their presidential nominating convention in Tampa in case the storm struck there, though in the end it bypassed the bayside city. Isaac is also testing elected officials along the Gulf, from governors on down, to show they’re prepared for an emergency response.
Isaac’s track is forecast to bring it to New Orleans seven years after Katrina hit as a much stronger storm on Aug. 29, 2005.
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. The levees surrounding New Orleans are designed to withstand far more than the forecast 12-foot surge. And the city’s flood control system can pump out an inch of water per hour for the first hour, and a half-inch of water each hour after that.
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.
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.
– The Associated Press contributed to this article.