AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
The Florida peninsula has been spared the worst of tropical storm Isaac. The large system is now in the Gulf of Mexico, taking aim at a wide swath of the northern Gulf coast. Forecasters predict Isaac will pick up strength as it travels over the warm Gulf waters and will become a hurricane. They expect the storm to make landfall by Wednesday morning.
NPR's Debbie Elliott says four states are potentially in Isaac's path.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: The latest track has Isaac coming ashore in southeast Louisiana, but hurricane warnings are up all the way east to the Florida Panhandle and coastal residents are scrambling to prepare.
DAVID JONES: Have you got any cut flowers in your box?
ELLIOTT: David Jones is trying to secure his house, just a block off the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
JONES: Nobody knows where it's going to, so you just, you know, I just do what I got to do. It doesn't take that long to board up.
ELLIOTT: He and two friends are climbing ladders to cover the second story windows with plywood. Todd Tingle has already boarded up his house. If it strengthens, as forecasters predict, Isaac would be his first hurricane.
TODD TINGLE: A little anxious, not really sure what to expect. But I guess I'm going to ride it out, though.
ELLIOTT: People choosing to ride out the storm is not what state officials want to hear. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has ordered a mandatory evacuation of Gulf Shores and other island and coastal towns. Bentley says now is the time to get out.
GOVERNOR ROBERT BENTLEY: You may not be able to get back on the island, if it's an island, or you may not be able to get off at some point. So you need to make your decision about leaving. Now, there, you know, we cannot force people to leave. However, we strongly recommend that that take place.
ELLIOTT: Bentley, and the governors of Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana have declared states of emergency anticipating strong winds, heavy rains and storm surges as Isaac nears the northern Gulf Coast. Today was sunny and breezy, but conditions are expected to deteriorate tonight and tomorrow. Jeff Garmon with the National Weather Service in Mobile says the sheer size of the storm puts a wide area at risk.
JEFF GARMON: The tropical storm force winds, the winds between 39 and 73 miles an hour extend 1 to 200 miles from the center of the storm. And I know folks tend to really want to focus on where the black dot is on the hurricane tracking map, but you really can't do that with this system.
ELLIOTT: That black dot is over New Orleans at the moment, expected to come ashore exactly seven years after Hurricane Katrina and smack a region still recovering from that historic storm and the 2010 BP oil spill. Oil and gas companies have evacuated offshore rigs and closed down refineries as Isaac moves into the energy producing central Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard is closing navigation on the lower Mississippi River, in part to make sure stray barges and ships don't jeopardize the levee system that protects New Orleans and south Louisiana.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu says the city is as ready as it's ever been.
MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU: It's going to be all right. If everybody does what they're supposed to do, we're going to get through this storm and do what we all the time, which is to stand back up, brush ourselves off, and continue to do great things, in my opinion, in the greatest city in the world.
ELLIOTT: At the ACE Hardware store on Magazine Street, residents are stocking up on supplies. The store has already sold out of flashlights, D batteries and sandbags. But there's not really a sense of dread. New Orleanian, Gary Hilliard.
GARY HILLIARD: Baby, 61 years old. This happens all the time here. I mean, just like people living in tornado alley, they know it's coming. They don't move, you know. They might run, but they'll run back. Home is home.
ELLIOTT: Hilliard and other New Orleans residents are counting on their homes withstanding whatever Isaac brings ashore. Debbie Elliott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.