Weather forecasters said Isaac, the storm churning toward the U.S. Gulf Coast, has increased to hurricane strength.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the the slow-moving storm now has maximum sustained winds of 120 kilometers an hour, a Category 1 hurricane.
Forecasters said Hurricane Isaac could move ashore late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama urged residents in the path of the storm to take warnings from state and local officials seriously, especially if they are asked to evacuate.
“We are dealing with a big storm and there could be significant flooding and other damage across a large area,” said the president. “Now is not the time to tempt fate. Now is not the time to dismiss official warnings.”
On Monday, the president declared a state of emergency for Louisiana, devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The declaration opens the door for federal funding.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has urged residents in low-lying areas to evacuate.
The storm could test the city of New Orleans’ upgraded flood control and levee systems put in place after Hurricane Katrina left 1,800 people dead in 2005. Wednesday marks Katrina’s 7th anniversary.
VOA correspondent Brian Padden is in the city. He said there are few signs of life on the streets.
“I had a chance to drive throughout the city. I have been driving throughout the lower 9th ward,” he said. “It is basically a ghost town right now. Most people are sheltered in their house or have been self-evacuated.”
Padden said the weather appears to be taking a turn for the worse.
“It started off this morning quite pleasant. Some sunshine peaking through clouds. Just a small amount of wind,” he said. “And, it has been significantly deteriorating since then. Right now, we have a steady rainfall.”
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu told residents to be prepared to live without regular water or power supplies for several days. He also urged them to leave if an evacuation order is issued.
Isaac battered eastern Cuba Saturday, after killing at least 19 people in Haiti, which is still recovering from a devastating 2010 earthquake. Two people were killed in the Dominican Republic. There were no reports of fatalities in Cuba.