Three southern U.S. states declared states of emergency Sunday as they braced for the heavy rains and winds of Tropical Storm Isaac. Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi issued their emergency warnings, one day after Florida.
The storm gained strength as it passed just south of the southern tip of the U.S. state of Florida, headed for the vulnerable U.S. Gulf Coast.
Isaac spent part of Sunday afternoon lashing the Florida Keys - just off the U.S. mainland - with heavy rains and sustained winds of 95 kilometers per hour. The National Hurricane Center said Isaac is now on track to slam into the Gulf Coast Tuesday or Wednesday as a category two or three hurricane, pummeling the area with winds in excess of 177 kilometers per hour.
The city of New Orleans in the state of Louisiana is one of the areas under a hurricane warning. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal late Sunday declared a state of emergency and called for a voluntary evacuation from low-lying areas along the coast.
Wednesday is the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged much of the Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,800 people while leaving thousands more homeless.
Florida Governor Rick Scott told reporters Sunday the state is opening up shelters for residents who need to flee the storm, and that officials are coordinating with relief agencies, like the Red Cross. He also said Florida is ready to assist other states - like Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana - that might get hit by the severe storm.
Isaac battered eastern Cuba Saturday, after killing at least seven people in Haiti, which is still recovering from a devastating 2010 earthquake. There were no reports of fatalities in Cuba.
The threat of the storm has caused the U.S. Republican Party to postpone the start of most events at its national convention in Tampa, Florida from Monday to Tuesday afternoon.