DES ALLEMANDS, La. — Coastal residents in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi scrambled Tuesday to prepare for Tropical Storm Isidore as it continued on a steady path across the Gulf of Mexico.
The storm, which gained strength in the warm gulf waters after pummeling Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, is expected to make landfall as a hurricane by early Thursday.
Although some mandatory evacuation orders have been issued, many coastal towns are emptying without official prodding. Highway 90, one of the main roads leading out of coastal Louisiana, was jammed with cars heading to safer ground.
"We're hauling out of here," said Danny Ray, a 38-year-old pipe fitter in the fishing town of Des Allemands, about 15 miles south of New Orleans. "There's no sense taking chances when you have children."
Hotels north of coastal areas were swamped. "We've been having to turn people away," said Denise Sullivan at the front desk of the Ramada Inn in Jackson, Miss.
Those electing to stay are stocking up with a vengeance. At Frank's Super Valu Foods in Des Allemands, the shelves were stripped of white bread and bottled water. Mothers with toddlers in tow threw Pop Tarts and soda into their carts, while young men in blue jeans kept it simple with multiple cases of beer.
"It's been insane," said cashier Traci Stanley, 20. "It's been so busy I almost can't believe there's anything left to sell."
Next door at Allen's Hardware, batteries, ropes and nails are in high demand. "We're running out of supplies and there's still tomorrow, when we'll really see the big push," said store owner Allen Touchard. "The closer the storm gets, the more people are motivated to protect themselves."
Many here are like Donna Verdin, who keeps the television on all day to track the storm. "We don't know what it's going to do," she said. "We're waiting to see which way it turns and if it turns toward us, we're out of here."
Linda Cunningham weathered a Louisiana hurricane in 1965 and vowed never to do it again. The roof blew off of the school that served as a shelter and the electricity was off for days, she remembered. "I just won't stay anymore. It's too frightening," she said as she prepared to drive to her niece's home 200 miles north.
Early projections suggested Isidore could come ashore as a major Category 4 hurricane, but forecasters now predict a minimal Category 1 hurricane with winds in excess of 80 mph. Still, ships pulled out of the naval station at Pascagoula for safer waters, and Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster declared a state of emergency, paving the way for financial help if floods or winds cause major damage.
Drilling on offshore oil rigs ceased as hundreds of oilfield workers were evacuated. The 1,800-passenger Carnival cruise ship Jubilee was forced to dock at the Port of New Orleans, aborting a five-day trip from Galveston, Texas, to the Yucatan Peninsula.
The storm had much higher winds when it pounded the Yucatan Peninsula, leaving two people dead, 300,000 homeless and damaging ecological reserves and ruins.
On Tuesday, Merlin Naquin nailed plywood boards to every window of his tiny bungalow here, saying it was better to play it safe. "They've been predicting every which way but the right way," he said.
Stomping along the rising banks of the Des Allemands bayou in her late husband's rain boots, 64-year-old Josie Frieze can sense the storm coming. "It's in the air," she said, pausing to study the darkening horizon. "You can feel something eerie and heavy and you know something is coming, but you don't really know what."
Associated Press contributed to this story.