By Eric Katz and Kedar Pavgi
August 28, 2012
This story has been updated with details.
President Obama told Gulf Coast residents to heed the advice of local officials -- including any calls to evacuate -- in a statement from the White House on Tuesday, spearheading the large-scale efforts under way throughout the federal government in preparation for Hurricane Isaac.
“Now is not the time to tempt fate,” Obama said just hours before the storm was expected to hit land.
The president has approved a disaster declaration for Mississippi and Louisiana, allowing the federal government to provide additional funds and resources to the state.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate has warned residents of New Orleans to evacuate as soon as possible. FEMA has deployed four incident management assistance teams across the Gulf Coast states and also has positioned two mobile emergency response support teams near the threatened areas. In addition, the agency has prepared emergency food supplies to be shipped from an Atlanta distribution center to the storm areas.
The National Weather Service has issued hurricane warnings to residents in the region. NWS also cautioned of a severe storm surge and tornados in Tampa, Fla., where the 2012 Republican National Convention is being held.
Obama was briefed Monday by Fugate and National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb, according to a statement the White House issued. Obama also spoke with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spoke with Landrieu and met with Fugate on Sunday.
Fugate warned reporters during a conference call Tuesday that even a tropical-strength storm could cause 12 to 18 inches of flooding in the areas being hit. Isaac was later upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane.
The Defense Department has made 33,500 National Guard personnel and nearly 100 aircrafts available for the governors of the four Gulf Coast states. Louisiana and Mississippi officials already have called thousands of Guardsmen to active duty to prepare for evacuations, commodity distributions, search and rescues, debris cleanup and other logistics.
Defense also said several military bases in the storm’s path are preparing facilities, equipment and personnel. Aircraft evacuations have been completed at all relevant bases, a Pentagon spokesman said.
Transportation in the region is set to be backed up as well, as Amtrak announced Monday it will cancel service in New Orleans because of Isaac. Flights to and from New Orleans were being canceled, but the Federal Aviation Administration had not confirmed any airport closures.
The Army Corps of Engineers closed several highway tie-ins on Monday and was working closely with Louisiana authorities to ensure the safety of local residents. According to a press release from the Corps, emergency command posts were activated and liaisons have been dispatched within all 13 parishes of New Orleans.
Since Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 people in 2005, the Corps has invested $15 billion in hurricane defenses in New Orleans, building a flood protection network around the region.
A spokesman for the Coast Guard said its assets are “currently standing by” but will remain inactive during the hurricane. They will be “poised to be deployed” after Isaac passes.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the annual hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.
Isaac already forced the cancellation of the first day of the Republican National Convention. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who was scheduled to speak at the Republican National Convention, has decided to remain in New Orleans to help guide his state’s emergency efforts.
Jindal criticized the federal response to the disaster in a letter to Obama on Monday, saying the government should increase its funds for disaster relief and protection.
“Given the extraordinary developments of this storm and its approaching impact on the State of Louisiana, I ask that you exercise your discretion to approve the State’s pending request for all emergency protective measures,” Jindal wrote.
Rep. Raul Labrador R-ID told a reporter from ThinkProgress that any additional money for disaster relief should come from cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. Last year, federal disaster spending on Hurricane Irene and the wildfires forced FEMA to seek additional money from the government.
By Eric Katz and Kedar Pavgi
August 28, 2012