President Obama tells Gulf Coast not to ‘tempt fate’ as Hurricane Isaac approaches New Orleans

WASHINGTON—President Obama reassured residents of the Gulf Coast Tuesday morning that federal and local emergency officials were prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Isaac, which was expected to hit the Louisiana coast overnight—seven years after the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina crumbled levies and sank New Orleans under massive floodwaters.

“We’re dealing with a big storm, and there could be significant flooding and other damage across a large area,” he said, during a White House briefing. “Now is not the time to tempt fate, now is not the time to dismiss official warnings. You need to take this seriously.”

The president spoke for a little over two minutes and declined to answer questions shouted by reporters asking if he thought it appropriate to continue his campaign in light of the approaching storm.

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After his remarks, the president prepared to fly to Ames, Iowa, as part of a three-city campaign tour at college campuses in three battleground states. He was first to deliver a speech at Iowa State University, hoping to rally youthful supporters to aid his reelection campaign to withstand the challenge by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who is expected to be formally nominated this week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The president then heads to Colorado State University in Fort Collins. On Wednesday, he is scheduled to visit the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Isaac, a slow-moving storm with winds exceedng 74 miles per hour, was upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane around noon, and was within 80 miles offshore from the mouth of the Mississippi River, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm surge could swell waters by as much as 12 feet. Landfall was expected Tuesday night or early Wednesday—the same day Katrina came ashore in 2005 and unleashed one of the country’s most devastating disasters.

The death toll from Katrina exceeded 1,800, and more than 250,000 people were displaced, according to federal officials. Total damage was estimated to be around $125 billion.

Isaac is not expected to be as ferocious, but emergency officials were nevertheless on guard for serious flooding and damage. Some coastal areas were under mandatory evacuation. The governors of Louisiana and Mississippi both cancelled their trips to Tampa, and declared states of emergencies.

At least seven Louisiana parishes were under mandatory evacuations, Governor Bobby Jindal said during a briefing.

“As we prepare for Isaac to hit, I want to encourage all residents of the Gulf Coast to listen to your local officials and follow their directions, including if they tell you to evacuate,” Obama said during his briefing.

Under the president’s direction, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been on the ground meeting with local officials in areas affected by the storm, from Puerto Rico and Florida, and now gulf states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

On Monday, the president approved a disaster declaration for Louisiana to make aid available immediately. “Right now, we already have response teams and supplies ready to help communities in the expected path of the storm. “