Monday, August 27, 2012

Storm Isaac heads for U.S. Gulf Coast, hurricane warning issued

Tropical Storm Isaac swirled into the Gulf of Mexico on Monday, threatening to disrupt U.S. offshore oil and gas supplies and strengthen into a powerful hurricane that could make landfall near Louisiana almost seven years to the day after Katrina struck.

The storm swiped south Florida on Sunday before moving into the warm Gulf waters, where it is expected to strengthen to a Category 2 hurricane and hit the Gulf Coast somewhere between Florida and Louisiana by midweek, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The governors of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi declared states of emergency as a hurricane warning went into effect for the northern Gulf Coast from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.

It included New Orleans, devastated when Hurricane Katrina swept over the city on Aug. 29, 2005, killing more than 1,800 people and causing billions of dollars of damage along the coast.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley ordered mandatory evacuations beginning on Monday for residents in low-lying areas along the coast.

Energy producers in the Gulf worked to shut down some of their operations ahead of in what could be the biggest test for U.S. energy installations since 2008, when Hurricanes Gustav and Ike disrupted offshore oil output for months and damaged onshore natural gas processing plants, pipelines and some refineries.

Some Gulf residents started stocking up on supplies and securing their homes. In New Orleans, long lines formed at some gas stations and in Gulfport, Mississippi, people crowded supermarkets to buy bottled water and canned food.

"I sense a high level of anxiety," said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. "The timing, as fate would have it, on the anniversary of Katrina has everybody in a state of alertness, but that is a good thing."

Isaac is forecast to become a hurricane either Monday or Tuesday. The National Hurricane Center said the storm was expected to eventually intensify to a Category 2 hurricane with extremely dangerous sustained winds of 105 miles per hour (169 kph) as it swept across the Gulf of Mexico.

Forecasters are predicting a more westward track that could bring Isaac over the heart of the U.S. offshore oil patch, which produces about 23 percent of U.S. oil output and 7 percent of its natural gas.

With the threat to offshore oil infrastructure and Louisiana refineries, U.S. crude oil prices traded up 75 cents to $96.90 a barrel in Asia early Monday.

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