Mississippi coast casinos open for now as Isaac heads their way

GULFPORT, Miss. -- City, county and school officials, as well as gaming commissioners, will decide today about closings in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaac, which is expected to reach hurricane strength today.

All schools and city offices and the casinos were expected to be open today, as everyone gets ready for Isaac's landfall on the northern Gulf Coast and possibly in South Mississippi.

Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency Sunday afternoon.

"While the track of the storm may change, Mississippians need to make preparations now," he said. "I urge Mississippians to heed all warnings and evacuation orders by local and state officials."

The governor also authorized the Mississippi National Guard to deploy 10 people to the Coast.

Robert Latham, director of the state's emergency management agency said the emergency response team was sent to the Coast on Sunday. The team includes representatives from various state departments and MEMA.

"Every level of government is prepared," Latham said.

No mandatory evacuations were issued Sunday, but emergency managers said residents need to monitor the storm closely.

"People need to know if they live in a low-lying area," said Rupert Lacy, director of the Harrison County EMA. "If they do, they need to move to higher ground."

Lacy said decisions about shelters also will be made Monday.

"This is a major storm, and we have to be very prudent about decision making," he said. "But we don't want people to be in shelters if they don't need to be."

Several cities along the Coast declared states of emergency Sunday, and Long Beach ordered boats and other vessels south of U.S. 90 to be removed from the city's harbor. Mayor Billy Skellie also recommended residents in low-lying areas south of the railroad tracks leave their homes.

Some cities and counties along the Coast provided sand and bags for residents.

at 7 a.m. Monday, Isaac was about 400 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi with winds of 65 mph and was moving west northwest at 14 mph. The storm was having trouble developing, but meteorologists expect it to reach hurricane strength sometime Monday and make landfall either late Tuesday or early Wednesday, the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Forecasters warn that no matter where Isaac makes landfall, residents along the Gulf Coast will see heavy rain, wind and storm surge as Isaac is about 800 miles wide.

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning Sunday afternoon from Morgan City, La., to Destin, Fla.

A tropical storm is considered a hurricane when it reaches maximum sustained winds of 74 mph, and officials believe the storm could reach hurricane strength later Sunday, becoming a Category 1 or Category 2 hurricane before landfall.

A Category 1 storm has winds of 74-95 mph. A Category 2 storm has winds of 96-110 mph.

Isaac began lashing the Florida Keys late Sunday morning, and though its wind speed lessened a bit throughout the day, emergency officials urged South Mississippi residents to prepare now in case Isaac heads for the Mississippi Coast,

The next 12 to 24 hours will be a critical time for watching where Isaac appears to be heading, Lacy said.

"Within the next day, we will get a better idea of where it decides to make its presence known," he said. "We're not out of the woods yet, but people who have not started making plans should seriously think about it now."

That includes plans for possible evacuation, gathering emergency food and water supplies and securing loose property outdoors that could become a flying projectile.

With hurricane models showing the projected path turning a bit west, South Mississippi residents need to take the possibility of landfall here seriously, Lacy said.

"It's a beautiful day, and it's a great time to go ahead and make preparations. Don't let your guard down. If it starts to turn crappy, so be it. We will move forward with whatever we have to deal with."

The National Weather Service in New Orleans issued a flood warning Sunday for the Tchoutacabouffa and Wolf rivers. The flood stage for each is 8 feet, but both are expected to crest at 9.5 feet Wednesday.