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Haiti, U.S. Gulf Coast Prepare for Isaac

As Tropical Storm Isaac bears down on Haiti with near-hurricane force winds, residents of the U.S. Gulf Coast prepare for a likely visit by the storm next week.

Isaac is expected to cause widespread flooding wherever it makes landfall.

As of 5 p.m., the storm’s center was just off the southern coast of Haiti. The storm’s strongest winds were about 65 mph (about 105 kph), and it was moving northwestward at 16 mph (26 kph).

Isaac is expected to cross Haiti early Saturday and then be over eastern Cuba by Saturday afternoon. From there, it is expected to be just off the Florida Keys by early Sunday afternoon. A five-day forecast issued by the National Hurricane Center in Miami says Isaac will be in the Gulf of Mexico by Sunday night and headed for a landfall somewhere on the Gulf Coast Tuesday afternoon, possibly near Pensacola, Florida.

But Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center, said a landfall forecast four days in advance could be off by as much as 400 miles.

“We don’t want to pinpoint a city four days out,” Blake said.

The storm could come ashore anywhere from southeastern Louisiana to the Florida Gulf Coast, he said.

Isaac is likely to lose some of its intensity as it crosses Cuba, but once it is back over the warm waters of the Gulf, it is likely to regain strength and is expected to become a hurricane with winds exceeding 74 mph (119 kph).

Julie Roberts, external affairs director for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said emergency management officials fear that Isaac is likely to cause widespread flooding when it makes landfall. The Gulf Coast was soaked by more than two feet of rain when Tropical Storm Debby struck the Florida Panhandle in June. Heavy rains during the summer have kept the ground saturated and rivers close to full, and that means heavy rainfall from Isaac will not be absorbed and will cause flooding, she said.

Roberts said today’s anniversary of Hurricane Andrew’s landfall on August 24, 1992 was not lost on many Florida residents who are keeping a close eye on forecasts for Isaac. Andrew came ashore just south of Miami with maximum winds of 175 mph (282 kph), causing catastrophic damage.

Isaac is not expected to reach anything near that intensity, but it could gain considerable power during its journey across the Gulf next week.

Andy Newman, media relations supervisor for the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, said early preparations are being made for Isaac’s arrival in the Florida Keys. Shelters have been opened there and county offices will be closed Monday, he said.

Willie Drye has been writing about hurricanes and other topics for National Geographic News since 2003. Follow his blog, Drye Goods.