U.S. President Barack Obama Monday declared a state of emergency in Louisiana as Tropical Storm Isaac gathered strength and threatened New Orleans, seven years after it was pummeled by Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. Obama informed the Gulf Coast state's Governor, Bobby Jindal, that he was taking the move to free up federal funds and aid, during a conference call with local officials preparing for the storm.
The centre of Isaac's projected path took it directly toward New Orleans for a projected landfall as early as Tuesday night. Forecasters on Monday said Isaac will intensify into a Category 1 hurricane later Monday or Tuesday — far less powerful than Katrina in 2005.
Hurricane warnings extended across some 530 kilometres Monday, from Louisiana to western Florida. The National Hurricane Center said Isaac was expected to have top winds of around 153 kilometres an hour when it hits land. Katrina's winds reached a high of more than 252 km/h when it hit on Aug. 29, 2005.
The President also convened a briefing with officials including Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate. FEMA, along with other government agencies, including the Department of Defence, has staged emergency supplies closer to areas expected to experience severe weather.
"The president directed Administrator Fugate to ensure that FEMA was prepared regardless of the ultimate strength and impact of the storm," the White House said in a statement.
Isaac's approach, close to the seven-year anniversary of Katrina, which killed around 1,800 people, has sobering political overtones, as the presidency of George W. Bush was severely hit by his mishandling of the disaster.
Those memories also prompted the Republican Party to open and then suspend its convention in Tampa, Fla., which is meeting to nominate Mitt Romney as its White House candidate.
Mr. Obama's move allows the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to co-ordinate all disaster relief and emergency efforts, in a bid to avoid a repeat of the confusion that hampered the Katrina relief effort.
With a report from Associated Press