NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Hurricane Isaac spun into the southern Louisiana coast late Tuesday, sending floodwaters surging and unleashing fierce winds, as residents hunkered down behind boarded-up windows. New Orleans calmly waited out another storm on the eve of Hurricane Katrina's seventh anniversary, hoping the city's strengthened levees will hold.
Isaac, a massive storm spanning nearly 200 miles from its center, made landfall at about 6:45 p.m. near the mouth of the Mississippi River. But it was zeroing in on New Orleans, about 90 miles to the northwest, turning streets famous for all-hours celebrations into ghost boulevards.
While many residents stayed put, evacuations were ordered in low-lying areas of Louisiana and Mississippi, where officials ordered the closure of the state's 12 shorefront casinos. By late Tuesday, more than 100,000 homes and businesses had lost power.
Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, said Isaac's core would pass west of New Orleans with winds close to 80 mph and head for Baton Rouge.
"On this course, the hurricane will gradually weaken. Its winds will come down," Rappaport said Tuesday night from the Miami-based center. He said gusts could reach about 100 mph at times, especially at higher levels which could damage high-rise buildings in New Orleans.
As Isaac neared the city, there was little fear or panic. With New Orleans' airport closed, tourists retreated to hotels and most denizens of a coastline that has witnessed countless hurricanes decided to ride out the storm.
"Isaac is the son of Abraham," said Margaret Thomas, who was trapped for a week in her home in New Orleans' Broadmoor neighborhood by Katrina's floodwaters, yet chose to stay put this time. "It's a special name that means 'God will protect us'."
Still, the storm drew intense scrutiny because of its timing — just before the anniversary of Katrina and coinciding with the first major speeches of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., already delayed and tempered by the storm.
"We don't expect a Katrina-like event, but remember there are things about a Category 1 storm that can kill you," New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said, urging people to use common sense and to stay off any streets that may flood.
Other officials, chastened by memories and experience, advised caution. Tens of thousands of people were told to leave low-lying areas, including 700 patients of Louisiana nursing homes. At least one tornado spun off of Isaac in Alabama. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.
Many Gulf Coast residents opted to ride it out in shelters or at home and officials, while sounding alarm about the dangers of the powerful storm, decided not to call for mass evacuations like those that preceded Katrina, which packed 135 mph winds in 2005.
Isaac promises to test a New Orleans levee system bolstered after the catastrophic failures during Hurricane Katrina. But in a city that has already weathered Hurricane Gustav in 2008, calm prevailed.
"I feel safe," said Pamela Young, who settled in to her home in the Lower 9th Ward — a neighborhood devastated by Katrina — with dog Princess and her television. "Everybody's talking 'going, going,' but the thing is, when you go, there's no telling what will happen. The storm isn't going to just hit here."
Young, who lives in a new, two-story home built to replace the one destroyed by Katrina, said she wasn't worried about the levees.
"If the wind isn't too rough, I can stay right here," she said, tapping on her wooden living room coffee table. "If the water comes up, I can go upstairs."
While Isaac remained far less powerful than Katrina, it posed similar political challenges, a reminder of how the storm seven years ago became a symbol of government ignorance and ineptitude.
President Barack Obama sought to demonstrate his ability to guide the nation through a natural disaster and Republicans reassured residents they were prepared, all the while readying for the coronation of Mitt Romney. It was unclear Tuesday, what effect the storm might have on the festivities in Tampa, where Ann Romney and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are the night's featured speakers, after a day of delays.
There was already simmering political fallout from the storm. Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who canceled his trip to the convention in Tampa, said the Obama administration's disaster declaration fell short of the federal help he had requested. Jindal said he wanted a promise from the federal government to be reimbursed for storm preparation costs.
"We learned from past experiences, you can't just wait. You've got to push the federal bureaucracy," Jindal said.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said such requests would be addressed after the storm.
Obama promised that Americans will help each other recover, "no matter what this storm brings."
"When disaster strikes, we're not Democrats or Republicans first, we are Americans first," Obama said at a