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FEMA prepares New Orleans for a possible hurricane-strength Isaac

WASHINGTON – Emergency officials breathed a sigh of relief as the center of Tropical Storm Isaac moved past Tampa and the site of the Republican National Convention, but planners ramped up preparations in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast as the storm appeared to gather strength and march toward Louisiana and Mississippi.

The National Weather Service said the New Orleans could be in the path of the storm, which is projected to become a Category 1 hurricane by the time it makes landfall on the Gulf Coast late Monday or early Tuesday.

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Evacuations were underway in some coastal communities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Monday.

No evacuation order has been issued for New Orleans at this time, said a homeland security official. But internal homeland security reports indicate that residents in the low-lying Ninth Ward in New Orleans have largely “self-evacuated.”

PHOTOS: Preparations for the GOP convention

Drawing on lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina pummeled gulf states and flooded New Orleans in 2005, the federal government has moved aggressively to place managers and supplies near the path of the storm.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration has activated incident management teams in Florida and Louisiana to help state and local agencies respond to the damage caused by the storm.

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Over the past few days, FEMA moved thousands of pounds of emergency supplies to distribution centers in Alabama and Florida to be closer to where the storm might make landfall.

More than 1 million liters of drinking water, 436,000 meals, 2,000 cots, 4,600 blankets and other supplies have been unloaded into warehouses in Montgomery, Ala., and Jacksonville, Fla.

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“As Tropical Storm Isaac continues towards Florida and the Gulf States, local residents need to monitor storm conditions and follow the direction of local officials,” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in a statement.

Since the devastation following Katrina in 2005, the federal government has spent more than $14 billion dollars to improve the country’s response to hurricanes.

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The levee system in New Orleans was strengthened and built up to prevent storm surge from spilling over the walls and flooding parts of the city. Officials say the improved levee system will hold up well to a Category 1 or 2 hurricane. Katrina was a Category 5 storm, though it had weakened to a Category 3 when it made landfall in Louisiana.

As Tropical Storm Isaac churned farther west into the gulf, passing well off shore from Tampa, organizers of the Republican National Convention prepared for speakers to take the podium on Tuesday, a day later than planned.

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President Obama was briefed by FEMA director Fugate on Sunday.

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The president also spoke with Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday to assure him that the federal government would address any extra assistance that the state needed, including support for “ensuring the safety of those visiting the state for the Republican National Convention,” according to a statement from the White House.

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brian.bennett@latimes.com

Twitter: @ByBrianBennett

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